Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

January 25, 2005

Clinton and the Median Voter

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:31 pm

The Median Voter Theorem states that, if you can line up voters on a spectrum from left to right (not necessarily evenly distributed), then politicians trying to capture a majority vote will move to the “center” — the position with half the voters to their left and half to their right. If politicians care only about getting elected — that is, they don’t care at all about the issues themselves, then they’ll both end up taking the same middle posisiton, and voters might as well vote randomly. The policy that is implemented will be that preferred by the “median voter” — that is, the voter in the middle, with half the population to his/her left and half to his/her right.

Obviously, politics in the real world doesn’t work that way, but people who like the median voter theorem usually attribute this to the fact that politicians don’t know voters’ preferences exactly, so they don’t know exactly where on the spectrum the median voter is. Also, some assume that politicians care — at least somewhat — about the policies they advocate, so that in the presence of uncertainty about where they median voter is, they are willing to risk losing the election by shading their positions away from their guess of the median voter’s, and towards their own. This is, they argue, enough to account for substantial variation in candidates’ positions.

I’ve never been a big fan of the median voter theorem — not because I don’t believe the math behind it; I do — but because I don’t think the assumptions accurately capture the essential elements of people’s preferences. For one thing, preferences are not always properly represented by a linear (left-right) scale, even preferences over a single issue. For another, (at least some) politicians campaign not just by stating their position and telling you it’s like yours, but also by stating their position and trying to convince you they’re right about the issue. In other words, even if people’s inherent preferences are fixed (and they may not be), people’s preferences over policies are subject to change through persuation.

However, even I have to admit that there have been two great pieces of evidence in favor of the relevance of the median voter theorem over the last few days. Last week, Hillary Clinton endorsed faith-based initiatives, the Bush proposal most seriously derided by liberals (between his first inauguration and the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001). And, this week she called for moderating the Democratic position on abortion to focus more on preventing “unwanted pregnancies” — say, through “teen celibacy” (her words) and less on abortion.

Perhaps she is running for president, and re-evaluating her estimate of the median voter’s position in light of the 2004 election results.

UPDATE (1/26/05 11:47 am): Clayton Cramer speculates that perhaps the Democrats will turn against gun control next. They certainly seem to have de-emphasized in 2004 after the 2002 and 2000 election saw gains for pro-gun candidates.

UPDATE (1/26/05 9:36 pm): Scott Ott has a different take on this! Read it! ;-)

Coptic Family Murdered (Update)

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:01 pm

Rabbi Aryeh Spero has an article with an analysis of the murders of Hossan Armanious and his family and what they mean for us.

Banning Guns, not Gun Crime

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:03 pm

The U.K. banned essentially all private ownership of handguns, and severely restricted private ownership of other guns, in 1997. In the next two years, rather than decreasing, gun crime increased 40%. Alphecca notes a report that this trend is continuing — overall crime in the UK decreased 6% in the year ending this past September, but gun crime increased 5% during this same period.

Building Code

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:10 pm

A few years ago, a televangelist was ridiculed for having expensive doghouses. Now, it’s about to become a requirement — at least in San Francisco, where the Board of Supervisors has given preliminary approval to a building code for doghouses.

Hat tip: Clayton Cramer.

Go to the doctor

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:07 pm

If something’s not right with your body, go to the doctor. Don’t hide it, don’t deny it, and if you’re afraid it’s something serious but prefer to think it’s something minor, go anyway to fix the minor thing. Don’t do like these people.

Hat tip: Grand Rounds XVIII.

Fired for Smoking?

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:41 pm

WRAL reports:

Company Fires All Employees Who Smoke

Michigan Firm Won’t Allow Smoking, Even On Employee’s Own Time

UPDATED: 8:20 AM EST January 25, 2005

LANSING, Mich. — Four employees of a health care company have been fired for refusing to take a test to determine whether they smoke cigarettes.

Weyco Inc., a health benefits administrator based in Okemos, Mich., adopted a policy Jan. 1 that allows employees to be fired if they smoke, even if the smoking happens after business hours or at home.

Company founder Howard Weyers has said the anti-smoking rule was designed to shield the firm from high health care costs. “I don’t want to pay for the results of smoking,” he said.

The rule led one employee to quit before the policy was adopted. Four others were fired when they balked at the smoking test.

Note that if they wanted their employees to take lie-detector tests about (say) stealing from the company on the job, they would be required by federal law to prove that it was related to an acutal economic loss, and they would not be able to fire employees who refused to take the test.

But if if they want employers to take a tobacco test to see if they smoke on their own time, they get to fire anyone who refuses.

But this about company-paid health care costs, so it really is the company’s business, right? Well, supposed they made a rule that employees weren’t allowed to engage in promiscuous unprotected sex, which could lead to high health care costs from AIDS. Could they require tests for sexually transmitted dieseases to make sure employees weren’t engaging in promiscuity “after business hours or at home”? Could they cite higher AIDS rates among homosexuals and fire employees for engaging in homosexual behavior?

Am I the only one who sees the contradiction here?

New Antisemitism in Russia?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:19 pm

I’m sure the full story on this has yet to come out, but what has come out is worrisome. Yesterday, Moscow News (English online edition) reported yesterday:

About 20 members of the State Duma [Russian Parliament --DR] have approached the Prosecutor General’s Office with a request to “ban all Jewish organizations” because, the MPs claim, they are “extremist”. The group published an open letter to the Prosecutor General in Rus Pravoslavnaya newspaper.

The MPs (representing the Communist faction, the nationalist Motherland party, and the radical Liberal Democrats) and about 500 other people, mostly journalists and editors of nationalist newspapers, called the Jewish religion “anti-Christian and inhumane, which practices extend even to ritual murders.”

They also wrote that “the whole democratic world today is under the financial and political control of international Jewry. And we do not want our Russia to be among such unfree countries.”

(Boldface added.)

This is pretty serious stuff — classical, 19th-century-style, vicious antisemitism. But that was yesterday. Today, the same web site reports:

A group of deputies from the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, has retracted a demand, sent earlier to the Prosecutor General’s Office, to ban all Jewish organizations in Russia.

No reason was given for the retraction. It seems hard to believe that they really changed their minds that fast. Did they sign something without reading it, or do they believe what they signed, but decided that signing it made them look bad?

Meanwhile, the web site itself has editorialized against the petition, under the title, “Russian MPs Bring Shame to Soviet Liberators of Aushchwitz.”

University Opposes Books for the Masses

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:59 am

Ball State University’s has a program for incoming students called Freshman Connections. According to their website,

About 4000 students form small communities in which they hear the same concepts and ideas in multiple courses, help one another during their daily routines, attend cultural events together, and more easily link their social activities to goals of the curriculum.

This program also includes a required-reading book and an on-campus lecture by the author. The book is Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

According to an article by Brett Mock in FrontPage Magazine,

Schlosser argues that it is the free market that causes problems in the food industry and that only far more intrusive government regulation than already exists will make the food industry productive and moral. In his book, Schlosser condemns Wal-Mart and Costco because they buy books in mass quantities, which allows them to sell at a lower price (though his own book is evidently sold on their shelves).

In other words, Ball State is requiring freshman to read a book which argues that it’s a bad thing that poor people can afford to buy books.

Is this really what a university supported by the taxpayers — including poor people who pay sales tax on books — should be requiring?

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