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Democrats Should Stop Thinking About “Fairness” for the Debates

June 13, 2019
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1. Democrats

We’re creeping up on the first Democratic debates and I want to take this moment to explain something important:

The Democratic party is being run by a bunch of poltroons.

Two weeks from now the DNC is going to march a handful of people who have a chance to be president on stage and then surround them with a bunch of people who will never—not ever—be president.

And these minor figures will be incentivized to savage the actual contenders in the most outlandish manner possible. Because that will be the only way for them to get attention. And when you’re at 2 percent, attention is literally the only thing that matters.

Why on earth with a political party consent to this?

The answer, of course, is because the DNC is currently obsessed with “fairness.”

Let me tell you: Fairness is overrated.

Once upon a time, party’s picked their nominees in smoke-filled back rooms.

Was this process democratic? Nope. Corrupt? You betcha. Did it take into account any of the feelings of party voters? Not really.

You know what the smoke-filled back rooms didn’t do? Nominate a guy like Donald Trump. Or Bernie Sanders.

The party bosses tried to pick the guy they thought would best advance the interests of the party. Imagine that.

After the 1968 Democratic convention, the parties became obsessed with letting “the people” choose their nominees. On the whole, this has not been a helpful development.

And after the Hillary-Bernie fight in 2016, the DNC seems to feel like they have to be double-super-duper fair to all of the possible candidates.

Why is this? In 2016 the DNC owed Bernie Sanders jack squat. He wasn’t even a Democrat. He’s still not a Democrat. He’s just a guy who wants to rent the party’s infrastructure so that he can run for president.

And now, in some crazy attempt to atone for sensibly thumbing the scales for Hillary Clinton, the party is going to sacrifice the electoral chances of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and whoever else you want to consider a serious candidate.

All so that Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson can feel like they’re being treated “fairly.”

This isn’t show friends. It’s show business.

The DNC is in the business of putting its eventual nominee in the best possible position to win. That means running them through the gauntlet of serious competition from other viable candidates who have some skin in the game and stand to pay some political price if they go kamikaze in a debate.

Podcast
Noah Rothman on the Rothman Doctrine

2. The Baumol Effect

I mentioned Slate Star Codex yesterday, but I want to go back to Scott Alexander today to point you to another interesting piece he has about the Baumol Effect, an economic phenomenon that explains (maybe) why things are so expensive.

Here’s a basic explanation of the Baumol Effect from economists Alex Tabarrok and Eric Helland:

In 1826, when Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 was first played, it took four people 40 minutes to produce a performance. In 2010, it still took four people 40 minutes to produce a performance. Stated differently, in the nearly 200 years between 1826 and 2010, there was no growth in string quartet labor productivity. In 1826 it took 2.66 labor hours to produce one unit of output, and it took 2.66 labor hours to produce one unit of output in 2010.Fortunately, most other sectors of the economy have experienced substantial growth in labor productivity since 1826. We can measure growth in labor productivity in the economy as a whole by looking at the growth in real wages. In 1826 the average hourly wage for a production worker was $1.14. In 2010 the average hourly wage for a production worker was $26.44, approximately 23 times higher in real (inflation-adjusted) terms. Growth in average labor productivity has a surprising implication: it makes the output of slow productivity-growth sectors (relatively) more expensive. In 1826, the average wage of $1.14 meant that the 2.66 hours needed to produce a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 had an opportunity cost of just $3.02. At a wage of $26.44, the 2.66 hours of labor in music production had an opportunity cost of $70.33. Thus, in 2010 it was 23 times (70.33/3.02) more expensive to produce a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 than in 1826. In other words, one had to give up more other goods and services to produce a music performance in 2010 than one did in 1826. Why? Simply because in 2010, society was better at producing other goods and services than in 1826.

So the Baumol Effect basically says this: Technology increases worker productivity. Which increases wages in productivity-related industries.

But in industries where technology can’t really increase productivity—which would be many service-related industries—the prices go up. Because the opportunity cost for the workers in those sectors rises in rough parallel with productivity-based workers.

As Alexander says, this is all great news! If true!

But is it? On the one hand, it sounds pretty convincing. But on the other hand, it sounds like one of those stories economists tell each other to explain how some obviously bad development is actually really great.