RATIONAL IRRATIONALITY

Brad DeLong is puzzled by Dan Weintraub’s thinking on the California recall. Weintraub admits that he’s skeptical of the practicality of the plans put forth by the conservative candidates because they would be unpopular and not pass the legislature; thinks Schwarzenegger is too inexperienced and insufficiently forthcoming about his plans; and disagrees with Bustamonte’s political philosophy but thinks his plan has some chance of passage.

To this, Brad observes,

A normal person, if offered a choice between candidates (McClintock, Simon) who are lying to you, a candidate (Schwarzenegger) who refuses to say what he would do both because he has no clue and because he thinks “people do not care about the numbers and figures,” and a reasonably-smart guy who understands what the tradeoffs are and has a set of ideas about what to do with them–as I said, a normal guy would choose the clued-in candidate who is not lying to him.

Hmm. Even aside from the fact that Weintraub doesn’t accuse the candidates of lying but rather calls into question the political feasibility of the plan, I’m not so sure I agree with Brad’s rational selection. There are essentially three choices available. (If you oppose the recall, there’s a fourth choice, but even then it makes sense to vote No and then pick a candidate “just in case.”)

A. Candidate who mirrors your ideology but whose plan is likely not workable. And who is likely unelectable.

B. Candidate who is probably electable, whose ideology matches yours somewhat but who is inexperienced and deliberately vague about his plans.

C. Candidate who is diametrically opposed to your ideology, is quite electable, and probably efficient.

If the point of elections is to enact your policy preference, it seems clear that C is by far the worst choice. The guy is both efficient and trying to implement an ideology you hate; the worst possible combo.

Choice A (Weintraub’s) is being pushed by many on the right. It’s not inconceivable that he could win and, frankly, having even a somewhat ineffective leader who is at least trying to get your policy preferences enacted is better than the alternative. Until the fallout from Simon’s departure shapes up, this may make sense.

Choice B still seems the best choice to me. You get some of your policies enacted and have a reasonable chance of winning the election, thus minimizing the chance of getting the worst result.

Hat tip: Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber, who has a related thought experiment.)

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Brad DeLong says:

    “Efficient and trying to implement an ideology you hate; the worst possible combo”?

    This seems to me to be puerile. It simply ignores the enormous amount we have in common–to presume that Democrats and Republicans have no overlap rather than agreeing on, say, 80% of the issues that come before government. And this seems to pay no attention to the considerations that in hiring a servant–and that’s what electing a governor is–competence is better than incompetence, and honesty is better than dishonesty.

  2. John Lemon says:

    Yes, but it is the other 20% that may be critical. Economics is all about the margins (marginal analysis) and slight policy differences can have pretty big effects. (When people say Reps and Dems are basically the same thing, they miss this point.) A debate over whether to raise or lower business taxes by 1% can be a very, very important debate with serious consequences. For that reason, I will dispense with option (C).

    In all honesty, I’m really torn about this issue and bounce between James’s options (A) and (B). It relates to his earlier post on Reaganism (and Rush). While getting the candidate closest to your preference profile is important in the short run (and would make me choose Arnold over Cruz — though both were actors*), in the long run the calculation might be different. Voting for a more “ideologically pure” candidate that is bound to lose may help to send signals to the party leadership (not only in CA, but in DC) and needs to be done from time to time. (This is actually quite common behavior in politics and poses an interesting puzzle for scholars — why do something that is seemingly against your best interest in the short term.)

    Note: This argument is different than “let the Dems win and inherent an insoluble mess,” and it is different than Rush’s argument in the WSJ. I don’t think I’m doing a good job explaining it now, though.

  3. I say, let Arnold show us what he can do.

    Or lose. Lots of people seem to want to lose. Of course, plenty of them don’t even live in this state, and won’t have to face the consequences.

  4. John Lemon says:

    (I forgot my footnote.)

    Apparently, Cruz Bustamante (under some stage name) was in Barton Fink and a few other films.

  5. John says:

    Yea, let’s let someone with absolutely no experience try his hand at running the 5th largest economy on the planet. I know I always have my Porsche worked on by people who know nothing about fine German engineering – or even anything about engines what so ever. And I have my teeth drilled by the guy down the street who read about it in a book. Geesh. Aqua maroons.

  6. Steven says:

    Brad,

    The analysis is hardly “puerile” and indeed, I would argue your own analysis appears to be overly simplistic by saying, essentially, that one ought vote for the guy with experience and ignore the differences.

    By that logic Democrats should vote for George W. Bush in November of 2004.

    Steven