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End of the party?

Mié, 08/01/2014 - 18:07

FOR two decades, American voters have hankered to proclaim themselves Independent, even as the two mainstream parties have felt little risk of being pushed aside. Indeed, Michael Bloomberg—who was a Democrat until he ran for office as mayor of New York in 2001, then a Republican from 2001 to 2007 and now considers himself an Independent—explored the idea of running for president as an Independent only to conclude it was folly. But a survey today from Gallup shows the astounding degree to which Americans are losing interest in classic party affiliations.

A record 42% of people consider themselves Independent, compared to Democrat (31%) or Republican (25%). That's a huge shift from just a decade ago, when affiliations were divided around a third for each. The chart below shows how Americans' dissatisfaction with the parties is nothing new. (Note the surge in independents around the time of Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign.) The spike in Independents is eating more into the GOP, which has seen party moderates sidelined by extremists. The data suggest that there may be a place for a Bloomberg presidential bid after all.

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The other shoe

Mié, 08/01/2014 - 16:17

ANTONIN SCALIA pens his irascible, shoot-from-the-hip dissents “for law students”, but apparently judges sometimes read them too. One wonders whether the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court is piqued or pleased by this pronouncement from Robert Shelby, a federal judge in Utah, who last month struck down as unconstitutional that state’s ban on same-sex marriage:

The court agrees with Justice Scalia’s interpretation of Windsor and finds that the important federalism concerns at issue here are nevertheless insufficient to save a state-law prohibition that denies the Plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

What, you ask? A liberal ruling on same-sex marriage drawing on a view from uber-conservative Antonin Scalia? To be clear, Justice Scalia is no...Continue reading

Slow and steady, for now

Mar, 07/01/2014 - 22:44

BESIDE the riotous, relentless battle over Obamacare, a more tempered debate over health has been underway. Since the recession, health spending has grown slowly. On January 6th the number crunchers at the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released their newest annual figures. In 2012 spending rose by just 3.7%, to $2.8 trillion. That compares with growth of 9.7% in 2002. Importantly, America’s health spending in 2012 grew more slowly than its economy. The debate is whether the slowdown is merely a cyclical blip. 

This seemingly dry question is hugely important. Health spending threatens America’s long-term economic health, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Trends in spending will also shape the fate of an industry that accounts for nearly one-fifth of the world’s biggest economy. If the sector has seen structural changes in how individuals buy care and how doctors and firms sell it, that would be a big deal.

Academics have written extensively on the subject. In May David Cutler and Nikhil Sahni of Harvard Continue reading

Should the government guarantee work for everybody?

Mar, 07/01/2014 - 19:29

THE other day Jesse Myerson wrote a piece in Rolling Stone laying out "Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For". The first proposal was "guaranteed work for everybody", and it continued from there. The reaction from many conservatives was roughly what one might expect if the Soviet Union announced it was re-forming and heading out on a reunion tour. In response to the furore, Matthew Yglesias patiently explained that total state ownership of the economy plus a repressive totalitarian one-party political apparatus is not the same thing as providing state jobs for the unemployed. Josh Barro chimed in, explaining that many of the ideas are pretty good ones, and Continue reading

The end of an era

Lun, 06/01/2014 - 23:49

“WE ARE a city upon a hill,” said Marty Walsh, Boston’s new mayor, during his inaugural address this morning, referencing a famous speech by John Winthrop, a founding father of the Massachusetts colony. Mr Walsh went on to say that the city is not just the shining light of Beacon Hill. “It’s Savin Hill, where I live. It’s Bunker Hill, Bellevue Hill and Fort Hill. It’s Pope’s Hill, Jones Hill and Telegraph Hill. it’s Copp’s Hill, Mission Hill and Eagle Hill.”

With each hill, the listening crowd cheered. The litany of neighbourhoods recalled the local pride of Tom Menino, Boston’s longest-serving mayor and Mr Walsh’s predecessor. For two decades Mr Menino tirelessly worked the city’s streets, pressing flesh at school plays and ribbon cuttings alike. Mr Menino once bragged to your correspondent that he had met half the city’s population in person, a claim polls appear to back up. Still popular, he decided not to seek a sixth term. Now 71, he said his poor health meant he no longer able to be in “in the neighbourhoods all the time” as was his way.

It is not yet clear what Mr Walsh’s way will be....Continue reading

Sort of in defence of David Brooks

Sáb, 04/01/2014 - 00:29

I FIND today's collective meltdown over David Brooks's bland column on marijuana slightly baffling. My colleague (along with most of the rest of the internet today) is absolutely right to note that Mr Brooks fails to account for the great harms of prohibition, not least the vast racial disparities in arrest and incarceration rates, and the subsequent difficulties for the victims of that injustice in finding work or public housing. It is shameful that a toot of a pipe can trigger consequences like these, and that is why it is such a relief to see parts of America (and other places) taking steps to wind down the war on drugs.

But let's not pretend that relaxing prohibition is cost-free. Legalising...Continue reading

The butterfly effect

Vie, 03/01/2014 - 20:34

IT HAS not been a relaxing 2014 for Donald Verrilli, the solicitor-general. On Tuesday, nine hours before she pressed the crystal button initiating the ball-drop in Times Square, Sonia Sotomayor gave Mr Verrilli a holiday-week assignment: by Friday the government had to respond to a Catholic charity's objections to the Obamacare provision requiring employers to cover birth control in their health plans. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a home for the elderly in Colorado, claimed that its religious liberty was unduly burdened by the mandate, and Justice Sotomayor granted a temporary injunction on the provision.

This morning, Mr Verrilli duly submitted his 37-page memorandum responding to the injunction. It is a persuasive document.

To begin, the Little Sisters of the Poor and several dozen similar religious organisations are not actually bound by the contraceptive mandate. In February 2012, the Obama administration responded to complaints from...Continue reading

Reefer madness

Vie, 03/01/2014 - 18:47

EVER since Colorado and Washington announced their intent to legalise recreational marijuana, there has been a lot of really smart writing speculating about the effects of those policy changes, both for the people of those two states and for broader federalism questions. In fact, the general level of political discussion surrounding Colorado, Washington and cannabis has been so elevated that at times I've wondered: where has all the other discussion gone? You know what I mean: where's the condescending paternalism, the blindness to unintended consequences, the zeal to punish, and the Puritan hostility...Continue reading

Unhappy New Year

Vie, 03/01/2014 - 15:57

THE Grinch came late last year. Thanks to congress, extended unemployment benefits expired the weekend after Christmas, leaving 1.3m Americans resolving in the new year to find work or get by with less. Of course, work is not easy to come by these days, especially for the long-term unemployed. Matthew Yglesias of Slate writes

The result is a morally scandalous situation that will start playing out in the new year. People who've been out of work for a long time obviously really need some money to get by, and they're going to lose their money.

And they're not going to make up for it by getting...Continue reading