Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Eighth Republican Primary Debate (NV)

There have now been eight Republican presidential primary debates. The latest was held October 18th in Las Vegas, Nevada. Like the fourth, fifth and seventh debates, the standard eight candidates were invited. Gary Johnson was not invited, and interestingly, Jon Huntsman was invited but declined to participate. The full video is available on YouTube.

Before watching this debate, I had a fairly positive view of Herman Cain, and basically neutral views of the Ricks, Santorum and Perry. I had fairly negative views of Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney, and a very negative view of Ron Paul. I also do not mind one bit that Jon Huntsman skipped this debate, and doubly so for the reason he gave.

Just as I did in the other seven debates, I've summarized and responded to each candidate's positions below, and I've scored each position positive, zero or negative based on my gut reaction to it.  Since these "summaries" can get quite long, you may want to skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

Rick Santorum
  • He has seven children, and his three-year-old daughter had surgery the day of the debate. He tells her he loves her and will be home soon. Although I can be cynical about politicians, this doesn't at all come across as a play for sympathy. It actually comes across as kind of sweet. (+1)
  • He says 84% of Americans would pay higher taxes under 999. He says it should have a personal deduction and a child deduction. I agree it should have a personal deduction, but I've seen some analyses that say it does and others that say it doesn't, so I'm not sure what to believe about that. As for the child deduction, I don't think it's entirely appropriate for a politician with seven children to advocate lower taxes for parents, since that effectively means higher taxes on the rest of us. (0)
  • He repeats his claim from the previous debate that Europe has more income mobility than America does. It was only a half-truth then and it's only a half-truth now. He also continues his love affair with manufacturing. (-1)
  • "You just don't have credibility, Mitt, when it comes to repealing Obamacare." (+1)
  • He interrupts Romney's defense of Romneycare to point out that Romney's story has changed. Santorum is right, but his interruptions use up Romney's time, and then Santorum says he's out of time. Santorum just comes across as petty in this exchange. (-1)
  • When it's his turn to speak, he says Romneycare has "blown a hole" in Massachusetts' budget by expanding insurance without controlling costs, and Obamacare will do the same for the nation's budget. (+1)
  • "The basic building block of a society is not an individual. It's the family." (-1)
  • How would he solve the ongoing problems in the housing market? First, he'd rather beat up Romney, Perry and Cain for supporting TARP, to which Perry says, "Wrong," and Cain says, "Not all of it." He complains that people's houses have gone down in value and that "we need to let the market work." He doesn't seem to get the irony that when a bubble bursts, prices will go down, and that the only way to prevent prices from going down is to not let the market work. (-1)
  • Should voters pay attention to a candidate's religion? "They should pay attention to the candidate's values." Religion can shape those values, and he says it's legitimate to pay attention to how a candidate's religion would affect the decisions they make in office, but which religion is the right one is not a legitimate topic for a campaign. (+1)
  • He would not negotiate with terrorists, and he would "absolutely not cut one penny out of military spending." (-1)
  • On negotiating with terrorists for hostages, Ron Paul asks if everyone on the stage would condemn Reagan for negotiating with Iran. Santorum rightly points out that Iran was (and is) a sovereign nation, and we negotiated with them just like we did with the Soviet Union. (+1)
  • According to a recent Pew poll, less than 50% of Americans can name even one Republican primary candidate. That's just sad. He says he can beat Obama because he can bring in the Pennsylvania vote, neglecting to mention his 41-59% loss to a Democrat in 2006, which is the reason he's now "former Senator Santorum." (-1)

Ron Paul
  • He is the "champion of liberty" and the only candidate who has offered a balanced budget. (+1)
  • He says 999 is "dangerous" because it raises revenues and is regressive. Which is an interesting criticism because in the seventh debate Cain got flak for 999 lowering revenues. He also likes that a lot of people aren't paying taxes now, and he would eliminate the income tax and replace it with nothing. (-1)
  • Is there any part of Obamacare that he would keep? No, because it just creates more government when we need less. He rambles for a bit, but for the most part makes a good point. (+1)
  • How would we attract the Latino vote? He doesn't want a border fence, but he thinks it's a mistake to put people in groups. "We need to see everybody as an individual." He also thinks there's a lot of discrimination against minorities in the courts. (0)
  • "Rights don't come in bunches... Each individual has a right to life and liberty." And then he starts talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan and how we need to put the military on the Mexican border. I swear, if Ron Paul's answers were all truncated to ten seconds or less, it'd be a lot easier to support the man. (0)
  • Yucca Mountain is a states' rights issue, and the other 49 states don't have the right to put their nuclear waste in Nevada. (0)
  • When Cain says OWS should protest the White House instead of Wall Street, Paul says he'd protest the White House, Wall Street and the Federal Reserve. He says Cain "has blamed the victims" and launches into a rant that could've come from a pure-blooded Occupier. (-1)
  • He criticizes Cain for saying TARP was okay, just mismanaged, and says "you shouldn't put that much trust in the government." Then he complains that nobody in the government, in Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, has gone to jail for the bubble or recession, and that's why OWS is protesting Wall Street. Wait, what? (0)
  • He wants to cut defense spending by 15%, and he says national security "would be enhanced," because a lot of our defense spending doesn't actually help with our defense. Once again, cut him off after the first ten seconds or so and I'd support him. But then he starts talking about the "worldwide" debt bubble, the man in the moon (seriously), and how the United States is an empire and we're gonna collapse just like the Soviet Union. (-1)
  • "We have enough weapons to blow up the world 20, 25 times." Really? I wonder exactly how much weaponry is required to "blow up the world" once. Still, he makes a good point that we need to cut defense spending too. He even gets Santorum to nod in agreement, although I'm not sure Santorum knows what he's nodding about. (0)
  • Foreign aid is unconstitutional, including aid to Israel. (-1)
  • On negotiating with terrorists for hostages, he asks if everyone on the stage would condemn Reagan for negotiating with Iran. Santorum rightly points out that Iran was (and is) a sovereign nation, and we negotiated with them just like we did with the Soviet Union. (-1 to Paul)

Herman Cain
  • He is a businessman, and has been for 42 years. He's also been married for 43 years, and he "solves problems for a living." (+1)
  • He wants critics of 999 to "read our analysis" on his website. He says 999 is a jobs plan, is revenue neutral and does not raise taxes on the poor. The current tax code is "a ten-million-word mess" and 999 is "simple and fair." (+1) 
  • He says 999 is not a VAT. He also alludes to "opportunity zones" but doesn't say what those are. (0)
  • Talking about state sales taxes and 999 is comparing apples to oranges, although he's not clear about what he means by that. He also says 999 replaces five invisible taxes with one visible tax. (+1)
  • None of the other candidates understand 999, and he says it's not a VAT, but he doesn't say why. He repeats the claim that 999 replaces hidden taxes with a single visible tax. (0)
  • Romney gets him to repeat "apples and oranges" four times in about 30 seconds. He says people will pay the state sales tax "no matter what." Cain is not always the best at explaining what he actually means. He's right on this, that the state sales taxes are set by the states, independently from the federal government, so whatever the state rates are, they'll stay the same under the current tax code, under 999 or under any other federal tax reform. But he struggles to say it directly. He keeps repeating his "apples and oranges" metaphor and leaves it to the viewer to connect the dots. (0)
  • Is there any part of Obamacare that he would keep? No, and he would replace it with something like HR 3400, which he says allows association health plans, loser-pays laws and for insurance to be sold across state lines. I think association health plans and tort reform won't have very significant effects, but allowing insurance to be sold across state lines would be a very good thing. (+1)
  • "We should secure the border for real," which he believes includes building a fence, using technology and having "boots on the ground." He doesn't say whether the fence would cover the entire Mexican border. He also repeats his other three points from his old four-point plan on immigration: promote the existing path to citizenship, enforce existing immigration laws, and give more power to the states. (-1)
  • Does he support birthright citizenship? He doesn't want to answer that question, he'd rather answer Newt's question, and give basically the same answer as Newt. (-1)
  • He repeats what he said in the last debate that he supported "the concept of TARP" but not the implementation. I would still like to know what on earth that means. (-1)
  • He stands by his "blame yourself" statement on OWS, and gets some of the loudest and longest applause of the night. He says OWS should be protesting the White House, not Wall Street. (+1)
  • He asks what the OWS protesters want from Wall Street, "to come downstairs and write them a check?" We need to get to "the source of the problem," which is the White House. (+1)
  • Would he trade everyone in Guantanamo Bay to release an American held hostage by al Qaida? He says he wouldn't negotiate with terrorists, but he doesn't criticize Netanyahu for making a similar trade. He also says he'd have to consider all the details of that particular case, which makes it sound like he would negotiate with terrorists. Anderson Cooper tries to press him on that and Cain tries to draw a distinction between negotiating with terrorists in general vs not negotiating with terrorists who are part of al Qaida. Open mouth, insert foot. (-1)
  • He believes in "peace through strength and clarity." He wants to clarify who our friends and enemies are, then stop giving foreign aid to our enemies. (+1)
  • He says Romney's career has been "very distinguished," but that Romney has "Wall Street" business experience, while he has "Main Street" business experience. (0)

Mitt Romney
  • He was a businessman for 25 years. His use of the past tense compared to Cain's use of the present tense is interesting. He also "had the fun of" being the governor of Massachusetts and running the Salt Lake City Olympics. (0)
  • He basically makes the same point as Perry about 999 and sales taxes, but he does it by questioning Cain directly. He actually gets Cain a little flustered, which makes Mitt look good. (+1)
  • He wants to cut taxes on employers and the middle class, which is good. He also manages to use the word "chutzpah," which should happen more in debates. But then he says he wants "to get trade, opening up new markets for America," which sounds like a mercantilist sentiment (free trade has to go both ways). And he tops it off by saying he wants "to get our energy resources-- and they're all over the world, all over this country, used for us." Ignoring that our energy resources are "all over the world," if our energy resources are now being used for others, how is that not opening up new markets for America? Is he for trade or against it? (-1)
  • Perry is "absolutely right" on energy. "We're an energy-rich nation that's acting like an energy-poor nation." But he says the American economy is broader than energy, and our economic policy has to reflect that. (+1)
  • Pressed by Santorum, he says in the last campaign, he believed Romneycare was good for Massachusetts but wrong for the nation. He then gets into a spat with Santorum, where Santorum says he's changing the facts, and removed from his book the claim that Romneycare would be good for the whole country. Unfortunately for Romney, Santorum is right. (-1)
  • Massachusites like Romneycare (which he calls "my plan") by a 3-1 margin. Then he tries to paint it as the conservative alternative by saying, "a lot of people were expecting government to pay their way. And we said, you know what? If people have the capacity to care for themselves and pay their own way, they should." If this is what he really believes, then why does he claim to be against Obamacare? (-2)
  • He got the idea for the individual mandate from Newt Gingrich. When Newt says that's wrong, he broadens the claim to Newt "and the Heritage Foundation," which Newt accepts, as though that's any better. (0)
  • Perry says that Romney hired illegal immigrants, and the two of them get into a match of who can talk over the other the most. As soon as Romney gets to speak, he hammers Perry for his record on illegal immigration in Texas. He gets pretty flustered while they're talking over each other, but as soon as he gets his time, he simply rips Perry to shreds. (+1)  
  • When Perry says Romney had illegals working on his property, Romney counters that he hired a company that had hired illegal immigrants; when he found out about the illegals, he told the company, "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals." He's right to point out that an individual homeowner who hires a contractor should not be held responsible for knowing the immigration status of everyone that contractor hires. But the line, "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake," plays perfectly into the image of Romney as someone who lets his campaign determine his positions, not the other way around. (-1)
  • "I think every single person here loves legal immigration." He wants a fence and he wants to turn off the "magnets" like employers that hire illegals and states that give tuition breaks to illegals. And in case it wasn't clear that his last point was a swipe at Perry, he says Texas' illegal immigration is up 60% while California and Florida have seen no increase. (0)
  • He's against Yucca Mountain, and somehow thinks it's a "free market" solution to tax electricity use in the other 49 states to create a transfer to the one state that builds a nuclear waste facility. (-1)
  • He doesn't address Santorum's criticism that he supported TARP, but does say he wants to "let markets work" and not prevent foreclosures. (+1)
  • Asked about OWS, he dodges the question, but has a pretty good answer bashing Obama, saying he's "out there campaigning. Why isn't he governing?" (+1)
  • Jeffress' specific comments about Mormonism don't bother him because he's "heard worse," but what did bother him was Jeffress' idea that we should elect people on the basis of what their religion is or where they go to church. He's right; that idea is just a form of identity politics no different than that practiced by the Democrats. (+1)
  • Defense spending somehow counts as foreign aid, which means the foreign aid budget should go to the Department of Defense. If his premise is right though, shouldn't that be the other way around? Then he says China should pay for our foreign aid, despite the fact that China remains in the bottom half of countries by per capita income. Looking at per capita income, this would quite literally be a case of someone earning $1,000 a week saying he doesn't want to pay for something, so the guy who earns $150 a week should have to pay for it instead. Now it's entirely appropriate to question whether we should be funding government-to-government foreign aid in the first place, but to say that China should be paying our foreign aid instead is just wacky. (-1 for being confusing and wacky, and another -1 for playing up anti-China fears)
  • He would cut discretionary spending back to its 2008 level (which is great, although the real spending increases of the past couple years have been in mandatory spending as I understand it), cut federal employment by 10% through attrition (meaning it's only going to happen very slowly), link public sector compensation to private sector wages (which is a good idea but very difficult to do in practice-- what private sector job is equivalent to financial regulators? or military officers? or social workers?). He would also grow Medicaid at 1-2% per year (meaning probably lower than inflation, and definitely lower than population growth plus inflation), and he repeats his promise to repeal Obamacare. (0)
  • He can beat Obama because he has "spent his life in the private sector." That is his "distinguishing feature." Considering the introductions, if private sector experience will be the reason he beats Obama, wouldn't Cain be the better choice, with 17 years more private sector experience? (0)
  • He got Massachusetts down to 4.7% unemployment. He doesn't mention that when Massachusetts was at 4.7%, from October to December 2006, the national unemployment rate fluctuated between 4.4% and 4.5%. Although it did fall during his term, for the most part it was right in line with the national rate. (-1)
  • Romney says 40% of the jobs in Texas went to illegal immigrants, which Rick Perry says is not true. Politifact rated it half-true, given that it was the higher of two measures from the study, which itself has been heavily questioned on methodological grounds. (0)
  • He says that in the four years that he and Perry were both governors, Massachusett's unemployment rate was lower than Texas'. That's true for most of the four years, except for the last several months. Interestingly, Texas' unemployment rate first fell below Massachusett's in exactly the same period Mitt brags about for reaching 4.7%. In those months, Texas' rate falls from 4.7% to 4.5%. Where Romney saw a total 1.3% decline from peak to leaving office, Perry saw a 2.4% decline over the same period and a 2.6% decline from peak to trough. (0)
  • He says he's been a CEO four times-- for a startup financial company, a mainstream consulting firm, the Salt Lake City Olympics and the state of Massachusetts. I'm not sure how much the last two count as being a "CEO," and I don't think being CEO of a financial company and a consulting firm will go very far to convince people his experience isn't "Wall-Street-oriented" like Cain says. (0)

Rick Perry
  • He's "an authentic conservative, not a conservative of convenience," and he touts his record in Texas. (0)
  • New Hampshire doesn't have a sales tax, and they don't want a 9% national sales tax. Nevada already has an "eight-plus" percent sales tax, and they don't want another 9%. I think Cain is mostly right on this issue. (0)
  • The "9" we need to focus on is not 999 or Romney's 59-point plan, but the 9% unemployment we currently face. He says we have "300 years of resources right under our feet" but the Obama administration is preventing us from accessing it. By allowing energy exploration, he says we can create 1.2 million jobs and achieve energy independence. (+1)
  • Asked to address the high rate of uninsured children in Texas, Perry shifts to illegal immigration. He says the illegals are "coming here because there is a magnet. And the magnet is called jobs." Really? What happened to focusing on our 9% unemployment? (-1)
  • The governor who is for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants says it is "the height of hypocrisy" for Romney to have hired illegal immigrants, yet claim to be against illegal immigration. Total self-awareness fail. (-1)
  • When Romney says he never hired an illegal immigrant, Perry says he had illegals working on his property. This is very different from the truth, which is that Romney hired a company that had hired illegal immigrants; when Romney found out about the illegals, he told the company not to have them work on his property; when he found out that they were still sending illegals to his property, he fired the company. Perry could've made a much stronger case against Romney if he had just gotten the story right the first time. (-1)
  • Is it possible to build a fence across the entire Mexican border? "Sure," but it will take 10-15 years and $30 billion. It's great to hear someone bring up the cost of a border fence. But then he repeats his plan from previous debates to fly Predator drones over the border, and he says, "That is the way to shut that border down." (-1)
  • Building a border fence can be done, but it will a long time to do it, and there are better ways to secure the border. Perry says he's spent $400 million of Texas' tax money securing the border with Texas Rangers, and he doesn't want someone in Congress (Bachmann) telling him how to handle the border. (-1)
  • He agrees with Romney that people who hire illegals are "magnets," then turns to Romney and says, "You are number one on that list, sir." What I find most fascinating is that this actually gets boos from the audience. If this debate was Perry's last chance to regain his lost standing, he blew it. (0)
  • Does he support birthright citizenship? Like Cain, he doesn't want to answer that question. He'd rather talk about energy policy. (-1)
  • Pressed on the issue of birthright citizenship, he says he does not support repealing the 14th Amendment (the one that establishes birthright citizenship). (+1)
  • On Yucca Mountain, he agrees with Romney and Paul. He starts to say something good about France regarding nuclear power, then suddenly remembers that he's at a Republican debate, and mid-thought switches to talking about the Tenth Amendment. (-1)
  • Criticized by Santorum for writing a letter supporting TARP, he says the letter actually supported tax cuts and regulatory reform, not the bailout. Here's the actual letter; it's certainly vague enough that it could be taken either way. Of course, writing a letter to Congressional leaders that's so vague it can be taken to mean whatever you want it to mean is not exactly a positive for Perry. (0)
  • "I can no more remove my faith than I can that I'm the son of a tenant farmer." Apparently Perry has never heard of anyone who converted from one belief to another. Then he stumbles around awkwardly for awhile. (-1)
  • We need to have a "real debate" about foreign aid and a "real discussion" about defunding the UN. I don't think defunding it is necessary, but it absolutely needs reform. (0)
  • Under Romney, Massachusetts was 47th in job creation, and Texas created more jobs in the past two months than Massachusetts did in Romney's entire term as governor. (+1 for the first point, -1 for not taking population size into account in the second point)
  • When Mitt Romney says 40% of the jobs in Texas went to illegal immigrants, Perry says that's not true. Politifact rated it half-true, given that it was the higher of two measures from the study, which itself has been heavily questioned on methodological grounds. (0)

Newt Gingrich
  • He bashes Obama for not liking Vegas or something, and wants to "replace class warfare with cooperation." (0)
  • He actually compliments Cain for proposing "a specific, very big idea" and for getting the candidates to talk about "something that matters." He says 999 is more complicated when you look at it closer, although it's not clear whether that's a criticism or supporting the compliment that it's a "specific" big idea. He does criticize it by saying big ideas like 999 will take years to implement, and we need something that will work "very fast." (+1)
  • There's a difference between solving health care problems from the top-down vs from the bottom-up. He says it's not fair to call Romneycare the same as Obamacare, but fundamentally it is a top-down, "big government, bureaucratic, high-cost" reform. (+1)
  • Mitt says they got the idea for the individual mandate from Newt. Newt says that's not true, that they got it from the Heritage Foundation. Pressed by Romney, Newt admits that he did support the individual mandate as an alternative to Hillarycare, and accepts the statement that Mitt got the idea for the individual mandate from Newt "and the Heritage Foundation." (-2)
  • "Anybody who understands America has to be proud of our record as the country which has been the most open in history to legal immigration." He says most Latinos in the US were actually born in the US and are not immigrants, and they want the same things everyone else wants-- a job, health insurance, education and safety. (+1)
  • The Yucca Mountain issue "has to be looked at scientifically," and "Yucca Mountain certainly was picked by the scientific community as one of the safest places in the United States" for storing nuclear waste. I have to say, it takes some balls to support a Yucca Mountain storage facility in front of a Nevada crowd, especially one that has not hesitated to loudly boo other candidates. (+1)
  • Asked about the role of religion in politics, Gingrich says, "How can I trust you with power if you don't pray?" He clarifies that "Who you pray to, how you pray, how you come close to God is between you and God," which is really bizarre when it's approached on it's face. Newt would apparently rule out atheists, agnostics and apostates, but would be just fine with Satanists or believers in Apophis. This is just the same old it-doesn't-matter-what-you-believe-as-long-as-you-believe BS. (-2)
  • He compares the Supercommittee's mandatory cuts after failure as "we'll all have to shoot ourselves in the head," which is "stupid," and whatever compromise they reach to avoid that will be "really dumb," "semi-stupid," and "merely cut off our right leg." He also says cutting defense spending would be "suicidally stupid." Gee Newt, tell us how you really feel. He completely rejects the idea that "historically illiterate politicians who have no sophistication" should get to determine what the defense budget is, and he decries "the bankruptcy of the current elite in this country." While he's not entirely wrong, defense spending is one of the largest pieces of the federal budget, and we're not going to balance the budget without cutting defense somehow. But more to the point, listening to Newt give this answer, I just can't avoid the feeling that he's just bitter that he's not in what he calls "the current elite." I think he looks at people like Obama and his advisers, and Dubya and his advisers, and says, "I'm smarter than all of them. I should have their jobs." His problem isn't with the elite in general, it's with the "current elite," meaning the elite that doesn't include him. And even if I agree with some of the policy points he makes, I just can't support the man overall. (-2)
  • He goes to bat in defense of Reagan over Iran. Which is probably necessary for someone at a Republican debate to do just for appearance's sake, but nothing Gingrich says has any implication for current policies. (0)
  • He plugs his website and says he'd beat Obama by making him have Lincoln-Douglas-style debates and focusing on substance. (0)

Michele Bachmann
  • With Huntsman not in this debate, Bachmann is free to claim the title of lame joke frontrunner, which she does, saying that she hopes what happens in Vegas tonight doesn't stay in Vegas. (0)
  • Asked to criticize 999, she complies. She says the 9% sales tax could someday be raised to 90% by liberals, and that 999 contains a hidden VAT. These are two big arguments against 999, and she brings them out right away. (+1)
  • "Absolutely every American should pay something" in taxes, apparently walking back her point from the sixth debate that you should get to keep "every dollar that you earn." She wants to "completely abolish the tax code" and "flatten the tax," although it's not clear whether she wants an actual flat tax or simply a flatter tax. She also says we need to repeal Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, and plugs her website. You can count on Bachmann to be 100% against whatever's in front of her, no matter what she's said in the past. (-1)
  • "Even the Obama administration chose to reject part of Obamacare" by getting rid of the CLASS Act. (+1)
  • She won't just build one fence, she'll build TWO fences along the entire Mexican border, with a no man's land "area of security neutrality" in between. Take that Rick "shut that border down" Perry! She also wants English to be the "official language of government." (-2)
  • Does she support birthright citizenship? Apparently not, because she thinks "anchor babies" are a magnet, and despite birthright citizenship being in the 14th Amendment, she thinks we can get rid of it "legislatively." (-1 for being against birthright citizenship and another -1 for being willing to trash the Constitution when it suits her)
  • Does the federal government have a role in preventing foreclosures? She talks about how she's a mom, and she doesn't want moms in America to lose their "nests." She doesn't come right out and say it, but it sounds like she does want the federal government to prevent foreclosures. (-1)
  • Asked whether she supports cutting defense spending, she has a long speech about how important foreign policy is and how no one respects the US anymore and how "the number one issue in the world" is Iran getting a nuke (which, she says, "makes all of us much danger" and no, that's not a typo). Asked again what that means for defense spending, she says sure, cutting defense "is on the table," but not by $500 billion. I get the impression she's trying to answer the question both ways, and she does not do well. This is also the answer that was trending on Twitter afterwards, where she said, "He put us in Libya, he is now putting us in Africa." (-2)
  • She wants to continue giving aid to Israel, but wants to be "reimbursed" by Iraq and Libya. Treaty of Versailles, anyone? (-1)
  • She says releasing "the prisoners at Guantanamo in exchange for a hostage" would be "na├»ve." (+1)
  • When Cooper announces that the debate is over, she calls out, "No no no no!" and then when she's given a chance to speak, says only "the cake is baked," Obama will be a one-term President, and she's the most different from him, but doesn't say why. That couldn't wait for the post-debate interviews? (-1)

Conclusion
Jon Huntsman's only option right now is to win New Hampshire, and he doesn't really stand a chance to do that either. He hopes to curry extra-special New Hampshirite favor by taking a stand against Nevada's primary schedule. Without going into specifics, I think that's stupid. The whole system where a handful of states vote before everybody else is stupid, and Huntsman is stupid for supporting it. (Sorry, maybe I've been watching too many Gingrich videos...)

Speaking of stupid, this "Western issues" debate was nothing of the sort. There was 999, health care, the Mexican border, OWS... There was discussion of home foreclosures which was justified as a Nevada issue, and of course Yucca Mountain. But I suppose in the primary system I disparaged in the previous paragraph, the only "Western issues" that matter are Nevada issues anyway.

Summing up the points, Bachmann is clearly at the bottom with -7, closely followed by Perry at -6. Paul and Romney tied at -3, with Gingrich slightly ahead at -2 and Santorum slightly further ahead at -1. Herman Cain easily took the lead with +3.

In this debate, I finally figured out Ron Paul, and why so many people support him. Research on this theory is pending, but I believe the Paulites simply have very short attention spans. If you take most of Paul's answers from tonight's debate and truncate them to ten seconds or so, he actually sounds like a really good candidate. It's always later in his answers when he starts to ramble and inevitably makes some ridiculous claim or three. If he refused to speak for more than 10-15 seconds at a time, he might have a shot at the nomination.

I have to give Newt Gingrich credit for supporting Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but Newt in this debate had some really awful moments. His statements on the individual mandate, on prayer and belief and on "the current elite" were all just too much. Bachmann similarly had several crazy statements that landed her on the bottom. It was especially bizarre to see someone who has so tightly wrapped themselves in the cloak of the Constitution be so willing to throw it out the window when it came to birthright citizenship. She actually said we could get rid of the 14th Amendment "legislatively." Rick Santorum, on the other hand, was pretty balanced. He had his share of hits and misses, but he didn't come across as angry in this debate as he has in others.

Mitt Romney got into a few spats this time that finally cracked that shell of his. He spent most of his time defending Romneycare and attacking the increasingly-irrelevant Rick Perry. Speaking of Perry, many pundits said this might be his last chance to regain his former supporters, but he spent the entire time flailing around in desperation. He managed to crack Romney's shell, but was then immediately shredded to bits by Romney's response.

Herman Cain obviously practices for these debates, and every debate has one or two phrases that he repeats multiple times, apparently from his practices. But he's not very good at improvisation. When his fellow candidates reject his practiced phrases, he doesn't expound on them or explain his point in different terms, he just repeats the phrase. As much as I usually like his policies, I'm not sure what this means.

(Here's some irony for you: It took a solid five minutes at least for me to remember the word improvisation. My brain was convinced I wanted immolation, which admittedly might have made for a more interesting sentence.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Seventh Republican Primary Debate (NH)

The seventh Republican primary debate was held Tuesday night in New Hampshire. Bloomberg has provided the full video of the debate here. It's also on YouTube here and here. This debate had the same candidates as the fourth and fifth debates, meaning no Gary Johnson. This was the first debate to focus on a single issue, the economy, and also the first debate to allow the candidates to sit down.

Before watching this debate, I had a fairly positive view of Herman Cain, and somewhat positive views of Rick Santorum and Rick Perry. I had somewhat negative views of Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney. I had very negative views of Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul.

Just as I did in the other six debates, I've summarized and responded to each candidate's positions below, and I've scored each position positive, zero or negative based on my gut reaction to it.  Since these "summaries" can get quite long, you may want to skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

Jon Huntsman
  •  "Washington DC is the gas capital of the country." He opens with a joke and the rest of his answer is mostly fluff with just a passing mention about how taxes and regulation are bad. (-1)
  • He would appoint entrepreneurs like his father to advise him, he likes manufacturing and he instituted a flat tax in Utah. He also wants to complain about "the background checks, the financial disclosures and everything else" that people have to go through to become government employees. Right, because what we really need is to know less about people who work for government! (-1)
  • He says he first thought 999 was the price of a pizza, and instead of 999 we need "something that's doable-doable-doable." He would decrease the corporate tax to 25% and eliminate all the tax loopholes and deductions for individual and corporate taxes. (+1)
  • He doesn't want a trade war, and if we criticize China's yuan policy too much, they're going to point to QE1 & QE2 and say we're doing the same thing. It's hard to argue with that logic. (+1)
  • The "ruinous" part of Obamacare is the individual mandate, and that won't go away with waivers. Romney and Santorum both interrupt him to say they'll repeal it completely. (0)
  • Huntsman addresses his question to Mitt Romney. He criticizes Romney for his history at Bain Capital as "someone who breaks down businesses, destroys jobs" and for Massachusetts under Romney being 47th in the country (presumably in job creation) when Utah was first under Huntsman. I've always thought criticism of Romney along Bain Capital lines was unfair, even if that portrayal of what he did is completely true (Romney says it's not). There are times for every business where they have to cut labor in order to stay in business. Eliminating some jobs in order to make a company profitable again so that everyone else can keep their jobs is not something to be ashamed of. (-1)
  • When he was governor, Utah had an unemployment rate of 2.4%, he says, and he understands "what it means to have the dignity of a job." That rate was true from January to April 2007. With the recession, Utah's unemployment rate has gone up just like the rest of the country. It peaked at 8.0% and is now 7.6%. (0)

Michele Bachmann
  •  Is it right "that no Wall Street executives have gone to jail" for the recession? "You can trace it [the economic meltdown] right back to the federal government." She specifically blames government-pushed subprime loans, the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as Chris Dodd and Barney Frank. It's a question straight from Occupy Wall Street and largely irrelevant for a President, but Bachmann handles it well. (+1)
  • What can we do to reform Medicare? She'd rather talk about how bad Obamacare is. (-1)
  • She was "a lone voice" in saying not to raise the debt ceiling, because she didn't want to give Obama a "$2.4 trillion blank check." Well, if the check is for $2.4 trillion, it's not blank... Also, how long is she going to keep bragging about being on the losing side of the debt ceiling debate? (-1)
  • "The 999 plan isn't a jobs plan, it is a tax plan." She says "the last thing you would do is give Congress another pipeline of a revenue stream." It's not the most eloquent way of saying it, but this is easily the most important criticism of 999, that it creates the infrastructure for an extra tax that, even if it's low today, could be raised by future politicians. It's also a criticism that Cain has been weak in defending against. But then Bachmann ends her point by saying, "When you take the 999 plan and you turn it upside down, I think the devil is in the details." (+1 for the revenue stream criticism, -1 for stooping to a devil joke)
  • Bachmann addresses her question to Rick Perry, criticizing him for supporting Al Gore once-upon-a-time and for raising Texas' spending and debt. She asks how we could trust him "to not go down the Obama way." I wonder what her questioning of Perry reveals about her strategy. Prior to the debate, Perry was solidly in third place and falling fast. Is she aiming for the VP spot and trying not to anger the two leaders? Or is she just hoping to get support from ex-Perriers, almost all of whom have so far gone to Cain and Gingrich? (0)
  • Responding to Romney's question, she plugs her website and talks mostly about easing the regulatory burden, especially Obamacare. Since her very vocal opposition to Obamacare would be one of the biggest reasons for Romney to make her his VP, her answer, which doesn't criticize Romneycare at all, could easily be seen as confirmation for Romney that she is willing to play that role for him. (+1, for her talk about the regulatory burden, not for my own VP speculation)
  • "Dodd-Frank is the Jobs and Housing Destruction Act," and it has caused the new $5 debit card fee some banks are putting in place. She also doesn't like that Senator Durbin "had former staffers that came to lobby him on behalf of retailers." I like what she says about Dodd-Frank, but her populist appeal against lobbyists makes me wary. (0)
  • She's had 23 foster children, and if more people "reach out as individuals to help" we wouldn't need big government. (0)

Rick Perry
  • He's the governor of the second-largest state. He would help the economy by encouraging jobs in the energy industry. "It's time for another American Declaration of Independence. It's time for energy independence." This might be good, but the "energy independence" rhetoric can also be dangerous. He doesn't give any details yet. (0)
  • What is his specific economic plan? "Pull back regulations" on domestic energy, and also Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, but especially on the energy industry. (+1)
  • What does he think of the clip where Reagan agreed to tax increases? He says we live in different times, and while Reagan traded tax increases for spending cuts, he never actually saw the spending cuts. Perry would support a balanced budget amendment. There's nothing inherently wrong with this answer, but he doesn't quite say what I think he should. He also seems like he's falling asleep while giving the answer. (0)
  • "What we need to be focused on in this country today is not whether or not we are going to have this policy or that policy." And then he repeats his policy for encouraging the energy industry. (-1)
  • He once supported Al Gore because he grew up a Democrat, but when he turned Republican, he was younger than Reagan was when he turned Republican. No explanations for why he switched or why his beliefs are trustworthy, just that's how he grew up. (-1)
  • He also says that under his governorship, Texas has gone from the sixth-lowest debt-per-capita state to the second-lowest debt-per-capita state. That probably says more about Texas' population growth than Perry's debt management. (0)
  • Perry addresses his question to Mitt Romney. Since Romneycare is the same as Obamacare, how does Romney defend his record? (+1)
  • Asked about health care for some reason in the economics debate, Perry says his solutions in Texas were tort reform and something called Healthy Texas which he says "expands the private sector insurance," whatever that means. He also wants Medicaid converted to block grants for the states. (+1 for that last point)
  • The federal government should not be involved in subsidizing "emerging technologies" (green energy), but for some reason states should, and Texas under Perry has. Cognitive dissonance much? (-1)
  • Why are there more people in poverty today than ever before even though the rich are still wealthy, and what would he do to close the gap? "We have got a president of the United States who is a job-killer." Small businesses are "over-taxed" and "over-regulated" and the best thing we can do for them is vote out Obama. While I like the things Perry says in this question, his response is not at all an answer to the questions asked, and only tangentially addresses inequality. I would love to see a candidate bring up just one of the points raised at PostLibertarian, from what the poverty line actually means to problems in comparing poverty rates over time. Or, since the question is phrased in terms of the number of poor rather than the rate, a mention of population growth would've been nice. But Perry doesn't say any of those things, he just accepts the question's premise and uses it to bash Obama. (0)
  • He's the governor of the second-largest state and used to be in the military. He also used to be a CEO. (0)

Herman Cain
  •  For the first question of the night, what would he do specifically to "end the paralysis in Washington"? "Two things"-- the 999 plan and "get serious" about the debt by making sure that "revenues equals spending" in his first fiscal year. The question and its context make it clear that Charlie Rose is talking about political paralysis in DC, but Cain interprets it as economic paralysis in the nation as a whole. Even though I think Cain's answer would be good for the economy, if anything it would aggravate the problem of political paralysis, since Democrats are going to fight both of those issues tooth and nail the entire way. (0)
  • "999 will pass and it is not the price of a pizza." He wants to get rid of the current tax code and start over with 999, and he says we won't have economic recovery by "continuing to pivot off the current tax code." (+1)
  • Asked who his advisers are, he names Rich Lowrie (apparently this guy) and won't name anybody else. (0)
  • In 2008, he agreed with the Wall Street bailout "in concept" but not in implementation. "They were discretionary in which institutions they were going to save, rather than apply it equitably, which is what most of us thought was going to be done." Which raises the question, how do you "equitably" bailout some institutions but not others? Or if you bailout everybody, who foots the bill? (-1)
  • Cain says the 999 plan would be revenue neutral, but Bloomberg's analysis says that current revenues are $2.2 trillion while 999 revenues would be only $2.0 trillion. Cain says, "the problem with that analysis is that it is incorrect." He says Bloomberg has started with incorrect assumptions, and that by broadening the tax base, 999 is able to be revenue neutral with the lower rate. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of 999, this is really just he-said-she-said. (0)
  • The politicians in the race are proposing plans they think can get passed, rather than plans that we need. He says 999 is "bold" and that's what Americans want. The plan has definitely helped Cain's campaign, but this almost sounds like a tacit admission that it won't pass. He also says "bold" three times in six seconds. (-1)
  • Cain addresses his question to Mitt Romney. The 999 plan is "simple, transparent, efficient, fair and neutral." Can Romney say the same about his 59-point, 160-page plan? While it would be nice if 999 was more detailed, the Obamacare bill and Dodd-Frank, as I recall, were both over 2000 pages long. While Americans want thoroughness, they also want transparency, which is a point Cain understands that Romney doesn't seem to. (+1)
  • After Ron Paul criticizes him for saying that those who want to audit the Fed are "ignorant," Cain says he never said that, and he tells Paul, "You've got to be careful of the stuff that you get off the Internet." He also says he disagrees with what Bernanke is doing now, and that when he served on the Kansas Fed, they didn't do any of the things that the current Fed is doing. He then says he doesn't have a problem with auditing the Fed, but it's not his top priority. "My top priority is 999, jobs, jobs, jobs!" (+1)
  • He lists three reasons why 999 won't become 20-20-20. First, he'll require a two-thirds majority to change the 9% rates (which at first sounds meaningless, but as the debt ceiling debacle showed, such rules can have real effects). Second, the transparency and simplicity of 999 will allow Americans to oppose tax increases more easily than they can now and "hold Congress' feet to the fire." (This is actually a good point. Most Americans don't even know their marginal tax rate off the top of their head, let alone their overall effective tax rate or any of the many tiny taxes scattered throughout the tax code. Simplicity makes raising taxes more visible, and therefore more difficult.) Third, as President he would veto any rate increase (which is good for four to eight years, but of course not beyond that). Overall, this is a pretty good answer. At first, while streaming the debate on Tuesday, I was disappointed by this answer. But the more I think about it, the better it sounds. (+1)
  • Which Fed chairman over the last 40 years would "serve as a model" for replacing Bernanke? Alan Greenspan, because what he did "worked fine back in the early 1990s." I've seen a lot of people who don't like this answer, pointing to Greenspan's "I was wrong" moment in 2008. I think that's an oversimplification of Greenspan's 18 years as chairman, and that for the vast majority of those years, most of the things Greenspan did were entirely appropriate. (+1)
  • Repealing Dodd-Frank is good, but if you want to help small businesses, we need to get rid of the capital gains tax, which is "a big wall between people with ideas and people with money." "...And we know which plan gets rid of the capital gains tax." (+1) 
  • Asked about his statement, "If you don't have a job and you are not rich, blame yourself," he says he was not directing that at the "14 million people who are out of work for no reason of their own other than this economy is not growing" but rather at the Occupiers. (+1) 
  • "I was po' before I was poor." He also says the word "bold" a few more times. (0)

Mitt Romney
  •  He promises he'd "be a leader" then bashes Obama for awhile. He somehow misses the irony that Obama also thinks all he has to do is "be a leader" and everything will be solved. (-1)
  • Juliana Goldman asks Romney what he would do if it was 2013 and the European crisis has spread to America and the global financial system is on the verge of collapse. He says that's "a scenario that's obviously very difficult to imagine." Goldman says, "But it's not a hypothetical" to which Romney replies, "I'm afraid it is a hypothetical" and asks her to explain why she thinks it isn't. She says it's not a hypothetical because lots of people think it might happen. I'm tempted to give Romney a point just for putting up with Goldman, but then he gets to his actual answer... (0)
  • His actual answer is that he would "take action" to prevent the collapse, but doesn't say what that means. He's "not interested" in bailouts of "individual institutions" but he is interested in "making sure we preserve our financial system, our currency, the banks across the entire country." And he would do that without bailouts how, exactly? I'm not sure if he's getting at some kind of monetary policy action, or just trying to say that he'd give bailouts without actually saying that he'd give bailouts. (-1)
  • Would he rather compromise by raising taxes or cutting defense? Well, he'd rather answer Perry's question (about the Reagan clip), and he does a lot better than Perry. He says the problem with tax increases is that government continues to grow as a percentage of the economy, and agreeing to tax increases is agreeing to allow it to keep growing. He would rather cut, cap and balance. (+1)
  • Pressed on raising taxes versus "draconian" cuts to defense, he says both are terrible, and the supercommittee needs to reform entitlements. (0)
  • We buy a lot more from China than they buy from us, so he says they don't want a trade war. We have the negotiating advantage. He says, "Day One, I will issue an executive order identifying China as a currency manipulator" and will take action against them at the WTO. Yeah, going after our second-largest trading partner is gonna do wonders to turn around the economy. (-2)
  • He agrees with Santorum that granting Obamacare waivers is not enough. He would grant the waivers on "day one" and would repeal it on "day two" using the same reconciliation procedure that was used to pass it in the first place and that Santorum supports. As much criticism as Republicans heaped on Democrats for using reconciliation in the first place, I don't like Romney and Santorum campaigning to use it again. If we have to use it to get rid of Obamacare, that's a parliamentary decision to be made by Republicans in the Senate at the time, not by Republican presidential candidates today. (-1)
  • Simple plans are "very helpful, but oftentimes inadequate" and we need more than just a tax policy or an energy policy to get the economy going again. Nice swipe at both Cain and Perry. He also repeats five of the "seven major pillars" that he introduced back in the third debate. (+1)
  • He wants to cut taxes on the middle class because they're the ones hurt by "the Obama economy." That's good rhetoric, but Newt had asked why Romney's capital gains tax cut would apply only to the middle class. Romney's answer basically accepts the class warfare foundation Newt is accusing him of having; he says he's not worried about the rich because they're "doing just fine," and he's not worried about the poor because they've got the safety net. It's very much a classist answer, and he doesn't even try to address Newt's point that a capital gains tax cut is most effective when given to those who actually have capital gains. (-1)
  • He says his background is "quite different" than Jon Huntsman says it is, and that "net-net" Bain Capital created tens of thousands of jobs. He also says they started Staples, and a few companies I don't recognize. (+1)
  • Perry asks how he defends Romneycare. Romney replies that he's "proud of the fact that we took on a major problem" in Massachusetts, and it's all about the kids. He says there were 8% uninsured and 92% insured, and Romneycare addressed only the 8% while Obamacare takes over health care for 100% of Americans. He ignores Perry's point that Romneycare actually has raised premiums for 100% of Massachusites. (-1)
  • Romney addresses his question to Michele Bachmann. That in itself is interesting. She's in sixth place according to the polls, with a fifth of the support Romney himself has. Earlier I speculated that her choice to address her question to Perry may have been to play nice to the two frontrunners in hopes of getting the VP spot. Is Romney's choice to address his question to Bachmann a signal that he's vetting her for VP? He compliments her positions, isn't critical about anything, and then gives her a softball, open-ended question. Considering the pressure any white male candidate will face to choose a non-white-male for VP, I think Mitt's eyeing Bachmann. Plus, she's been possibly the strongest anti-Obamacare voice in the race, and having her on his ticket would go a long way towards reassuring the Republican base. (0)
  • Big banks have hundreds of lawyers to deal with Dodd-Frank, but small, community banks can't deal with the extra regulation. I don't know enough about Dodd-Frank to know how true or not that is, but it sounds good. (+1)
  • "The right course for America is not to keep spending money on stimulus bills, but instead to make permanent changes to the tax code." Temporary changes like the payroll tax holiday don't work because employers know that they're temporary. (+1) 
  • We have an economic crisis, but we also have another crisis-- and it's all about the kids. And leadership. And being strong... or something. (0)

Ron Paul
  • He brings up the "partial audit" of the Fed passed under Dodd-Frank, throws out some big numbers with no context and raves about Austrian economics for a bit. "You can't cure the disease if you don't know the cause of it, and the cause is the booms." That's right, the real problem with the economy is that sometimes it's actually growing. (-1)
  • He would get government out of housing, then he plugs Austrian economics for awhile and says he wants to get rid of the Fed. I agree with getting the federal government out of housing, but not with eliminating the Fed. (-1)
  • Paul directs his question to Herman Cain and says the Fed "creates the business cycle" and "produces our recessions and our depressions" (which is why there were no such things prior to 1913). Since he says Cain has in the past opposed auditing the Fed, does he still oppose it? (-1 for the Fed-creates-the-business-cycle nonsense)
  • "Alan Greenspan was a disaster." Yeah, 1987-2006 were some of the worst years economically we've ever seen... Then he says Bernanke is "inflating twice as fast as Greenspan was." Really, because we have actual records about that. Under Greenspan, the CPI increased from 114.4 in August 1987 to 198.3 in January 2006, or 3.0% per year. Under Bernanke, the CPI has increased from 198.3 in January 2006 to 226.5 in August 2011, or 2.4% per year. But yeah, if you ignore reality, Bernanke is totally inflating twice as fast as Greenspan was. (-2) 
  • Dodd-Frank is bad, but Sarbanes-Oxley is also bad. Repeal both of them. I don't know enough about Sarbanes-Oxley to have an opinion on this. (0) 
  • He wants to restore "the cause of liberty" and says free markets and "sound money" are the "humanitarian" option. He would get a point if I didn't know that by "sound money" he really meant "End the Fed." (0)

Newt Gingrich
  • Occupy Wall Street is made of two groups: "left-wing agitators" who will protest anything and "sincere middle-class people" who are "very close to the Tea Party." He would fire both Bernanke and Geithner, and says, "if you want to put people in jail... you ought to start with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd." Then he goes off on the media for awhile. I've never liked Gingrich's anti-media/anti-moderator rants, but this one was deserved. (+1)
  • What should be done about the large cost of end-of-life care under Medicare? He opposes bureaucrats intervening in health care and "class action decision[s]." He agrees with Palin's term "death panels" and disagrees with the recent prostate test ruling. What he says is good as far as it goes, but he doesn't actually answer the question. (0)
  • Paulson, Bernanke and Geithner "didn't have a clue" and he wants the Fed to release "every decision document" from 2008-2010. That in itself is probably a good thing. More open government is always a good thing, but Newt doesn't say what he wants to do with those documents, or what changes he thinks that would lead to. (0)
  • The supercommittee is "truly stupid," and all the requirements facing the supercommittee are acts of Congress which can be reversed by acts of Congress so they're meaningless anyway. (0)
  • Gingrich addresses his question to Mitt Romney. He says Obama's "class warfare approach" has often been to draw a line between those making more and those making less than $250,000. Romney would cut the capital gains tax on those making less than $200,000, drawing the class warfare line even lower than Obama. Newt asks what was his rationale? (+1)
  • Asked about home ownership in America, Newt fully embraces his "mother hen" role, complimenting in a row the plans of every other candidate. He brings it all together and says, "the Chinese couldn't compete with us in 100 years if we got our act together in this country and we got back to doing the right things in this country." It's a great feel-good moment, and in this circle of people who would be the leader of the free world, Newt somehow manages to look like their leader, their shepherd almost. I've been strongly critical of Newt in the past, but this was a great moment for him. (+2)
  • He grew up as an "Army brat," he says, and "every person at this table" would be better at solving the country's problems than Obama. (0)

Rick Santorum
  • He would eliminate the corporate tax for "manufacturers and processors." He would also "repeal every regulation" that Obama has made. Who counts as a processor, I wonder? Also, what does he have against the service sector? Or agriculture for that matter? (0)
  • This plan "would pass tomorrow" unlike the 999 plan. He's right to criticize 999's possibility of passing, but I think he overstates his own plan's chances. I don't see Democrats agreeing to eliminating the corporate tax for anybody. (0)
  • "I don't want to go to a trade war, I want to beat China. I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business." So doesn't want a "trade war" but he does want a regular war? I'm sure that's not what he meant, but I can't figure out what he did mean. (-2)
  • In the same answer, he criticizes Cain on 999, saying it won't pass and no one wants it. He gets the audience to hold up their hands if they want a national sales tax or if they think the income tax would stay at 9%, and basically no one holds up their hands. (+1)
  • His time runs up, but he says, "I am not done yet. I've only been able to answer one question, unlike everybody else here, so let me just finish what I'm saying." While that's kind of true (before this he had one actual question and one follow-up), it's whiny to point that out during the debate. (-1)
  • Continuing his marathon answer over Charlie Rose's insistence that, "You see the red light," Santorum then criticizes Romney for wanting to use waivers to get rid of Obamacare, and we need to repeal it using reconciliation. Why would we have to use reconciliation after Republicans spilled so much ink criticizing Democrats for using it in the first place? (-1)
  • Santorum directs his question to Herman Cain. He says Romney, Cain, Perry and Huntsman all supported TARP, which has been used by politicians to restrict our freedom. He says Cain's 999 plan introduces another tool to restrict our freedom (the sales tax) and asks, because of Cain's inexperience, how can we trust that he won't give politicians even more tools to restrict our freedom? That right there are the two single biggest problems that Cain has, his inexperience and the sales tax portion of 999, and Santorum hits the nail right on the head. (+1)
  • "The biggest problem with poverty in America... is the break down of the American family." He wants to encourage more marriage. I used to find this kind of language really appealing. But then I realized "encouraging marriage" really just means subsidizing the married, usually through tax breaks, by raising taxes on the unmarried. When half of all marriages are already mistakes (given that they end in divorce), is it really a good idea to be subsidizing more? Most conservatives agree with this logic when you replace "marriage" with "green energy startups" and "divorce" with "bankruptcy," yet somehow reject it when it's about marriage. (-1)
  • Income mobility from the bottom two quintiles to the middle quintile is higher in Europe than America, he says, and he would fix that with manufacturing subsidies. I don't like his love affair with manufacturing, but that's an interesting statistic if it's true. As it turns out, it's only half true. That is, it's true for intergenerational mobility (a son's income compared to his father's), but not at all true for individual mobility (my income today compared to my income ten years from now). (-1)

Conclusion
I usually list the candidates in the order that they're standing on stage, but I couldn't do that this time. Instead, they're listed in clockwise order, starting from where the moderators are sitting. Speaking of whom, this was not a good night for the moderators or production staff. Juliana Goldman showed she didn't know what "hypothetical" means, and Charlie Rose said LinkedIn has 120 billion users. Also, after Santorum's marathon answer (during which Rose became visibly flustered), Rose gave Cain a response but the camera panned out and they started playing commercial break music for several seconds before the producers realized their mistake.

Summing my gut reactions, Cain got +5 and Gingrich got +4. Bachmann and Perry tied with 0 each, right in front of Huntsman with -1 and Romney with -2. Bringing up the rear, Santorum had -4 and Paul had -5.

This debate was all about Herman Cain and 999. He is without a doubt Sarah Palin's "flavor of the week," and he faced his first real challenge in this debate with everyone except Perry attacking 999. Overall, I think he handled the debate well. It took him awhile to find his feet, and he definitely had his strongest moments in the second half. Most importantly, he defended 999 quite ably (even if he took to repeating the words "bold" and "pivot off the current tax code" too many times). On the other hand, he also had several times where he said things that are already getting him in trouble. That includes his support for Greenspan and his decision to not reveal his advisers yet. Both of those are entirely reasonable, but they're definitely not going to play well.

Newt Gingrich really surprised me this time. I have very strongly criticized him in previous debates, and he has always ranked near or at the bottom for me. This time, he took second place, just one point behind Cain. Part of that, I'm sure, was the moderator's fault. Newt loves to debate the moderators of any debate, and this time they actually deserved it. He also had a great moment near the end where it felt like he was rivaling Cain for the title of "most optimistic candidate."

Rick Perry utterly failed to impress this time. Having fallen in the polls, he wasn't at all in the spotlight, and he did nothing to bring the spotlight back to him. I get the impression that Perry was never really that into running, and was only convinced to get in because polls showed him possibly winning. Now that the polls have collapsed for him, he's left wondering why he was doing this at all.

There are some issues that Michele Bachmann strongly believes in, and when she focuses on those issues, she does well. Unfortunately for her, she can't build her entire campaign on Obamacare. She had some good points in the debate, especially on 999, but she also had her fair share of slips.

Jon Huntsman was mostly clueless about everything except China. I would like to take Huntsman's stance on China, graft it on to the rest of the candidates, and then throw away everything else. Mitt Romney confirmed that his good performance in the fifth debate was a fluke. He continues to insist that Romneycare was great, just misunderstood. He also talks a lot about being a leader, like that will fix everything.

Rick Santorum needs to drop out of the race before he has an aneurysm. The worse he does in the polls and the less debate time he gets, the angrier he gets, and he's horrible at hiding it. Americans are not going to elect the Angry Candidate. Finally, Ron Paul was Ron Paul. Factually inaccurate, Austrian to a fault and incoherent the rest of the time. I will say, however, that I don't remember him bringing up the wars or the military on an unrelated question a single time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Music Monday: Occupy Wall Street

Via To Get Rich is Glorious, an appropriate anthem for the Occupy Wall Street folks:



The best lines (despite rhyming "age" with "age") are reminiscent of my previous entry:
...At what point in history could a kid and a king 
both have clean water to drink?
George Washington was the richest man of his age 
But he lost all his teeth at a very young age 
Because they didn't have Scope and they all crapped in trays. 
We're not wealthy?

Now there's fountains on streets
from which clean water pours.
Four dollar generics
at all big box stores.
A sultan and student
both have iPhone 4s.
It's not fair
...

(The full lyrics are available on YouTube.)

Richer than Ever Before

There has never been a better time to be human. Even in the depths of the global Great Recession, average per capita incomes are higher than they have been for most of human history. This is true in rich and poor countries alike, and within developed countries it's true at all income levels. The rich are getting richer while the poor and middle class are getting richer too!

It's true, the last couple years have been a struggle for many around the world. Lots of people, including me, lost their jobs to the Great Recession. However, despite the hardships of the last couple years, we are still living in the greatest era in human history.

According to the World Bank, world GDP per capita in 2010 was $6,035, which is 99.77% of 2008's peak of $6,049. (All dollar amounts in this entry are expressed in constant 2000 US dollars.) GDP per capita in 2010 was 3.04% higher than in 2009, nearly twice the 1970-2008 average of 1.60% growth. The world economy is well on the way to recovery, and there's every reason to expect 2011's GDP per capita to be higher than ever before.

The Great Recession is clearly visible in the graph to the right, as are a handful of other global recessions and slowdowns over the past forty years. The Great Recession is clearly the sharpest decline the world has seen lately, and GDP per capita in 2009 was less than it had been in 2006. Even so, incomes were 2.59% higher in 2009 than in 2005. Indeed, in 2006, for the first time in human history, the average human being earned $16 per day. The average person has not earned less than $16 per day since 2005. To put that another way, the five most prosperous years in human history so far were 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

This is especially true for the low- and middle-income countries, who as a group have not seen a decline in GDP per capita since 1983. The 2010 GDP per capita of $1,834 was the highest ever recorded for this group of countries, and a full 6.26% higher than the previous record set in 2009. The past decade in particular has seen incredible growth, averaging 4.53% growth in GDP per capita per year. Income per person in 2010 was three times higher than in 1969.

An income of $1,834 per year might not sound like a lot to those of us in first-world countries. Indeed, it's just a little more than $5 per day. But 2010 was the first year ever when the average person in these countries earned $5 per day. It's not a lot, but it's more than they have ever had before. As an indication of just how fast the poor countries are joining the rich, the $4-per-day threshold was first passed as recently as 2006, and the $3-per-day threshold in 1998.

The Great Recession has hit high-income countries much harder than low- and middle-income countries. GDP per capita in high-income countries was still 2.23% lower in 2010 than the 2007 peak of $28,095. Per capita incomes were higher in 2006, 2007 and 2008 than they were in 2010, and even 2005 was higher than 2009.

However, the hardships of the last few years have not undone the prosperity we have achieved. At the lowest point of the Great Recession, in 2009, income per person in high-income countries was $26,807. This was a full 6.92% higher than the heights of the dot-com bubble in 2000. As this video posted by Greg Mankiw notes, "Even after the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, US per capita income is still higher than at the peak of the 1990s boom."

We are also on the road to recovery; incomes grew 2.47% between 2009 and 2010. If we achieve a similar level of growth in 2011, we will set a new record for the most prosperous year ever. Even if we don't set a new record, GDP per capita in the high-income countries will still be twice what it was in the mid-1970s.

Despite the great recession, incomes are at or very close to the highest they have ever been for most people around the world. This is especially true for poorer countries, but it's also true for the recession-ravaged wealthy countries. No generation in human history has had it better than we do. There has never been a better time to be human.