Prior to his employment at Amoco, Mr. Johnston served as an economist with the RAND Corporation, the Institute for Defense Analyses, and the Secretary's Office of the U.S. Treasury. He served on the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea.
Mr. Johnston's current research has focused on electric utility deregulation in Illinois and other states; pollution trading under the climate change treaty, Clean Air Act, and the RECLAIM system for the South Coast Air District; and a general theory of regulation, published in the Cato Institute's Regulation magazine.
Latest posts by Jim Johnston (see all)
- Price Controls, Whether For Labor Or Housing, Don’t Work - July 9, 2014
- Adding Economics to the Immigration Debate - May 20, 2014
- Encrypt Everything! - February 3, 2014
At the onset I should mention in the interest of full disclosure, that the vote in my household is split right down the middle. There is one vote for Governor Mitt Romney and one vote for Governor Gary Johnson.
I am struck by how many of those eligible do not vote. Only in presidential elections does the number of eligible voters who do not vote go below 50 percent. During midterm elections the nonvoters who are eligible rise above 50 percent and off-year elections for local offices the turnout is seldom above 25 percent.
Why do so many of those eligible, not vote? The obvious answer is that the costs of voting exceed the benefits.
It is not that the costs are so high. It is that the benefits are so low. That raises another question. Why are the benefits so low? To answer that, one must examine the reasons for voting. I see two reasons. One is expressing support for a favorite team. It is not necessarily to help your favorite team to win. In Chicago, there are two major league baseball teams — the Cubs and the White Sox. Both are perennial losers. But the attendance at Cubs games are almost always sold out at Wriggly Field. Same is true of Republicans in Chicago. Their candidates seldom if ever win. But Republicans still show up at the polls.
Speaking of Chicago, the voting rules there are strictly enforced. Dead people and animals are not allowed to vote — more than once. My mother who died three years ago and for several years before that was in a Chicago nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease. But she has apparently been voting, the evidence of which is that she was recently called for jury duty. One effect of the Chicago style vote counting is there is less uncertainty in the election outcome. Moreover, there is little doubt that my dead mother is taking the ever reliable voting advice from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The other reason for voting or not voting, in my opinion, is a preference on issues that separate the candidates. Often there are no strong differences and when there are, the expected outcome may not be close. It may also be the case that there is a lack of good analysis of the issues. Good analysis is costly, while pissing and moaning is not. Therefore, pissing and moaning tends to drown out good analysis.
For example, the analysis of the fiscal policy is not especially good. One side says do not give a tax cut to the rich. The other side says it is better to cut rates and limit the deductions by the rich. A better analysis, in my opinion, addresses the state of the economic recovery from the housing bubble. Businesses, especially banks are holding back on nonhousing investment and lending. What is the reason? The obvious answer is uncertainty, especially about the fiscal cliff and how it is avoided or not avoided. In my humble opinion the best policy for releasing investment funds is to leave the tax regime as it is (with the so-called Bush-era tax cuts) for a decade or so. In the meantime, careful analysis of the tradeoff between the tax rate cuts and the broadening of the tax base can be carefully conducted. One particularly important question to be answered is why do the tax exemptions and deductions exist. Just saying they are inefficient without detailed study is just another form of pissing and moaning.
Let me turn now to the election. The system laid out in the US. Constitution is that a majority in the Electoral College is a necessary (if not sufficient) condition. See this for a more detailed description. The basic rationale, that is seldom discussed, it the principal of parliamentary law that pluralities do not elect. Only majorities elect. Only one presidential candidate has received a majority of the popular vote. It was George W. Bush in 2004 with 50.4 percent.
The alternative of depending exclusively on the popular vote would seem to be repeated runoffs. And you thought the aftermath of the hanging chads in 2000 was protracted.
There have been proposals to have electors put in place in strict proportion to the popular vote in each state. There are two states, Maine and Nebraska, that have a crude version of that plan. But a general application would take coordinated legislative action across all states unless a constitutional amendment were enacted. That would be difficult, to say the least.
Thus, for the time being the the institution of the Electoral College remains. That is probably efficient given that it has existed since the adoption of the Constitution in 1787.
Now, what should I do for the rest of the day (or weeks) until the election is decided? The words of Joe Fink my former boss come to mind. One day he walked down the hall muttering loud enough for all to hear. He said “I am going to spend the rest of the day in the john. That is the only place where people know what they are doing.”