George Stigler doesn’t think much of the influence over economists over public policy


Australian @greens are more extreme than @OneNationAus?

42% of party A voters second preferences the Australian Labour Party. Less than 20% of party B voters second preference the Liberal Party of Australia.

Party A is Pauline Hanson’s One Nation voters; party B are Australian Green voters. Which are more extreme in terms of the distance from the median voter?

Which is more likely be persuaded to change their vote by been told over and over in the media that there are a bunch of extremists with concerns completely unrelated to the average Australian. We should note that people vote to anger and displease under the theory of expressive voting. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation is UKIP without the polish.

A far right populist contradicts the median voter theorem


Hanson, Trump, UKIP, Alternative for Germany, Marine Le Pen, and the anti-immigration but pro-welfare state populist parties in northern Europe are all smeared by the media as far right parties but also are described as right-wing populists. Media bias is still constrained by the median voter theorem.

You cannot be on the far right but win lots of votes because the extremes of the political spectrum account for few votes. What do you think left-wingers stay within the Labour Party despite wanting its leader to be tried for war crimes.


Even in proportional representation systems, few far right and far left party set up on their own two feet and survive because of thresholds to win seats. There are Communist parties in European parliaments but their representation is small except for the Bundestag.

You cannot get into the 2nd round of the French presidential election, come 2nd in 40 British Labour Party seats, win the safest Labour Party seats in Queensland, and be attacked from Ted Cruz from the right and still be a far right winger.

All right-wing populist parties combine that heady brew of nationalism,opposition to immigration and free trade, and staunch support of the welfare state. Not surprisingly, something like 40% of their votes come from the traditional labour parties and social democratic parties.


Source: EUROPP – The ‘reluctant radicals’ who offer conditional support to the far-right are key to understanding the success of right-wing populist parties in European elections.

Countering their appeal to the electorate cannot start with saying that anyone who votes for them is weird because the secret ballot allow secret malice.

The left is surprisingly bad at playing catch-up in identity politics. As one UKIP supporter said, I am a white working class Englishmen not on the benefit so Labour does not speak for me.

An inquiry established by Labour’s former policy chief, Jon Cruddas, MP found that Labour needs to

“stop patronising socially conservative Ukip voters and recognise the ways in which Ukip appeals to former Labour voters”, the report says, adding: “Labour is becoming a toxic brand. It is perceived by voters as a party that supports an ‘open door’ approach to immigration, lacks credibility on the economy, and is a ‘soft touch’ on welfare spending.”

At present, the report argues, Labour is “largely a party of progressive, social liberals who value principles such as equality, sustainability, and social justice.

It is losing connection with large parts of the voter population who are either pragmatists in their voting habits or social conservatives who value family, work, fairness and their country.” It adds: “Labour is becoming dangerously out of touch with the electorate and … unwilling to acknowledge this growing estrangement.”

Why Do Politicians All Sound the Same? @BernieSanders

What the key voting blocs think of Obama’s gun-control proposals

What’s the difference between embedded neoliberalism and Director’s Law of public expenditure?

I learnt a new word today off the back of Jane Kelsey winning a $600,000 Marsden grant to study embedded neoliberalism and her latest transnational conspiracy theory about trade agreements.

I’ve never heard of embedded liberalism before today despite a keen interest in popular and academic news. I don’t think I’m poorer for that ignorance but let’s push on. According to that source of all knowledge and truth Wikipedia, embedded neoliberalism’s been around for about 35 years:

Embedded liberalism is a term for the global economic system and the associated international political orientation as it existed from the end of World War II to the 1970s. The system was set up to support a combination of free trade with the freedom for states to enhance their provision of welfare and to regulate their economies to reduce unemployment. The term was first used by the American political scientist John Ruggie in 1982.[1]

Mainstream scholars generally describe embedded liberalism as involving a compromise between two desirable but partially conflicting objectives. The first objective was to revive free trade. BeforeWorld War I, international trade formed a large portion of global GDP, but the classical liberal order which supported it had been damaged by war and by the Great Depression of the 1930s. The second objective was to allow national governments the freedom to provide generous welfare programmes and to intervene in their economies to maintain full employment.[2] This second objective was considered to be incompatible with a full return to the free market system as it had existed in the late 19th century—mainly because with a free market in international capital, investors could easily withdraw money from nations that tried to implement interventionist and redistributive policies.[3]

The resulting compromise was embodied in the Bretton Woods system, which was launched at the end of World War II. The system was liberal[4] in that it aimed to set up an open system of international trade in goods and services, facilitated by semi fixed exchange rates. Yet it also aimed to “embed” market forces into a framework where they could be regulated by national governments, with states able to control international capital flows by means of capital controls. New global multilateral institutions were created to support the new framework, such as the World Bank and theInternational Monetary Fund.

Source: Embedded liberalism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Decoding Marxist rhetoric is never easy, but I think what these academic Marxists are trying to do is describe the rise of the mixed economy and the welfare state over the course of the early and middle parts of 20th century.

The welfare state was never an easy thing for your card-carrying Marxist looking forward to the immiserisation of the proletariat as the trigger for the proletarian revolution.

Embedded neoliberalism mostly all about what Aaron Director in the 1950s explained as the reasons for the growth of government in the 20th century. He put forward what George Stigler label for him Director’s Law of Public Expenditure. George Stigler published an article on this law because Aaron Director published next to nothing for reasons no one understands. Director founded law and economics through teaching law classes at the University of Chicago law school.

Sam Peltzman pointed out that most of modern public spending is supported by the median voter –  the ‘swinging’ voter. He observed that governments at the start of the 20th century were a post office and a military; at the end of the 20th century, governments are a post office, a larger military and a very large welfare state.

Studies starting from Peltzman in 1980 showed that governments grew in line with the growth in the size and homogeneity of the middle class that was organised and politically articulate enough to implement a version of Director’s Law.

Director’s Law of public expenditure is that public expenditure is used primary for the benefit of the middle class, and is financed with taxes which are borne in considerable part by the poor and the rich. Based on the size of its population and its aggregate wealth, the middle class will always be the dominant voting bloc in a modern democracy. Growth in the size of governments across the developed world took off in the mid-20th century as the middle class blossomed. Peltzman maintained that:

“The levelling of income differences across a large part of the population … has in fact been a major source of the growth of government in the developed world over the last fifty years” because the levelling created “a broadening of the political base that stood to gain from redistribution generally and thus provided a fertile source of political support for expansion of specific programs. At the same time, these groups became more able to perceive and articulate that interest … [and] this simultaneous growth of ‘ability’ served to catalyse politically the spreading economic interest in redistribution.”

After the 1970s economic stagnation, the taxed, regulated and subsidised groups had an increasing incentive to converge on new, lower cost modes of income redistribution.

  • economic reforms ensued, led by parties on the left and right, with some members of existing political and special interest groupings benefiting from joining new coalitions.
  • More efficient taxes, more efficient spending, more efficient regulation and a more efficient state sector reduced the burden on the taxed groups.
  • Most of the subsidised groups benefited as well because their needs were met in ways that provoked less political opposition from the taxpaying groups.

Sweden, Norway and Denmark could be examples of Gary Becker’s idea that political systems converge on the more efficient modes of both regulation and income redistribution as their deadweight losses grew in the 1970s and 1980s and after. Unlike some of their brethren abroad, more of the Nordic Left and, more importantly, the Nordic median voter were cognizant of the power of incentives and to not killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Taxes on income from capital are low in Scandinavia.

The rising deadweight losses of taxes, transfers and regulation all limit the political value of inefficient redistributive policies. Tax and regulatory policies that are found to significantly cut the total wealth available for redistribution by governments are avoided relative to the germane counter-factual, which are other even costlier modes of redistribution.

An improvement in the efficiency of either taxes or spending reduces political pressure from taxed and regulated groups for suppressing the growth of government and thereby increases total tax revenue and spending because there is less political opposition. Efficient taxes lead to higher taxes.

Improvements in the efficiency of taxes, regulation and in spending reduce political pressure from the taxed and regulated groups in society. This suppressed the growth of government and thus increased or prevented cuts to both total tax revenue and spending since 1980. Economic regulation lessened after 1980 and there were privatisations, but social and environmental regulation grew unabated. Certainly in New Zealand the post-1984 economic reforms followed a good 10 years of economic stagnation and regular economic crises:

In the early 1980s, New Zealand’s economy was in trouble. The country had lost its guaranteed export market when Britain joined the European Economic Union in 1973. The oil crisis that year had also taken a toll.

The post-1980 reforms of Thatcher, Reagan, Clinton, Hawke and Keating, Lange and Douglas and others saved the modern welfare state for the middle class. Most income transfer programmes in modern welfare states disproportionately benefit older people. With an aging society, that trend can only continue. That is why these reforming policies survived political competition, election after election. The political parties on the left and right that delivered efficient increments and streamlined the size of government were elected, and in turn, got thrown out from time to time because they became tired and flabby.

The rest of embedded neoliberalism is trying to explain widespread economic deregulation and liberalisation of international trade along with the continual growth of social regulation. This is something that Gary Becker, George Stigler and Sam Peltzman have written on previously.

The continued growth of social regulation is best explained by the median voter theorem. Both Bryan Caplan and Sam Peltzman pointed out that it’s hard to think of any major government program or regulation that does not enjoy widespread popular support.

As for the public been duped by neoliberal economists, George Stigler argued that ideas about economic reform need to wait for a market. As Stigler noted, when their day comes, economists seem to be the leaders of public opinion but when the views of economists are not so congenial to the current requirements of special interest groups and voting public, these economists are left to be the writers of letters to the editor in provincial newspapers. These days they would run an angry blog.

Much higher house prices and the political sustainability of a return of inflation

Mortgage interest rates were last in the double digits in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since then, housing prices have exploded in New Zealand and barely paused for the recession in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.


Source: International House Price Database – Dallas Fed; Housing prices deflated by personal consumption expenditure deflator.

With house prices and mortgages several times what they used to be, the ability for any household income to absorb the sudden return of high mortgage interest rates because of  a return of even moderate CPI inflation and double-digit mortgage rates is well-nigh impossible, politically.


Source: Reserve Bank of New Zealand Mortgage rates and Bryan Perry, Household Incomes in New Zealand: trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2014 – Ministry of Social Development, Wellington (August 2015) Table C.5.

The chart above shows that the number of 25 to 44-year-olds in New Zealand who have more than 30% of their income going to housing expenses has doubled since 1988 to nearly a third of all households. The number of 45 to 64-year-olds who pay more than 30% of their income in housing expenses has quadrupled to 20%. That is a lot of voters who would be offended by mismanagement of monetary policy.

None of these households would have much left over to absorb an increasing mortgage interest rates. That is very different political arithmetic too the last time both mortgage rates and CPI inflation were in double digits, which was more than 20 years ago. Not many New Zealanders under the age of 40 or 45 have an adult memory of high inflation and high mortgage rates.

@nzlabour @NZGreens There just isn’t no missing million out there hanging out for that hard-left clarion call @rsalmond

Rob Salmond has written a great blog this week on the ideological spectrum of New Zealand voters based on the New Zealand Election Study.

In the course of his blog he drove a tremendously big stake through the heart of the old left fantasy that if Labour or Greens goes left, a large block of voters not voting for them now or not voting at all (the missing million voters) will shake lose its false consciousness and follow you:

But “pulling the centre back towards the left” is massively, massively hard.

You win those people over by being relevant to them as they are, not by telling them they’re worldview needs a rethink. It is just basic psychology. Tell people they were right all along; they like you. Tell people they were wrong all along; they don’t.

And if you win a majority of centrists, you win. The New Zealand Election Study series records six MMP elections in New Zealand – the three where Labour did best among centrists were the three Labour won.

That’s another message from the academic study I quoted above – in Germany, Sweden, and the UK, the elections where the left did best among centrists were the elections where they took power. As their popularity among centrists declined, so did their seat share.

What is more disturbing for the old left fantasy of the missing million is voting for the Labour Party or Greens is correlated with ignorance rather than knowledge.

Furthermore, the more people know about economics, the less likely they are to vote for the left as Eric Crampton explains:

When they get to the polls, the ignorant are significantly more likely to support the Labour Party (4% increase in predicted probability for a standard deviation increase in ignorance) and significantly less likely to support the Green party (1% decrease in predicted probability) and United Future (0.5% decrease in predicted probability).

Understanding economics strongly predicted supporting National in 2005, which comes as little surprise: the National Party leader was former Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. A standard deviation increase in our “economic thinking” index correlates with a 5.7% increased probability of voting National, a 1.5% decreased probability of voting NZ First, and a slight decrease in the probability of voting United Future and Maori.

To make matters worse, Crampton found that joining political organisations does little to cure ignorance of politics or otherwise lead to a political awakening. Sometimes active political affiliation reduces ignorance, other times such organisational membership intensifies ignorance.

via Salmond on the centre | Kiwiblog and » Blog Archive » Why the left wants everyone to vote.

Why Is The NRA So Powerful

Sanders, Trump and the median voter theorem

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