Nightcap

  1. What holds China together? Ian Johnson, ChinaFiles
  2. Bernie Sanders was wrong about America Conor Friedersdorf, Atlantic
  3. Assessing the problems caused by the creation of America Mark Spencer, TLS
  4. Should we ration coronavirus testing by price? Tyler Cowen, MR

Biden vs. Sanders: The view from New Delhi

After Joe Biden’s remarkable performance on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, where he won 10 states, Wall Street surged on Wednesday. Many argue that the former Vice President, with his centrist economic views as compared to Senator Bernie Sanders, would be more acceptable not just to centrist supporters of the Democrats, as well as US corporates, but interestingly even some Republicans who are not comfortable with Trump’s economic policies. Donors of the Democratic Party are also rallying behind Biden, and Sanders is trying to use this point in his favor, saying that the ‘political establishment’ is not happy with his rise. The Vermont Senator, with his radical economic policies, has based his campaign on challenging the current status quo (where a section of the elite have disproportionate influence).

If one were to look at Biden’s key stand on foreign policy issues, his remarks on Afghanistan were criticised not just by Afghan leaders but also strategic analysts. Biden stated that US should not be concerned with ‘nation building’ in Afghanistan, but rather with countering terrorism. Reacting to his remarks, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stated:

Afghanistan fought and stood as a whole nation to the face of tyrants such as the Soviet Invasion, Terrorism invasion and now, it is in the front lines so that the other nations are safer. ISIS [Daesh] & the Taliban, the major terror networks and the enemies of the world are defeated here.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai stated that Biden’s remarks were ‘unrealistic and immature’ and sent a message that US was not really concerned about nation building in Afghanistan. Other observers of Afghanistan were also surprised by Biden’s remarks (as number 2 in the Obama Administration, he played a key role in the formation of the Unity government in 2014).

On China, Biden’s approach seems to be more nuanced than Trump’s. In May 2019, he stated that while US needed to watch its own interests, excessive paranoia vis-à-vis China was uncalled for. A month later (in June 2019) he stated that “China poses a serious challenge to us, and in some areas are a real threat.”

At the same time, like the Republicans and Democrats, Biden has opposed the entry of Huawei into the United States’ 5G network, arguing that this would be a security threat (in a presidential primary debate, Biden alluded to this point along with other candidates). Interestingly, an article in China’s main English-language daily, Global Times, argues that Biden would be a better bet for China than Bernie Sanders given that he is more predictable and has experience in dealing with China.

One issue on which Biden has drawn flak from Bernie Sanders is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a brain child of former President Barack Obama (TPP was an important component of Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy which sought to counter China’s economic and strategic influence in the Asia-Pacific region – now referred to as Indo-Pacific).

Sanders’ approach to TPP is identical to that of Trump (whose first decision was to pull out of the TPP). Sanders had praised Trump’s decision saying that this decision was in the interest of American workers.

The Vermont Senator has argued that Biden supported the TPP, which would be damaging to American workers. While seeing the popular mood, Biden has revised his stand and stated that he would go ahead with the deal but will renegotiate it (interestingly, Trump’s 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton also turned against the TPP even though as Secretary of State she had fervently backed the deal).

When in power, the approach to crucial policy issues changes and that could be the case as far as Joe Biden is concerned. On issues like China and TPP it is highly unlikely that Biden will take a fundamentally different position from the Republican Party given the current narrative prevalent in the US. Having been an insider, it is likely though that he will follow a more cautious approach and not upset the apple cart too much.

Nightcap

  1. Normal Joe (Biden) and the 2020 election Jacques Delacroix, NOL
  2. More campaign finance fiction Ethan Blevins, NOL
  3. The Good Life vs reality Mary Lucia Darst, NOL
  4. Prediction: Trump-Sanders 2016 Rick Weber, NOL
  5. “Medicare For All” will never work: a Brazilian view Bruno Gonçalves Rosi, NOL
  6. Bernie fans should want Bernie to lose the primary Bill Rein, NOL

“Medicare For All” will never work: a Brazilian view

Even though I don’t follow the news, it’s somewhat impossible not to know that Bernie Sanders is making a lot of buzz as the possible Democrat candidate for the coming presidential elections. I know: he presents himself as a democratic socialist; he says that some European countries are good examples for the US. I believe that as a Brazilian I have something to say about that.

Bernie Sanders often compares the US with countries like Denmark or Sweeden. I believe there is a fundamental problem with that: the US is a gigantic country with a gigantic population. And a very diverse population at that! Nordic countries are tiny, with a tiny and homogenous population. How about comparing the US and Brazil? The two countries have about the same size and the population is not too different. Besides, Brazil is as culturally diverse as the US. Maybe more!

So here are some things about Brazil that I think people should know. Brazil is by definition a social democracy. That is not written anywhere, but one has only to read our constitution to be aware of that. Brazil’s constitution is very young: it was promulgated in 1988. As so, it reflects more recent political ideas. For example, it basically puts healthcare as a human right that the government has to provide for the population. So, Brazil has (in theory) a free universal healthcare system.

How is healthcare in Brazil in reality? Horrible. Inhumane. Media news are basically the same every week: long waiting lines for the most basic treatments. People dying without care. Few doctors. Overprice. Medication and equipment rooting without use. I don’t think that people in Brazil are different from people in the US. We have the same chromosomes. The difference is in how we deal with the issue. Brazil decided that healthcare is a right and that it should be provided by the government. The result is that we don’t have healthcare.

I believe I know why things are the way they are in Brazil: healthcare is a need. No doubt about that! But there is something really bad when a need is turned into a right. A right means that you have to get it, no matter what. But, really? No matter what? Second, there is something very deceiving when one talks about “free” healthcare. Really? Free?! Doctors have to get paid. Medicine costs money. One can’t possibly be serious when they say “free healthcare”. Finally, I suspect that the Austrian School of economics has something very important to say about the government running the healthcare system. More than anyone else, Friedrich Hayek pointed to how free prices are important for the economy. In a truly free economy, supply and demand interact with prices: high prices mean low supply; low prices mean high supply. This simple mechanism functions as a compass for everyone. However, when the government interferes, the result is inefficiency.  Too much medicine is bought and just rots. Or too little, and people die.

I’m not sure how many Bernie supporters read Notes on Liberty. But I really wish some of them would check what happens in Brazil. We tried to have a free universal healthcare system. We tried to have free college. We tried all these things. It didn’t work. I believe that the Austrian School can explain why. I know, it’s a bummer. There is nothing nice about people dying for lack of treatment. However, if you agree with me that this is a problem, I believe I’m in the right position to say that socialism – democratic or not – is not the solution.

Nightcap

  1. Learning to love the Bern Matthew Yglesias, Vox
  2. Is there still a West? Jared Lucky, Commonweal
  3. Bernie doubles down on his Israel remarks Matthew Choi, Politico
  4. The politics of logic Alexander Klein, Aeon

Bernie fans should want Bernie to lose the primary

In politics, sometimes it’s best to play the long game.
 
Pro-liberty people, and everyone else, will have two options in November. They will have Donald Trump, of farm subsidies, bump stock bans, and tariffs fame, who has overseen us first run a trillion-dollar federal deficit, and they will have Democratic Candidate-Chemical X, who is probably going to be mostly for free college, radically centralized health care, injected with nuclear levels of woke ideological steroids, and will have a “B” somewhere in their name.
 
Of Buttigieg, Beth, Biden and Bernie, only one has a grassroots, large-scale, young-and-old movement behind them, and far more meaningful for the long game of politics is going to be this movement, not the person with their name on the campaign. Leftists are fighting to capture the eternal soul of the States, and therefore the effective ones will use weapons that puncture more than flesh, build infrastructure that survives short-term failure, and mobilize voters past one election cycle.
 
The 2016 Bernie primary voters came back to Bernie at a remarkable rate. This animation is the sign of a movement, and it rings a bell for libertarians from 2008 and 2012. Now, the best case scenario for a Bernie voter is for Bernie to win the nomination. But the best case scenario for a Bernie revolutionary is for Bernie to lose the primary, far before the election.
 
If Bernie wins the nomination, he will certainly lose to Trump in the election. When he loses to Trump in the election, the Democrats will slide more toward centrism, having seen populist leftism crash and burn when it’s on the big stage. There’ll be a bifurcation of the socialists and moderates, with the socialists losing all their Sisyphean-gained infrastructure, and the establishment Democrats disavowing the radicals just like the conservatives disavowed the ethnonationalists last season (notice how right now, Bernie is the most untouchable candidate in the debates — the DNC is seeing how it goes). The momentum of the socialists’ movement will take a huge hit; it almost certainly won’t last four years later. This way, their ideas simply lose. They get close, then they give up.
 
However, if Bernie loses the nomination, another candidate will move forward and take the beating. And no one else pulls off Bernie’s brand and essentializes American socialism like he does. Bernie losing is American socialism losing, just like Labour and Corbyn’s defeat is British socialism losing; Warren or Buttigieg or Biden losing is respectively less and less symbolic. Inversely, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Biden taking the punch in November would seem to be a dramatic indictment of the moderate Democrats.
 
Sanders is very popular with a very young crowd. This group has the stamina for a grassroots movement that lasts. And that’s the long game. The American government-electing machine is a gigantic servo, absorbing constituent stress in armored heat baths, depressurizing with fluctuations between Democrat and GOP success, pulling in billions of minute feedback points and stabilizing itself against any revolutionary change. What happens if Sanders does get elected President this year? Four years max — there’s no way he runs at 82. And then another Republican, much, much more conservative than Trump, to undo the welfare additions. The movement dies either way if Bernie proceeds.
 
Bernie fans should want their candidate to lose the primary, so that the base feels cheated by their own, so that another candidate takes the fall against the Emperor, so that the young people voting in their first election get disillusioned with the polls — so that they decide there’s more to instituting reform than checking a box for one person every four years. The Presidency is not necessary to the movement. The influx of successful hard-leftists in lower and federal office came from Bernie’s defeat and the anger thereof — Ocasio-Cortez might never have made it to office without the group Justice Democrats, half of which the founders came directly from the 2016 Bernie Sanders for President campaign.
 
It’s obvious the analogy here. Ron Paul lost painfully twice in a row; if he had beat McCain or Romney, we probably would have had President Obama either way. But him losing to McCain — getting his voice to the millions, with coerced delegates exposing the party corruption, legions of supporters birthed out of thin air, committed to a vast litany of pro-liberty pursuits that exist to this day — was the real victory. President Paul lasts eight years maximum, and might have the prestige of Reagan today (how many Reagan-esque Presidents have we had since?). Failed candidate Paul, on the other hand, is a God.
 
I think some of Sanders’ staff, especially Briahna Joy Gray, know this on an intuitive level. They’re committed to the movement after the man, not the man. But we’ll see where it goes.
 
The most important thing this time, though, will be Bernie not making the mistake of endorsing the DNC candidate, as he did with Clinton. 

More campaign-finance fiction

Today, Jacobin reports on Bernie Sanders’ proposal to give each American a $50-$200 voucher to spend on politicians’ political campaigns. I’m the lead counsel challenging a similar voucher program in Seattle, so I have some feelings on this subject.

The article opens with this classic ipse dixit: “Everyone knows that rich people skew our political priorities through big-money donations to candidates.” Really? I didn’t know that. But of course this is the big assumption behind so much campaign-finance hype, one that is vague and unprovable, like all good political rhetoric.

My first question here would be an attempt to resolve an ambiguity: what does “skew” mean? Where’s the magical baseline of “unskewed” political priorities? That baseline does not and never has existed. This opening line also fails to account for causation. That is, do donations influence eventual votes, or are both donations and votes attracted to candidate strength? I’ve yet to see a convincing argument that donations have ever “bought” a major federal election.

The article also seems to assume, as many do, that liberal politicians are the ones losing out in the big-donor world. This just isn’t so. Candidates from across the political spectrum receive plenty of cash. Heck, Hillary outspent Trump 3 to 1 in 2016. If she was hoping her donors would “buy” her the election, she was sorely disappointed.

The article also parrots the frequent refrain about our “broken” campaign-finance system. Again, compared to what? Where’s the unbroken system and what does it look like? At the end of the day, politicians need to figure out how to appeal to voters with all that money. How are our politics “skewed” if both parties are receiving plenty of funding with which to present a message that draws votes?

As for the actual voucher proposal, I think most Americans would rather keep their $50-$200 dollars and spend it on something other than a politician, but that’s just a hunch.