Lowering Voting Age to Six

I just ran across this study in Scientific American, May 5th, 2009 entitled “The Look of a Winner”. The study had Swiss children aged 5 to 13 playing a game based on Odysseus’ voyage from Troy back to Ithaca. At the end of the game they were asked to pick their captain to lead them from two images. Unbeknownst to the children they were two rival candidates from the French parliamentary elections. The researchers found that the Swiss children’s choice of captain, based solely on the pictures, was the person more likely to win the French election. Further, five year old judgements were about as good as adults.

The article notes that appearing like a leader is appearing competent, not attractive. Other researchers have found, “That candidate appearances have the strongest impact on voters who possess little political knowledge and spend a lot of time in front of their television screens.”

My knee jerk scientific reaction is more studies are needed but those that have been done are pointing to a consistent conclusion: large numbers of people base their candidate choice consistently with facial appearance. If these results continue to hold up I have a few thoughts:

  • Is just seeing a face good enough? In other words it’s possible that after thousands of millenia of evolving, and the importance of picking good leaders to surviving, maybe we can identify competent leaders by just looking. Though it seems to me that what might have worked in the past, like craving sweets and fats, may not work so well in this obese, nuclear armed, inside the beginning of Earth’s sixth major extinction event, new Anthropocene geological epoch.
  • We think that thinking is important to picking a leader, and that thinking works better in adults. But if 5 year olds have the same competence (or some might say lack of it) as adults in picking their leaders, perhaps we should just drop the voting age to say 6 (just to be conservative)? Imagine how great it could be. We could require voting in school, maybe homeroom for middle and high schoolers, and right after the Pledge of Allegence for grade schoolers. The voter turnout would be very high so presidential candidates would have to come to schools and promise better cafeteria meals with this voter block. I can see it now!
  • Or perhaps instead of voter ID laws eliminating voters we should eliminate heavy TV viewers from the voter rolls.
  • This confirms my reasons for not usually watching the candidates. I strongly prefer to be a data driven voter, looking at what they do first in statistics and policy studies. So I’ve preferred not watching debates, speeches, etc, but instead the analysis of those, or simply read the text. Otherwise it seems they’re judge pulling my emotional triggers. Further evidence of this is the Kennedy Nixon debates where the radio audience gave the node to Nixon while TV views thought Kennedy did a better job (click here for a discussion of that). Of course once I’m sure of the rational basis then I can have fun being emotionally tweaked, so I delighted in watching Clinton’s 2012 Democratic National Convention speech that entwines good facts, reasoning, and strong emotional value appeal.

Check out another post I have on this topic by clicking here.

Do Tax Cuts Lead to Economic Growth?

The economic growth that actually followed [tax cuts]— indeed, the whole history of the last 20 years — offers one of the most serious challenges to modern conservatism.—

Daily, it seems, I hear Republicans advocate tax cuts as the answer to significantly improving the economy. It’s the basis for saying let’s reduce taxes in order to reduce the deficit, because the economy will get so much better tax revenues will be more than made up.

Check out this New York Times 15 September 2012 article: “Do Tax Cut Lead to Economic Growth?“, especially the graph. To know if a theory, like tax cuts, is meaningful we have to see if its predictions are working. As my post about Keynesian Paul Krugman indicates, his predictions have been pretty close to right (that unemployment would remain high), while these tax cuts are showing little correlation with improved economic conditions. Nor does the Congressional Research Service conclude tax cuts improve the economy, only that it seems to make the wealthy wealthier.

Trickle Down Takes Down Middle Class

Why isn’t this report from the Congressional Research Service entitled Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945 making bigger headlines? The Congressional Research Service, known as “Congress’s think tank”, is a branch of the Library of Congress. Since their bosses are a mix of conservative to liberal members of congress it is non partisan, so its reports should carry great weight,

This report’s conclusion (highlighting added by me):

Throughout the late-1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was typically above 90%; today it is 35%. Additionally, the top capital gains tax rate was 25% in the 1950s and 1960s, 35% in the 1970s; today it is 15%. The real GDP growth rate averaged 4.2% and real per capita GDP increased annually by 2.4% in the 1950s. In the 2000s, the average real GDP growth rate was 1.7% and real per capita GDP increased annually by less than 1%. There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution. The share of income accruing to the top 0.1% of U.S. families increased from 4.2% in 1945 to 12.3% by 2007 before falling to 9.2% due to the 2007-2009 recession. The evidence does not suggest necessarily a relationship between tax policy with regard to the top tax rates and the size of the economic pie, but there may be a relationship to how the economic pie is sliced.

Let me further distill this: tax breaks for wealthy have no discernible affect on the economy, however they do redistribute wealth making the wealthy even more wealthy.

Since at least Reagan Republicans have strongly advocated for this type of tax policy and thus they have advanced a wealth redistribution to the wealthy. Voter’s need to ask if this is the policy direction they wish to continue.

Update: check out this post by the NYT: Do Tax Cuts Lead to Economic Growth?

Liberal vs Conservative Brains

In college I began to ponder the oddities of political identification. It made no sense to me. It was like people had a paper bag, labeled it “Conservative/Republican” or “Liberal/Democrat”, and threw items in it with little concern if they made much sense together.

This was clearest to me with the Conservative bag where there was “Pro-Life” (and thus anti-Planned Parenthood, more on that in a moment), pro death penalty, and large war budgets. Now clearly in my mind, the basic principle, the prime motivator, of this set of issues was not supporting and nurturing life. Something else had to be going on despite the words being uttered.

And what goes into the bag and out can change too. A recent NPR Fresh Air podcast Continue reading

Obama’s Stimulus Predicted to Underwhelm 14 Days Before He Became President

Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and op-ed writer for the New York Times, which gives him some (Wall)street cred, predicted the Obama stimulus plan that was emerging after his election would be judged a failure. This in a January 6th, 2009 New York Times article, a full 14 days before he was even president.

He wrote a wonkish article with a lot of economic theory and lingo. But a couple excerpts give the outcomes of that wonkishness:

The bottom line is this: we’re probably looking at a plan that will shave less than 2 percentage points off the average unemployment rate for the next two years, and possibly quite a lot less. This raises real concerns about whether the incoming administration is lowballing its plans in an attempt to get bipartisan consensus….

And that gets us to politics. This really does look like a plan that falls well short of what advocates of strong stimulus were hoping for — and it seems as if that was done in order to win Republican votes. Yet even if the plan gets the hoped-for 80 votes in the Senate, which seems doubtful, responsibility for the plan’s perceived failure, if it’s spun that way, will be placed on Democrats.

I see the following scenario: a weak stimulus plan, perhaps even weaker than what we’re talking about now, is crafted to win those extra GOP votes. The plan limits the rise in unemployment, but things are still pretty bad, with the rate peaking at something like 9 percent and coming down only slowly. And then Mitch McConnell says “See, government spending doesn’t work.”

Let’s hope I’ve got this wrong.

To summarize what he was getting at, the Great Recession took out a lot more money, mostly in stock and housing values, than the emerging stimulus was going to put in. Krugman’s model, based on Keynesian economics, suggested this would stop the plunge but do little to bring us back to full employment; and that the Republicans, who turned the budget surplus they inherited from the Clinton administration, into such a major deficit the USA was hemmed in from borrowing the sums it needed to fully stimulate the economy, these same Republicans would blame Obama and Keynesian economics for the failure.

In fact looking back at that old prediction we can see it has come pretty much true with one caveat: Krugman, Obama, and the country were unaware at the time that the recession was much worse than they thought. More recent analysis published Continue reading

Clinton Was Right: Dems 41 Million Jobs, Reps 21 Million Jobs

I love the phrases “Flying by instruments,” or “Data Driven”. Without a doubt it reflects my distrust of my own biases and prejudices, so I lean heavily to the analytical, to what can be tested and proven. The scientific method is just part of me.

So it’s no surprise that I thought one of the most interesting things to come out of the Democratic National Convention was Bill Clinton’s heavy in the policy and statistics speech. And what followed in the press was that Bill Clinton Was Right, according to US News and World Report, not known to be a bastion of the East Coast Media Elite.

In particular US News & World Report analyzed economic outcomes based on the party of the president. Since 1961 Democrats added 41 million jobs (Clinton rounded up to 42) while Republicans added about half as many at 21 million jobs. Now this was from the start to the end of each administration but that hardly seems fair. Surely some time is needed to change the jobs outcome. So the writer skewed to numbers to one year after the start of an administration to one year after it ended. In other words give an administration a year to let things kick in. Result: Dems 38 million, GOP 27 million.

This was only private sector jobs, which seems to me the Republicans would agree are the really good ones, or as I’ve heard argued, government can’t create jobs. But the writer checked total jobs, including government, again giving one year for administration policies to kick in and once again: Dems 44 million, GOP 34 million.

Another very interesting review, again not from the East Coast Media Elite (correct me if I’m wrong as I think use of this phrase is whining on the parts of conservatives so I’m not sure of the scorecard as to who is or isn’t in the “Elite”), is from Fox News in their story History Shows Stocks, GDP Outperform Under Democrats we learn that GDP (gross domestic profit), stock prices, and corporate profits are better under Democrats.

McGraw-Hill’s S&P Capital IQ analysis shows: Continue reading

Most Compendious Statement of 2012 Campaigns

Bill Clinton, in his speech before the Democratic National Convention, gave the most succinct and accurate assessment of the Republican campaign proposition:

We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in.

Trying my hand at this I’d say the Democratic proposition is:

We got the economy in an even worse mess than we thought. We stopped the Great Depression II and got things turned around. Give us more time to improve it.

Take A Test of Political (and other) Biases

It’s much easy for our brains to process things that are congruent, that is when things make sense because they’re related to each other.

For example say the following words:


Now try this but do NOT read the word, instead say the color of the word:


Didn’t that take longer? This effect is called the Stroop Effect. Most of us have been trained and ingrained that reading something has priority over other ways of getting facts. So we have difficulty with this task since it doesn’t make sense to our brain to ignore the word in favor of the color of the word. This in turn leads to longer time to answer the implicit question of what’s the color. The time difference to process what makes sense to us verses what doesn’t allows us to test for biases. Continue reading

Ryan Speech Fact Checking from Business Community

I found the Business Insider checking Ryan’s speech one of the more interesting fact checks. Particularly their take on the S&P downgrade of the USA’s credit rating. Concerning the downgrade S&P stated:

Compared with previous projections, our revised base case scenario now assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012, remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act. Key macroeconomic assumptions in the base case scenario include trend real GDP growth of 3% and consumer price inflation near 2% annually over the decade.

An interesting question is why Republicans would bring this up in their own convention. I’d expect this much more at the Democratic convention.

Political Humor (& truth) At Its Best

I think the political party that best represents me is that of Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert. And one of the best stump speeches I’ve heard from them is below:        

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Paul Ryan’s Misleading GOP Convention Speech
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Thoughtful. Funny. Sad. Paradoxical. I love the turbulent ambiguity of it all.