How to win votes

The rise of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum have led to a lot of commentary on democracy itself. Understandably these comments usually come from people who dislike the outcome. But that does not mean they do not have a point.

This article looks at the democratic process up to the casting of the ballot. How the votes are counted, what is done with the result, how votes are translated into representatives and policy, the influence of non-elected lobbyists on legislation… is outside the scope of this post.

If this post comes across as cynical, it’s probably because it describes reality.

 

The fantasy

A lot of pundits have a cartoonish view of democracy, which can be summarized as follows:

  1. People get informed on issues, programs and candidates
  2. Voters weigh the arguments
  3. A rational evaluation leads to a decision in the form of a vote

Even if commentators do not actually believe this is how it works, their opinions betray that they think it is how democracy should be in the best of worlds.

Let us now scrutinize how elections work in reality. As always on this website, we take a step by step approach to make all assumptions explicit. As a thought experiment1, a number of possible changes to the existing election process are suggested. I pose some fundamental questions that should be answered by those who are not satisfied with the status quo.

Continue reading “How to win votes”

What voters like about Donald Trump

The rise of Trump should interest everybody in “the West” for two reasons. First of all, many problems faced by the United States are similar to those in Europe. Secondly because of the immense economic, political and above all cultural influence America has on the world.

The media portray Donald Trump as a sexist, a racist and an ignorant warmonger.

Is this picture correct? Why are so many voters attracted to him? This post lists the items put on the political agenda by the Trump campaign.

 

Slogan: Make America Great Again

Summary: America First

 

Domestic

Enforcing immigration law. This means that illegal immigrants – who by definition broke the law – should be deported  from the USA1. A wall at the border with Mexico should prevent future illegal immigration. Trump links illegal Mexicans to crime. His adversaries reinforce this point by burning the American flag and waving Mexican flags while harassing his supporters at one of his rallies.

Continue reading “What voters like about Donald Trump”

Manipulating Brad DeLong suffers from status anxiety. Sad!

As I know a thing or two about helicopter money, I like to help out when people have misconceptions about it. American economics professor Brad DeLong recently accused Claudio Borio, Piti Disyatat, Anna Zabai1 of manufacturing objections against helicopter money on his blog and on Twitter. I reacted to the tweet of DeLong, pointing out that Borio et al. had raised a valid point.

When I checked back to see if DeLong had replied, it turned out that he had blocked me. As I am new to Twitter, I thought that maybe I was blocked because DeLong received too many messages from me.

DeLong Twitter block

Continue reading “Manipulating Brad DeLong suffers from status anxiety. Sad!”

Helicopter money part II: politics

Helicopter money (HM) is money printed by the central bank that is given to the people. Figuratively speaking, Mario Draghi1 would fly over the Eurozone and drop new €50 bills out of a helicopter to the population below. In the first part of this series, I explored the possible sources of HM. The current post looks at the political constraints that prevent the ECB from firing up the engines of its helicopters. Continue reading “Helicopter money part II: politics”

My favorite type of model

Scientists build models that capture the essence of some observed phenomenon. The models that I like best are strongly simplified. This in contrast to very complex and non-transparent models that try to replicate every aspect of reality. Good models allow us to gain insight into something we observe by using a limited number of key concepts. I use simple models to be explicit about the underlying assumptions and to be consistent. Continue reading “My favorite type of model”

Quiz: Can you spot the economic errors of Scott Sumner?

I was doing some research for a post about how the Trump presidential candidacy exposes the political biases of economists. But then I came across the blog of Scott Sumner. Professor Sumner has been teaching economics for over 25 years. Mr. Sumner is an advocate for a monetary policy called NGDP targeting. He also hates Donald Trump.

What I found stunning while reading Dr. Sumner’s articles are not his political views, but rather how poor his understanding of financial economics really is. As an exercise, I recommend that you take a look at these three articles. Can you identify his implicit assumptions and outright false claims? Continue reading “Quiz: Can you spot the economic errors of Scott Sumner?”

The annual general meeting of KBC

I had a new KBC experience today, after being a lifelong customer and having worked for 5 years at the bank-insurance group. This time not as a client or as an employee, but as a (co-)owner of the company.  The annual general meeting of shareholders was organized in the company’s Molenbeek1 headquarters this morning. Continue reading “The annual general meeting of KBC”

Does the Islamic State employ classicists?

The recent terror attacks by Islamic State (IS) in Brussels and Paris have shown once more that the terrorists are willing to sacrifice themselves for their cause. After the suicide bombings in Brussels, IS has threatened that more attacks will follow.

By doing this, they are following a strategy that is as old as the hills. Continue reading “Does the Islamic State employ classicists?”

Historical analogies

The reason historical analogies are useful, is because hardly any political, social or economic problem is really new. The problem is that it is easy to cherry-pick some event from thousands of years of recorded history. That is why you always need to keep in mind that no situation will match the past 100%. However, what is interesting is that similar relations and feelings occur time and again between individual humans and groups of people. This leads people to use the same strategies1, no matter what time and place they live in, or what languages they speak or what clothes they wear. Continue reading “Historical analogies”

Trump and the media

Donald Trump is a genius. Don’t be fooled into thinking he is a brainless blowhard. The man is following a very rational strategy.

The entire business empire of Trump is built around his name. For years, he has cultivated the image of a successful rich self-made man who gets things done. His name is on his skyscrapers, and he was the star of the reality TV show The Apprentice.

When Donald Trump announced that he would be running for president of the USA in the summer of 2015, he had a wealth of experience in self-promotion and in using the media to his advantage. Continue reading “Trump and the media”