Category Archives: Politics

The Tractor Drives Itself

More and more people are starting to worry about something that’s trouble me for some time: Zero Marginal Product workers. The short definition: workers whose maximum output simply isn’t worth the minimum cost of employing them. They literally will lose you money if you employ them.

Every industry has these people, and always has. The beauty of the free market has been that these people eventually get pushed out and reshuffled until they find their way into a position where they have value to the employer and produce more than they consume.

But what if that is breaking down? What if we have a growing number of workers who aren’t just unemployable in good industries… they’re simply unemployable? What if we’re growing a new subpopulation that literally isn’t productive enough to be worth hiring in any industry?

Dan Holm warns against this exact thing. Forgive the lengthy excerpts below… but then, you really should read the whole thing anyway.

Few of the very bright have have ever had to make the unhappy calculation: Forty times a low minimum wage minus bus fare to work, rent, food, medical care, and cable. They have never had to choose between a winter coat and cable, their only entertainment. They don’t really know that many people do. Out of sight, out of mind.

Cognitive stratification has political consequences. It leads liberals to think that their client groups can go to college. It leads conservatives to think that with hard work and determination…..

It ain’t so. An economic system that works reasonably well when there are lots of simple jobs doesn’t when there aren’t. In particular, the large number of people at IQ 90 and below will increasingly be simply unnecessary. If you are, say, a decent, honest young woman of IQ 85, you probably read poorly, learn slowly and only simple things,. Being promoted, or even hired, requires abilities that you do not have.

By the definition of IQ and the normal distribution that it follows, half of the population will have an IQ below 100 and a full third of the population will have an IQ below 85. In other words, Mr. Holm is arguing that one third of our population is already becoming unemployable.

He ends his piece by getting to the real heart of the matter:

The question arises: What does the country do with the large and growing number of people whose labor is worth nothing? Or, perhaps more accurately, whose labor isn’t needed? We see this in the cities today. An illiterate kid in Detroit has no value at all in the market for labor. Assuming that he wants to work, a questionable assumption, what then? Endlessly expanding welfare? What about the literate, averagely intelligent kid for whom there are no jobs? If people working in McDonald’s can barely live on their wages, and strike, or the state institutes a higher minimum wage, McDonald’s will automate their jobs, is automating their jobs, and conservatives will exult—the commie bastards got what they asked for.

I don’t have an answer – only more bad news. The problem is far worse than even Mr. Holm’s dire picture, because we’re looking at a future of more and more automation. We’re far further from true AI than most people think – perhaps no closer than we were 30 years ago. But we’re far closer to automating your job than you probably think. Even most “knowledge worker” and “creative sector” jobs are approaching automation.

My fellow software engineers seem to believe that computers will never be able to do what we do. But they’re almost certainly wrong – even programming other computers will probably be automated 50 years from now. Our industry has already hit the point where 80% of “software engineers” are doing nothing more than putting a glorified GUI on top of a database that was already written years ago by Oracle, Microsoft, or a team of open source engineers.

OverallOn the far end of the scale, my oldest son flew out to Kansas last summer to visit some distant relatives. One of them still owns and operates a major farm. I remember traveling out there to visit them when I was the same age he was last spring. My fondest memory was of getting to drive the tractor. When my son came home, I asked him if he had fun driving the tractor. His response?

“The tractor drives itself, Dad.”

(H/T to Vox Day for the link)

Does Ted Cruz Have Asperger’s?

Locutor is hardly the first person I’ve heard posit this theory. My coworker in the cube next to me at work insists the same thing. I have an alternate theory: I think Ted Cruz has Asperger’s Syndrome – or, as they call it these days, High Functioning Autism.

Consider:

  • Ted Cruz’s body language always seems just a little off. It doesn’t fit quite right and people don’t know what to make of it.
  • Cruz has almost negative natural charisma.
  • Everything Cruz does comes across as calculated rather than genuine – as if he had to learn how to interact with people.
  • Every now and then Cruz spectacularly miscalculates how his actions come across, getting it so wrong that everyone is left scratching their heads.
  • Like him or hate him, judged by raw IQ he’s quite probably the smartest of the candidates who ran this year.
  • He’s well known (and massively disliked) for his lack of social skills.

Can I make the claim definitively? No. It would require an interview with a trained psychologist for a definitive diagnosis. But I’ve been fairly convinced for a while.

tedcruzawkward

Nate Silver Admits that Trump Doesn’t Need 50%

For months, FiveThirtyEight.com’s Nate Silver insisted that Donald Trump couldn’t win the GOP nomination because he couldn’t reach 51% of the GOP vote. I pointed out on more than one occasion, both here and on Twitter, that this was not the case. I wouldn’t say that Silver blew it off. More likely, with me being a relative nobody and him being somewhat famous, he just plain didn’t notice.

Last week, however, Silver tacitly admitted what I’ve been saying all along: Trump doesn’t have to get 50% in order to win.

Trump’s lowest Minimum Winning Vote Share was in New Hampshire, where he could have gotten away with just 19.5 percent of the vote and still beat John Kasich.1 On Super Tuesday, Trump’s average Minimum Winning Vote Share was just 31.2 percent.

But as I said, it’s been increasing steadily. It was 37.4 percent on average in the five states to vote on March 15. And it’s averaged 40.3 percent in the three states to vote since then, including 42.6 percent in Wisconsin

While there will continue to be some variance from state to state, Trump is now usually going to have to be in the 40s to win.

The emphasis was added by me.

What Mr. Silver has not done, however, is acknowledge that he made this mistake and that it was incorrect. I find it rather ingenuous how he writes this article as if the low percentages Trump needs to win are something he was aware of all along. Either he wasn’t aware of it and was legitimately assuming that Trump needed 50% when he claimed it or he knew it all along and he was deliberately writing articles with an anti-Trump bias. The first situation is moderately embarrassing but easily corrected by simply noting his error. The latter would be outright journalistic malpractice.

For the record, I believe the answer is the former. As surprising as it might be, given that this sort of thing seems to be his specialty (and given that it’s the kind of thing people with Asperger’s are usually right on top of), I believe he just made a mistake.

Lest I come across as hypocritical, I hereby acknowledge that Trump can no longer win with just 30% of the vote. However, I also point out that even Mr. Silver above notes that back when I made that statement, it was correct.

What’s changed? Mainly that a lot of voting has already occurred. But the other huge thing is that the political establishment – on both sides of the aisle – has literally pulled out every trick they’ve got (dirty and otherwise) to try and stop Trump. Whether they will succeed or not remains to be seen, but they are clearly having an effect. Finally, Trump has also stumbled a bit on his own. That was always a possibility.

Even so, Trump doesn’t need 50% in order to win. He never has, and he still doesn’t.

Impossible Delegate Math

The rage these days is to analyze Donald Trump’s path to the 1237 delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination. In my not so humble opinion, he still has a strong (though not quite inevitable) path. But rather than go into too much detail, I’ll leave it to Vox Day. His strategic mind has already broken it down far more succinctly than I could.

You may recall I originally stated this: If Trump wins Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California, plus one state from the following list (Arizona, Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin), he wins the nomination. Period. Nothing else matters.

Since then, he has won Florida, Missouri and Arizona, but lost Ohio. So, all he needs now, in practical terms, is Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California. Those are the three vital states, which the latest, but mostly outdated, polls currently show:

  • Pennsylvania: Trump +17
  • New Jersey: Trump +27
  • California: Trump +16

Note for those who haven’t been following Vox Day’s thoughts on this: he also previously stated that Missouri would be almost as good for Trump as Ohio, which is indeed mathematically correct. But the short version is, Trump’s math looks good.

His rivals, on the other hand, are facing impossible delegate math.

Let’s take a look at the current delegate counts first, here handily provided by Google.

GOPDelegates_3_23_2016

John Kasich’s impossible delegate math has been clear for a while now. As of Monday he needed 112% of the remaining delegates to win. Last night didn’t help him. He needs 1094 delegates. Only 944 remain. Obviously he won’t get 116% of the remaining delegates.

But what many don’t realize is that Ted Cruz’s position isn’t much better. His 465 delegates mean that he needs 772 delegates to clinch the nomination – or a whopping 82% of the remaining delegates. Trump’s home state of New York has 95 delegates, and next door New Jersey has 51. Current polls show him looking at yuuuuge wins in both places, and that takes nearly 16% of the remaining delegates off the table. Cruz would have to win 97% of the other delegates to clinch the nomination. Given that several states left are nearly proportional, including California (with it’s massive 172 delegates), that simply isn’t going to happen.

It gets worse for Cruz. The voting slows down massively from here on out. The next primary isn’t for another two weeks – April 5th in Wisconsin. Polls currently show Trump up by 10 in this winner take all state with 42 delegates. After that it’s another two weeks before Trump’s home state of New York votes with its 95 delegates. It’s not quite winner take all, but expect Trump to come home with a vast majority of the delegates here – perhaps all of them. After that point, Cruz will need close to 96% of the remaining delegates to win.

Two weeks after that is April 26th, or Super Tuesday 42, with 5 more states voting: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. At the very minimum, expect Trump to take Pennsylvania, where polls have shown him doing extremely well (as Vox Day noted above). That’s at least 71 more delegates off the table. In reality, expect him to take far more than that, at least in terms of delegates.

In short, by the morning of Wednesday, April 27th Ted Cruz will also need more than 100% of the remaining delegates in order to win the nomination. [Update 4/27/16: prediction proven true!] Barring a massive screw up on the part of the Trump campaign, or his actual death, there is no forestalling this outcome.

If Cruz’s quest became a mathematical impossibility with only a few days left in the campaign, it probably wouldn’t help Trump very much. But at that point, there will be seven weeks of campaigning left before the final votes. Expect several things to happen:

  • Cruz donors will begin dropping off as they see his campaign as impossible. Some will hang on, in a quixotic #NeverTrump attempt. Others will save their money for another day. Expect Trump himself to start quietly calling Cruz donors – not looking for their money for himself, but to convince them to cut off his rival.
  • Trump will be hitting Cruz hard every single day, pointing out that his campaign is mathematically impossible. Every. Single. Day.
  • The news media is also going to run the story. A lot. If there were only a few days of it, they’d try to bury it. With seven weeks, they won’t be able to. It’ll become a daily topic of the talking heads.
  • Trump – the master negotiator – will attempt to cut a deal. He will negotiate with both the GOP establishment and with Cruz himself, and take the best deal – if he thinks he needs to take a deal. My expectation? Cruz takes the VP slot in exchange for bowing out.

In a sane primary environment, Cruz would already be dropping out. He’d certainly drop out by April 27th. This is not a sane primary environment, so he might well carry through all the way to the convention. But given all of the above, even if he goes the distance we can expect his voter support to drop off hard. There are plenty of Cruz supporters who will never vote for Trump. Some of them will still show up for primaries on June 7th to vote for Cruz, even though it’s hopeless. Most will stay home. Whether Cruz has dropped out or not, expect Trump to carry enough of the June 7 delegates to handily carry him over the finish line.

If Cruz drops out before then, of course, Trump will get all of the remaining delegates by default. Or nearly all – Kasich might still squeeze out a few, but don’t bet on many. Then Trump will easily win his 1237 by a large (but not yuuge) margin. I see this scenario as increasingly likely for one very simple reason: Cruz is not an idiot. As a commenter over at Vox’s blog noted some time ago, if you’re going to extreme lengths to purge your enemies you purge them all at the same time. A brokered convention will not pick Cruz, and he knows it. Cruz’s best play right now is to negotiate the VP slot with Trump, help push him over the finish line, and set himself up for the next go round. On the flip side, Cruz’s ego is massive and his ambition is even bigger, and that might cloud his judgement (I think it already has, up to this point).

As you can see, I still fully expect Trump to hit 1237 without too much trouble. But it’s absolutely certain at this point that Cruz and Kasich can’t do it. Cruz’s only hope at this point is that the Sweet Meteor of Death finds Trump – and that was before Jeb Bush endorsed him this morning.

Super Tuesday Post Mortem

Everything is in except Alaska at this point. As I type this, Alaska is looking good for Trump – but only 7% of the vote is in:

Clinton

Clinton has all but shut down Sanders, defying my own prediction of a preference cascade. Looking at the turnout numbers and breaking down the polls, however, it’s easy to see why I made the mistake. The number one second choice candidate for Sanders voters is… Trump. And GOP turnout has been roughly three times higher than Democratic turnout. What we can learn from that is that the voters Bernie needs to push him over the top have crossed the aisle to vote for Trump.

For the record, I still predict an anti-Clinton preference cascade. Except now it looks like we’ll have to wait until November for it.

Sanders

Didn’t do what he needed to do tonight. What’s his play? He carries this all the way to the convention and racks up as many delegates as he can. He’ll have a formidable number and it’ll give him a lot of influence over the official party platform. Count on him to use that.

Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures during the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Somehow there are still people out there saying that the GOP race isn’t as over as the Democrat’s race. Trump didn’t hit his best case scenario tonight (running the table) but it was a pretty damn good night for him. By my math he’ll most likely have a quarter of the delegates he needs for the nomination by the time it all falls out. He also hit a magic number tonight: with 10 total wins (at least), he’s the first candidate to cross the magic threshold of 8 wins to allow his name to be officially thrown in the hat for the nomination. The remaining candidates have a good bit of catch-up to do if they want to reach that threshold as well.

Rubio

To put it bluntly, he’s finished. I’m not sure where he goes from here. Does the establishment force him to stay in to keep hitting Trump with everything they’ve got? Or do they hold back their money and save it for later? I’m betting on the latter. My money says his funding dries up this week and he’s out, and he doesn’t even make it long enough to take a beating in his home state of Florida on the 15th. The establishment will find other, more cost effective ways to attack Trump.

Cruz

A better than expected night, but still not where he needs to be. The upshot: this is now a two-man race. The downshot: don’t expect him to pick up all of Rubio’s voters, or even a majority. Especially if Rubio hangs around for a bit. My suspicion is that Cruz’s appeal is limited outside of the deeply conservative evangelical circles and that more of Rubio’s voters go to Trump than Cruz. A two man race doesn’t favor him the way he seems to think it should.

The Establishment

Their guy can’t win anything except the kind of caucus states where they can play every card they’ve got. My gut says the fold on Rubio and put all of their money on Hillary.

New York Times Finally Learns to Count

The New York Times has finally figured out what I’ve been saying here for weeks and on Twitter for even longer: the delegate math is on Trump’s side.

“Trump has significant advantages, and that’s the way the system is designed,” said Joshua T. Putnam, a political science lecturer at the University of Georgia with an expertise in delegate selection. “It’s right in line with what the folks designing these rules wanted. It’s just not the candidate they preferred.”

This election was bought and paid for, lock stock and barrel, by the establishment for Jeb Bush. The reason I support Trump – the only reason I support him, but also the reason I’m 100% behind him – is because he’s the only candidate who was ever capable of destroying their corrupt game. He did it by hijacking their own process.

Unless today’s polls are completely wrong, tomorrow we’ll be waking up to headlines informing us that this game is all but over. Those headlines won’t be wrong.

Trump Wins Because San Dimas High School Football Rules

Every time I see a Donald Trump rally, speech, or debate I’m reminded of the following scene from the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure:

If you’ve never seen the film, or if you can’t watch the video for some reason, the context is that each student at San Dimas High School has to give a major presentation as their final exam in history class. The student in the clip above is one of the school jocks. His presentation is poor, his grasp of the history appears to actually be even poorer, and any sane teacher would give him an equally poor grade. A generous teacher might be able to squeeze him into a D.

BillTedBut when he finishes his presentation by belting out, “San Dimas high school football rules!” the crowd loves him, and they go nuts to show it.

This, in a nutshell, is why Donald Trump is winning the race for the GOP nomination. It’s why a Donald Trump type will always win in our current system, and it’s why he’ll win the general election in the fall. The vast majority of voters don’t care about the history lesson. It doesn’t matter who is giving the history lesson – they will always find it boring and tune it out, just as the audience did above.

Trump understands this. His entire campaign has been to cut out the history lesson and focus on the only part voters care about. To the typical voter, Rubio and Cruz and Hillary and even Bernie sound like the history lesson. Trump just wants everyone to know that San Dimas High School Football Rules!

There are only two ways to defeat Trump. The first is to out-Trump him, which might well be impossible. The second is to turn the history lesson into an epic multimedia entertainment spectacle. Unfortunately for those who want to stop Trump, Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan are not among the 2016 crop of candidates.

Trump is a Cult of Personality – and So is Evangelicalism

One of the more interesting data points to come out of the South Carolina Republican primary is how well Donald Trump did with self described evangelical Christian voters. Interesting – but not surprising.

First, the data: Trump pulled 34% of their vote, compared with 26% for Ted Cruz and 21% for Marco Rubio.

The reason this isn’t surprising? Donald Trump’s following is a cult of personality. Trump’s major selling point isn’t his policies. It’s not his ideology. It’s not even his good looks, his business sense, or his wealth. Trump’s major selling point is his personality. Voters are attracted to an alpha male who leads the pack with swagger and assuredness, charisma and vitality. Most of all, he’s entertaining.

Evangelical Christianity functions the same way. What draws evangelical Christians to any given church? You’ll hear lots of answers, ranging from the atmosphere to the style of worship to the particular beliefs being espoused. But what you’ll also see, almost universally, is that when the pastor of the church changes the makeup of the congregation also changes dramatically.

Tellingly, when people leave the congregation of one church to join another after a pastor change, the church they choose almost always puts the lie to any other reason they’ve given in the past for choosing. The ideology will be different. The atmosphere will be different. The style of worship will be different. Sometimes all of it will be different. Quite often the spectator will choose an entirely different denomination. And yet the congregationalist will once again use one of these reasons to justify his choice.

Sometimes people are honest enough to acknowledge that they just like (or dislike) the pastor. Most of the time they’re not. We all seem to inherently know and accept that that’s a poor reason to choose a pastor, and a far worse reason to choose a different denomination. It’s even worse for someone to admit that the pastor is the reason they chose to become Christian at all – but that happens, too.

Donald Trump may not be an evangelical Christian. But he appeals to them for the same reasons their pastors do. He’s energetic, bold, assertive and strong. He calls it like he sees it and doesn’t back down. But above all, he’s interesting.

Can Rubio and Cruz Afford the Fight?

Last week I wargamed the GOP primaries out through Super Tuesday. Things already weren’t looking good for anybody not named Trump. After this weekend’s vote in South Carolina, what’s changed? Conventional wisdom says that Rubio should be the big winner. But will he? There’s an honest question to be raised here: will Rubio have the funds to continue the fight? The same question applies to Cruz – although, as we’ll see in a minute, not to the same degree.

Candidates were required over the weekend to report their finances through the end of January. So we know what they had when the primaries actually started. What we don’t know yet is what they’ve spent and raised throughout February. So this analysis is necessarily a bit speculative.

First, the standing as of February 1:

Ted Cruz had $13.6 million cash on hand. That’s not bad. Marco Rubio had $5.1 million on hand – considerably less good. And Donald Trump had $1.6 million on hand – barely more than John Kasich’s $1.5 million. How does this effect the race?

We know that all of the candidates spent a lot more money in both January and February than they had been previously. As the actual voting neared, it was time to open the wallets. And the New Hampshire media market is particularly expensive. We also know that this problem is going to get worse. With Super Tuesday being a week out, the race has now gone national. Candidates can no longer pull a Kasich and just camp in one state. Eleven states vote next Tuesday – no candidate can be in all eleven at once. They’re going to have to make up for it with media presence.

Advertising is expensive. Advertising on a national level is really expensive. Will the candidates have the funds to do it? Looking at the mounting evidence, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that if your name isn’t Donald J. Trump, the answer is “no.”

The expectation for weeks has been that when Bush dropped out of the race his donors would migrate to Rubio. Various reports this weekend have been showing that’s not happening. Some of his donors have gone to Cruz. A few have actually gone to Rubio. Trump has even contacted a few. This is probably more strategic than monetary; Trump just wants to ensure that they don’t keep his rivals funded. But many, apparently, are holding tight anyway.

This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Indeed, although I didn’t predict it, I feel now that I should have predicted it. Deep pocketed donors didn’t get deep pockets by throwing money away. They’re very often deeply conservative – not in the political sense but in the fiscal sense. They won’t spend money unless they think they’re getting something for it.

In the case of Rubio and Cruz, it’s not at all clear that they’ll get something for it. Cruz has only an Iowa win under his belt and seems to be hitting a ceiling with voters. Meanwhile Rubio – supposedly the establishment’s new darling – has yet to put a notch on his win board anywhere. Donors are right to be skeptical.

Additionally, I’ve seen more than one report that Bush’s donors aren’t even sure that political spending has even accomplished anything this cycle. Given how much money Jeb spent per vote, they’re right to be skeptical here, too.

Jeb’s donors holding back from the other candidates is a serious blow – especially to Rubio, who would have seemed to be the natural beneficiary. Without the extra cash, can Cruz and Rubio compete nationally? Or will they run out of cash? And if these donors do finally open up their wallets will it be too late?

My suspicion is that we won’t find out the answer to that last question. Lack of funding combined with Trump’s current momentum will cause both Cruz and Rubio to stall out next Tuesday. And after that, the donors will be clamping their wallets closed. The odds for Cruz and Rubio will simply be too long for conservative donors. It’s very possible that they’ll both drop out much sooner than I’ve expected – possibly even as early as March 2nd – simply because the finances dry up.