James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

James Fallows: Campaign 2012

  • Ask Dr. Popkin: Were You on Obama's 'Dream Team'?

    Was a frequent Atlantic correspondent "affiliated" with the Obama campaign?

    Thumbnail image for PopkinUCSD.jpeg

    Through the campaign season, we've often heard from political scientist Samuel Popkin (right), of UCSD, about the strategies, the successes, and the mistakes of the Obama and Romney campaigns. Two days before the election, he gave this "pre-mortem" on why Team Romney was likely to lose. For some other installments, see this on Bain, this on Paul Ryan, this on Romney's prospects before the first debate (sample: "the Romney campaign's recent performance is a case study in mismanagement and poor strategic planning"), and this on the overseas bank-account controversy.

    A week after the election, the New York Times published a tick-tock story about the background to Obama's victory. The headline was "Academic 'Dream Team' Helped Obama Effort," the story involved private advice that political scientists and other scholars had given the campaign, and one part said this:
    Less well known is that the Obama campaign also had a panel of unpaid academic advisers. The group -- which calls itself the "consortium of behavioral scientists," or COBS -- provided ideas on how to counter false rumors, like one that President Obama is a Muslim. It suggested how to characterize the Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in advertisements. It also delivered research-based advice on how to mobilize voters....

    For their part, consortium members said they did nothing more than pass on research-based ideas, in e-mails and conference calls. They said they could talk only in general terms about the research, because they had signed nondisclosure agreements with the campaign.

    In addition to Dr. Fox [Craig Fox of UCLA], the consortium included Susan T. Fiske of Princeton University; Samuel L. Popkin of the University of California, San Diego; Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University; Richard H. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago's business school; and Michael Morris, a psychologist at Columbia.

    "A kind of dream team, in my opinion," Dr. Fox said.

    Many readers wrote in to ask me the same question I asked Sam Popkin. Namely: What about this? We know that you were involved in some past Democratic campaigns, and that -- as you describe in your book -- you helped prep Jimmy Carter for his presidential debate in 1980. Is there anything else we should know, or should have known, about this year? Dr. Popkin writes back thus:

    Seldom has any story earned me more undeserved glory or equally undeserved ethical doubts.  

    When I saw the story I was surprised.  Surprised to be given equal billing with the decision theorists and even more surprised that my sincere modesty might be construed as deception.  Like many old hands, I send occasional ideas or suggestions to campaign strategists.  But for me - or anyone else - to claim that I was an advisor to the Obama campaign would be vastly inflating my standing, even by the standards of contemporary politics.     

    I had no affiliation with the Obama Campaign.  I was not included in any strategy, message, fundraising or targeting meetings, and I have never met Jim Messina, David Plouffe or Harper Reed.  

    Being unaffiliated, however, is different from being uninvolved.  

    I met briefly with David Axelrod this fall when I was in Chicago on a book tour.  Four times during the campaign I also sent him emails noting parallels with previous campaigns.  I was one of many veterans of past campaigns, for example, who urged him to begin debate prep early.  

    For the last six years I have also brainstormed at length with members of Craig Fox's group of decision theorists to give advice to Democrats.  These theorists, hailed as a "Dream Team" in The New York Times, met with fundraising and GOTV officials who asked them about motivation and framing.  I signed a nondisclosure agreement so I cannot discuss their specific insights, but I do believe that they made a significant contribution to Obama's campaign.  

    My prior book, The Reasoning Voter, is based on the work of many of these decision theorists, so as a political scientist with extensive campaign experience I was a useful sounding board when they discussed messaging.  For example, I nudged the theorists to give more consideration to predictable Republican counterattacks.  

    I've always adhered to the principle that outsiders can only be helpful if they don't claim credit.  After all, there are always so many old hands, experts, VIPS etc. chiming in, that it is never clear whose suggestions mattered anyway.  

    Did my modesty cross the line from realism to deception?  The praise I've received for being part of a Dream Team of great decision theorists is excessive.  I feel the doubts are too.  

    This rings true to me. More to come from Popkin soon, especially on the Republicans' attempts to figure out where they go next.

  • Let's Get Back to the Atlas Shrugged Guy

    A guy threatens to close his business because Obama won. Readers reply.


    I will work through this as systematically as I can. You can see many past Atlas Shrugged Guy entries here. For some reason, our "categories" function isn't working now, so some are missing, like this and this. But prowl around and you'll get the idea.

    1) From the guy himself. I have had an ongoing exchange with our original correspondent -- the one who promised to close down his business, with its $500,000 annual payroll, if Obama won. Just after the election he wrote:

    A litany of layoffs today. Entire industries slated for elimination. It is a brave new world you have created. Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven?

    I was used as red meat to the wolves yet my predictions are manifesting right before your eyes.  None are so blind as those who refuse to see...

    Then, after some criticism from readers:

    I appreciate your posting my thoughts. I am not afraid to stand my position in matters I strongly believe in. It is rare I get a response. I am passionate in my beliefs and relish debate. To bad honest debate is so rare and I did resent a tad being more meat to the wolves than a honest dissenter.

    And yesterday:

    Perhaps the best analogy i have heard on voting for Obama is like chickens voting for Col. Sanders...

    Not that I have anything against chickens...

    And today:

    It gets better evey day. Do me a favor and give me a heads up when  to pop my corks?

    To bad though about Hostess , deep fried Twinkies and Dom are decent together. Sort of like a blend of Elvis and Voltaire? ...

    I  confess, I like marshmallows and Rome presents a nice set of glowing embers in which to obtain the perfect brownness and crust.

    If I was a Hollywood movie star or perhaps capable of a Manhattan apartment I might enjoy the view. Instead I get to see my life's work dissolve like sugar in a cup of hot water....

    Fun stuff, huh?  Perhaps my extremist position of survival and self reliance can produce a repeat burn in effigy?

    Cheers, it is a brave new world?

    2) For a sampling from the other side, see the installment that begins after the jump.

    Herewith another trip through reader reaction. First, the hypocrisy of the defense contractor:

    I'm sure you've gotten more than a few e-mails regarding his e-mail about his company, but can I just point out:  "I worked avionics and fly by wire systems and missile technology for 16 years and switched to embedded systems, gps and wireless telemetry (no not wifi, wifi is for pussies) for the past 10 with a emphasis on extreme ruggedization"  basically screams that he's been living off of government contracts / government services (such as providing the GPS constellation) for 25+ years.

    Maybe the past 10 years have all been private customers, but still: to say that he "took nothing" is very rich, when he explicitly says he uses GPS.  We've corresponded briefly in the past; I'm deep in the military-industrial complex, and recognize that there is a lot of stuff that the government provides that makes my job possible.

    Basic credibility question:

    There is no physics dept/degree from Seattle University (a small Jesuit college).  It makes me wonderful how much of his account is true.*

     Who's really to blame?

    I am late to the critique of the poor guy. I used to own a business. I worked 80 hours a week. The business failed, during W's administration.  Why? Well, technology changed. It got easier and cheaper for businesses to manage without me, and thanks to government policies (I call that particular policy "capitalism"), it also got way easier to outsource to other countries.

    Its hard to put your life and blood into a business that supports multiple families. I started out being able to insure my employees, but insurance costs tripled in the 8 years I had the business, and in the end, I just couldn't do it. Stuff Happens. Look at Kodak.  Who could have thought that company wouldn't go on forever? Technology killed Kodak, just like it killed my business. Technology is like that. You change or die. It wasn't Bush's fault. And its not Obama's fault. And its not Atlas Shrugged guy's fault. If he's going down, he should just get out, and move on. That is the difficult, smart, painful thing to do. He's probably entitled to some bitterness. But blaming Obama is childish.

    Another question about Seattle U:

    I note with interest that this guy says he worked his way through school selling scrap metal.  I hadn't heard of Seattle U., but its website tells me that it is a Jesuit school.  That sounds a little pricey.  Did Mr. I-Did-It-All-Myself get any financial aid or did he sell a whole lot of scrap metal? 

    I would agree with some of your other readers that his grasp of spelling and grammar is a little weak for someone who claims to be a captain of industry, or else he's not a very good proof reader.  This, along with his arrogance, reminded me of a quote I saw years ago (I think it was in a cartoon) of someone describing a wine:  "It's a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its pretense."

    Update: Thanks to reader AK, here is the Thurber cartoon alluded to above.
    Back to contractor hypocrisy:

    I don't often comment on what I read on the internet but Randians bring out the worst in me.
    1.  Fly by wire, avionics, missile technology?  I would bet a paycheck his form's primary customer is the government and/or large defense contractors, whose primary customer is the Pentagon (possibly Boeing given the Seattle link, but they are a huge defense contractor in their own right).  That not only makes him as dependent on the Feds for his income as I (a Federal civil servant) am, but also means that the unsustainable, frequently off-budget, defense spending in large part responsible for our huge public debt has been used to pad his bottom line.  If you don't like deficits, Jack, you should look in the mirror.
    2.  His student loan screed is incoherent -- these are loans with interest, not handouts.  The whole purpose of student loans "being the business of the government" is that they wouldn't likely exist if not for the government, and the Obama Administration took the banks out of the equation as middlemen in order to lower costs, something I would think any businessman would understand.  But even more to the point -- how good a capitalist can this guy really be if he doesn't understand credit?  He may be proud of himself for putting himself through college without loans, but he was stupid to ignore easy-to-get capital at low rates he could have utilized to used to boost his future earnings.  Given the reported size of his firm, I'd say it's likely he received an SBA loan or two in the past as well.
    3.  Another of your commenters put it better than I can, but again it shows what a shaky grasp of Capitalism Rand-type really have -- if the market is really as efficient as they claim it will swallow up the demand for his firm's good and services -- the more in-demand his stuff is the quicker this will happen -- and his company will just be a fond memory.  This is just cutting off his nose to spite his face, although I'm sure he'll never notice from whatever low-tax paradise he manages to move to should Obama win today, like Haiti or Somalia.

     Let's go to the charts:

    Your Atlas Shrugged dude is wrong on the most important and central point.  Enclosed is a table of corporate profits.  They have skyrocketed under Obama (for reasons not, of course, necessarily related to Obama's policies, but he certainly hasn't quashed them, either).

    What's kind of outrageous about his claim is that the greatest decline in R&D has been company funded R&D (see this recent column about Boeing).

    This guy is in my industry (he claims) and is actually completely wrong about what's going on. In other words, the glorious private sector is spending its lofty profits on shareholder dividends, rather than investing them in R&D.  Obama has nothing to do with that. 

     Can't get enough of defense hypocrisy:

    I'm sure it has been pointed out in the snowball of emails, but this fellow comes from the defense industry: which means he has been attached to governments' teat for 16+ years (perhaps not just the Uncle Sam's, but Israel, Saudi, Britain, etc.).  And then he has the temerity to complain about government regulation?  If anything, many of his erstwhile coworkers are sore about the --all-too-slow -- deterioration of defense socialism. 

    And he seems to be sore that the government now sees fit to fund renewable energy -- i.e. grid 'ruggedization' -- instead of buying 'ruggedized GPS systems.'  Now, granted, some of his product line may perhaps make its way into the hands of hikers and hunters... but please, we've met his customers, they is us, and we have little or no choice about whether we buy his products.  This guy is simply voting his interests... and I wish I were as certain as he that an Obama second term would threaten his business as much as he thinks.


    I was mildly engaged when you first posted this guy's illiterate diatribe.  But today's follow-up closes the case for me.

    He's a MILITARY CONTRACTOR and he has the nerve to even utter the words "government to leave me alone and live within its means"!!!

    Where does he think all of his 'we built it' profits are coming from?

    Reminds me of "get the gubmint's hands off my social security and medicare!"

    What an entitled jerk.

    From a world traveler:

    As a self-employed 60 year old man, I was fascinated to read your various posts / comments / controversy created by the  gentleman who promises to close down his shop and put people out of work if Mr. Obama wins.  

    Like yourself, I have had the benefit of working in countries around the world (to date, 59 countries) over the past 30 years.  Like Elizabeth Warren, I know that almost every important resource relating to my business and travel has been supported  and subsidized by my tax payments over the years. At the same time,  I also realize that we pay lower taxes here than the citizens  of many other countries in which I do business------particularly when compared to the quality of services, clean air, clean water,  and all of the other benefits I have received.

    The point is this:  Most of the folks who are complaining about high taxes, socialism, government takeover of health insurance,  etc. are simply unaware of what kind of resources and benefits we have----as compared to most places in the world.  At the same time, we generally pay less per capita for those valuable resources and benefits----Northern Europe excepted.

    Frankly, I would be  thrilled with the  thought of living with the kind of infrastructure, public transportation, public services,  education, and comprehensive  health  care enjoyed by my friends in the countries which are most widely ridiculed by the right wing propaganda machine (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, and even Germany).  Guys like "Atlas Shrugs" are simply demonstrating their ignorance of our actual place in the world.

    In the larger picture, "Atlas Shrugs" and this entire election cycle is a comprehensive study of how the right wing media machine convinces hard working Americans to vote against their own interests, and the interests of their children.  It would be impossible  for Mr. Romney to be polling as he currently polls without this cynical propaganda machine working night and day.

    Defense-contractor hypocrisy!

    I'm sure others have said this, but Atlas Shrugged obviously worked in a world where his customers were governments and probably mostly the US government or other defense contractors. Why all the anger?  Why the feeling that he did this all by himself when he obviously was dependent on the military industrial complex for his livelihood? 

    It's also pretty sad that he graduated from a Jesuit university that places a lot of emphasis on public service and service to those who are not as fortunate as he has been. (One of my daughters has two degrees from there so I know a bit about their teaching.) 

    Unfortunately I've met this guy or his twin many times in the last four years: men who are extremely angry about the black guy (even though they won't admit why), so angry that they can hardly speak about Obama without spitting. It gets downright scary to be around some of them because the hatred is so visceral and so close to the surface.

    How did they ever get to feel so entitled? Why does anything Obama do enrage them?  They complain about people on welfare (which was eliminated back in the Clinton era) with absolutely no recognition that their own livelihoods wouldn't exist if our government didn't spend extraordinary amounts of money on the military.


    I come late to this Shrugging of Atlas posting party and have been reading hard to catch up. Then I got to your close in the second installment:
    "For the record, I didn't hear from anyone defending the "Atlas" perspective -- nor anyone complaining about the other post."
    As someone who has collected and read most all that Ayn Rand wrote and published, and as someone who believes in her philosophy's core principles of Realism, Rationalism, Individualism/Egoism and Capitalism, and has followed them all his life, I completely agree with the second poster and those who supported him. Call me an Ayn Rand liberal.
    And I think the Randian, like many of his compatriots, either doesn't comprehend Objectivism very well, or decided to use it as license to ignore the fact that, living in a division-of-labor society, co-operation is more the key to success and survival than competition. To turn a common phrase back on itself: I am not my brother's keeper, but I am his partner and co-worker, in life and society.
    Ayn Rand wrote novels based on her philosophical beliefs. So did Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo, Ms. Rand's two favorite Romantic authors. Her novels were meant as fictional, intellectual examples of how society is organized and operates, not as survival guides to Galt's Gulch.
    Ms. Rand wrote of and for her time, which stretched from the Russian Revolution through Lenin and Stalin, to Hollywood and the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings of the late 1940s and '50s. To her nothing was more frightening or fearful than what she saw in Soviet Russia and its satellite states after the war. (Read "We the Living" the world she escaped.) She did not live to see the fall of Communism, the great evil in her mind and its philosophical base of enforced altruism. I think she would have laughed as those today who call President Obama a socialist, or that Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare are somehow threats to the America Way of Life that most of the rest of the civilized world has peacefully and successfully incorporated into their societies. But like many who are successful and financially comfortable, she had a tendency to imply that "Hey! I did it. So should you."
    Anyway, that's my "Randian" perspective on the matter. Here's another about the Atlas Shrugged Guy. He sounds like someone who lost or did not get a government contract or research grant. To tack onto the nice metaphor that ended the second post, his are the sour grapes of wrath.

    What about his workers?

    "I treat my employees very well..."

    If I was one of his employees and knew he was threatening to eliminate my job because he didn't get his way in the election (as will 60-some-odd million other people, either way it goes) I would not feel well treated. In fact, I'd spend the rest of the day working on my resume and resignation letter. Because, regardless of the outcome, I would not want to risk my own well-being on such a childish and petulant little man.

    Let's follow up:

    I think the most interesting dimension of the "Atlas Shrugged" saga is whether or not your correspondent will in fact close his business if Obama wins. Please, I beg you, follow up with him and hold his feet to the fire... make him prove that he has in fact entirely closed his business in response to Obama's re-election. And then follow-up with his employees, and see how how they fare.

    To me, this smacks of the "moving to Canada" canard so many on my side of the aisle thundered on about in 2000 and especially 2004. I think sound money says your correspondent may be exaggerating, but you really should work to keep him honest in the coming months. And if he does fold up shop, you'll have a great story following the fallout.   Big props (no aviation pun intended) from Austin.


    I'm not mad at that fellow, I just don't care. The country will roll along one way or another, and his opting out won't affect anyone but himself. To put it another way, are we really to believe that if you subtracted the input from the top 10, 30, 500, 10,000 most motivated and gifted figures from the American economic landscape or the American scientific landscape or the American political landscape, that it would really make any difference in the long run? That the interests and desires and aspirations of the great teeming mass of Americans would not somehow be expressed?
    We are living in a time of federal budget deficit and many great challenges, and if your Atlas isn't aware that tax rates in the U.S. are far lower than in many industrialized countries, his ignorance isn't anything I need to correct about myself or my views.

    It doesn't matter what that man did or built. The statistics on financial inequality are clear, and the basic facts of the 2005-2009 financial debacle are also not really contested. In a sense the financial powers that be Galted us many years ago -- you see that in the Facebook millionaire who abandoned his U.S. citizenship, for instance. Did Facebook change as a result of that? I don't see how. And the noncontributing nature of high finance in recent years is being more widely recognized with every passing year.

    The hurt feelings of the grossly overcompensated are not something I'm going to do a great deal to mollify.

    And, finally for now, from a prominent figure in the tech world -- more prominent, for sure, than the original Guy himself: 

    I was trying to ignore this guy but I can't.

    Mr Atlas said: "...thru work alone i expect to reap the wealth of my labors. Giving back implies I took something. I took nothing and created something."

    There must be a name for this fantasy. In this make-believe world all success is due to oneself alone and all failure to others. So Mr. Atlas can view himself as a hero because he started a business, but the failure of his business to grow is not due to himself but to Mr. Obama and liberals. He applies his responsibility only to his successes and not his failures.  Therefore in this fantasy world he can safely ignore the fact that he took elementary education, safe streets, rule of law and many other support systems (that are not common in many countries of the world) in order to become successful in his own eyes.  But while he benefits without gratitude, he only counts these social benefits' cost.  This leads to the very weird mental ailment where he believes that "he took nothing" from the society that he is embedded deeply in. That his teachers, neighbors, employees have contributed nothing to his success, and that like some God he makes his own universe from nothing.

    I think you can be a perfectly sane libertarian (and many are), but this idea that you "take nothing" from others, or that you "built it yourself" is simply a bad meme, like maoism, that needs to be pushed back.

    One more, from another business owner:

    I have a $500k annual payroll at my little nursery.  I'm not closing the doors!  I'm rejoicing that Obamacare will reach full implementation and will hopefully become institutionalized to the degree that it cannot be easily repealed - I will see my company's health insurance costs go down!  Why not promote this side of the story - it's a more positive view and far more 'valid'.

    This is a small sample. More ahead.

    * Another reader writes in to say:
    For the latest installment of your "Atlas Shrugged" posts, the person who claimed that Seattle University doesn't have a Physics degree is wrong. Seattle University DOES have a physics degree. The Physics department is located in the College of Science and Engineering:

    Although as someone who works at a Jesuit school, I really hope that "Atlas Shrugged" didn't graduate from one! The selfishness and amorality he expresses are completely contrary to the spirit that Jesuit schools seek to instill in their graduates.

    More »

  • Some (Possibly) Positive Political News

    Maybe we can all get along? For at least a day we will hope so.

    One of the biggest "dog that didn't bark" surprises of the past week has been the relative lack of "election was stolen"/"voter fraud"/"it's all because of ACORN" themes from the Fox-influenced conservative media and politicians. A few days before the election I argued that there were a number of signs of this "pre-delegitimization" theme setting in.

    A reader notes that it hasn't happened, and that we should be grateful:

    I know before the election some people wrote in predicting a post-election Republican campaign to promote the idea that Obama's win was not legitimate. However fortunately this seems to be failing to materialize.

    Erick Erickson of RedState told his readers, "Barack Obama won. He won by turning out the most people in a well run campaign. In other words, he won fair and square."

    In an interview with ABC News, Paul Ryan said, "The president deserves kudos for having a fantastic ground game, and the point I'm simply making is he won. He won fair and square. He got more votes, and that's the way our system works, and so he ought to be congratulated for that."

    These are just two examples, and it's still quite early, but these are still encouraging signs. So that's some good news.

    And here is a third example: last night on CNN, just one week after the election, the Republican governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, said (to paraphrase): "The results are in, the president won, his team has their turn to govern, let's move ahead." Worth underscoring how different that tone is from (a) the immediate reaction after the results four years ago and (b) what might have been. Sen. Mitch McConnell, whose reaction once again boils down to "the results are in, now the president better agree with us," has not fully internalized the message, but it is reasonable to hope that he is a lagging indicator, like Karl Rove on election night. 

  • By Popular Demand: One Last Immersion in the World of the 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy

    'Going Galt,' and the response


    Here we go:

    1. The "Atlas Shrugged Guy" made his first appearance in this item. In it, I quoted two self-identified small-business owners, one a tech-world person whom I actually knew, the other someone who wrote in over the transom, on what would happen if Barack Obama were re-elected.
    2. Much back-and-forth ensued. See here and here, with related links. 
    3. Then we had his stream-of-consciousness election-night posts as it became clear that his nightmare was coming true and Barack Obama would be returned to office.
    4. I have received 16 metric tons of response on this, virtually all of it hostile to the original writer. (Here is one exception.) Additional points before we go to sample messages after the jump:
    5. Is this a real person? Yes. I know his name, location, and that he has a business.
    6. Is he "trolling" or sending a deliberate parody of right-wing talk points? No. I have sufficient reason to believe these are actual his actual views. I'll mention more at the very end.
    7. Is he actually going to shut down his business? More on this later on too.
    8. What's the point here? I offer this -- and some of the guy's very latest reaction -- to illustrate the phenomenon discussed in Conor Friedersdorf's item: Members of the right-wing info bubble seem genuinely caught by surprise that their views seem extreme, unreasonable, or deluded, or unreasonable when removed from their hothouse environment. That may be the most important cultural-political effect of the election two days after: the right wing's version of what is (unjustly) known as the "Pauline Kael problem" -- the astonishment that Barack Obama could actually have won, when everyone they know and talk to shares the view that he's an utter-failure, different-from-us, business-hating socialist.
    9. How many am I using here? I got about 2,000 messages in this vein -- that's a very high response. I'll quote enough to illustrate a range of views. They are all AFTER THE JUMP, so stop now if you think this theme is overdone (as some correspondents did.) Otherwise, proceed at your own risk.

    Why publicize this at all? Many messages in this vein:

    Why would you give some rambling lunatic who "claims" to be the owner of a "high-tech" business, a soapbox to stand on?  The imbecile probably sells stuff over E-bay while listening to Rush all day.  His complaints are a laundry list derived from AM radio talking points.  Complete BS.  You'll make these people think they have a credible leg to stand on.

    He's just a bad businessman. Also a popular theme:

    The Atlas shrugged guy (I'll bet a couple rounds of beer the writer is a "he") sounds like one who wants to take all the credit when his business does well and blame the government when it isn't. For an "entrepreneur" to complain that taxes and regulations are hurting his business is missing a key point: his competitors work in the same tax and regulatory environment.


    This guy is too irrational or delusional to be a successful businessman.  I've worked in high tech for decades, someone who has built up a successful business with several high paying positions wouldn't just shut things down because he or she doesn't like Obama's re-election.  He or she would sell business and pocket the after tax profits.  


    Since he's such a clear-eyed realist, what exactly does he think Romney would do that would cause his business to grow? Repeal Obamacare? Besides that fact that it wouldn't happen, the effects on a small business focusing on aviation would appear to be minimal in the short term ...


    If we zoom out and look at the reality of Obama the President, what he actually has done, his policies have been, in many ways, more conservative that Bill Clinton, Bush Senior, Reagan, Ford and Nixon. He actually signed a bill allowing guns in natural parks. His administration's regulations are not significantly more onerous than any administration that came before.  He has done palpably little to polarize the nation. On virtually every single issue which became polarized, the policy that he introduced or sanctioned was originally a Republican policy.

    So whatever your Atlas Shrugged guy is responding to, it is not Barack Obama or his policies.  And if he decides to quit, it won't be because of Barack Obama and his policies. It will be because a particularly virulent and radical movement of political ideas got whipped up by the Republican Establishment and was allowed the hope of success.  It was the abandonment, by one half of the political establishment, of traditional boundaries that would not be crossed (filibusters, debt ceiling, voter suppression etc.) which have threatened the integrity of our national institutions.  The Republican party for years has talked about starving the beast. They seem now to be looking to throttle, maim and quarter the beast.

    Fortunately, I happen to agree with your other writers that if Atlas Shrugs, no one will care. Because the vast majority of the American public, if the Republican agenda were put to them in a straightforward manner, would reject it.  So let them all move to Singapore. We'll do just fine thanks.


    Your informant promising he will close up shop if Romney does not win has failed to explain how he has kept his head above water during the last 4 Obama years

    WTF 2:

    1) A payroll of "almost 500K per year"?  I don't know what they pay people in the Research Triangle, but in California that would be maybe 5-10 employees. Shutting it down isn't going to have a huge impact (in the larger picture, that is--obviously it's a problem for a few employees).

    2) There's no way to prove what might have happened (as the President has noted, with some regret), but I would venture to say that a business of that scale would likely be dead anyway if the President hadn't acted to shore up the financial sector and get the stimulus bill passed. One could argue that any President would have done the former (and it was Bush who started the process)...but then again, remember McCain's dithering after the Lehman failure?  And the latter would almost certainly have been smaller and less effective as stimulus had it been crafted by a Republican President.  Both of these things were necessary to avert a depression, and in a depression Atlas Shrugged Guy's business would have been toast.  So where's the gratitude?

    3) Whenever someone complains about over-regulation in a general sense, it's like Salieri complaining about "too many notes".  *Which* regulations is he talking about? Worker safety?  Environmental? Without specifics, the complaint is meaningless.  Maybe--just maybe--there are particular regulations that are a net negative--that are a burden on businesses, without corresponding benefit--but if so he needs to make a specific case about particular regulations.  (Also, too: some of the most burdensome regulations on any business are at the local level (business permits, zoning codes, etc.)--which is obviously outside the purview of the President.) 

    4) Profits don't drive growth. Consumption drives growth, and growth drives profits.

    Facts just don't matter:

    For background, I'm an African immigrant to the U.S (from a country that has been demonized in relation to Obama), working in the high tech sector. I definitely see elements of extreme Libertarian ism in that letter and what I shall politely term 'taking extreme liberties with the truth' (also colloquially called 'bullshit' in less polite circles). But I also see a dog whistle appeal to racial resentment that makes these types of arguments appealing. When I hear 'Obama and his ilk' being called parasites I'm reminded of many other times I've heard similar arguments, all aimed at African Americans and minorities. I follow Ta-Nehisi Coates writing and he has dissected similar arguments in the past.

    But what gets me is that every single point in the letter writers argument can be refuted by a simple Google Search or a minute of research. This is not a letter based on reality, it is someone looking for justifications for their bigotry and dis-regard for their fellow citizens. I have a belief that at the base of it Libertarian-ism is just a ideological framework to justify selfishness.

    What kind of business is this anyway?

    In his original rant, Atlas tells us he run[s] a high technology company with several very high paying positions In his subsequent self-defense in a later blog entry he is a bit more specific: now have a payroll of almost 500k per year.

    Huh? Assuming that the 500K is actual salaries, not including benefits, FICA, etc,  it's still a joke unless he's only got two employees. The company I retired from, a truly world-class leader in engineering, is having trouble recruiting newly minted Ph.D's because starting salaries are "only" about $130K. It's been five years or so since a friend with a PhD in computer science and about 12 years experience went to Google for something north of $200K.

    I'm not sure what sort of "high tech" Atlas is into, but he's obviously not paying very many people, and certainly not paying them what the tech community would call "very high" salaries. I can't imagine he'll be very much missed when he takes a hike after Obama wins tomorrow.


    Count me among the skeptical about Mr. Shrugged's bona fides.  Mr. Shrugged initially said that he runs " a high technology company with several very high paying positions".  In his pushback, he says he has "a payroll of almost 500k per year."  Maybe things are different in his part of the country, but the math isn't squaring with what I know of high paying positions in tech.  Then there's the complaint about how he doesn't want to deal with declining growth, right after he indignantly says he can't possibly be a spoiled child because he works long hours.  What kind of business owner thinks they're never going to have to deal with economic downturns?

    Don't let the door hit you:

    I am from India, and have advanced degrees in Engineering and Management.

    If people in High-Tech industry in US decide to close shop, I am sure that many of my peers in India would like to take the opportunity to fill the gap in supply, if any.

    Regional issues:

    You suggested that the man is from a place like Middle TN. [JF note: Actually not there - I said "middle South"--but similar idea.]  If so, being in high tech here is quite difficult.  The labor costs are low, but the labor is also very poor.  I moved here from Silicon Valley over 10 years ago, and only now is there some movement towards the creative and innovative practices which make high tech "high."  I also want to underscore the sentiment of another respondent about how high tech is dependent upon federal R&D.

    I have no choice but to stay because of family obligations.  However, talented individuals with skill tend to leave as quickly as possible.  The labor shortage for skilled people is considerable and the use of offshore Indian companies (often with horrific results) substantial.  The quality of work is also order of magnitudes poorer than the work I have been involved I on either coasts.  I also spent 10 years in New England working in high tech.  More people here work as programmers without a solid computer science background than I have ever encountered before.  This leads to very bad software design.

    Middle TN is not a creative nor innovative place.  I have dipped my toe into the waters here a few times, but realized that I am tired of justifying what I do to bosses and employers like Mr. Shrugged based on ROI.  Even while working in a university ...  ROI, not principles, concepts, imagining for the purpose of designing for the future, etc.  If Mr. Shrugged leaves from a place like Middle TN, he won't be missed.  As I mentioned, if he has developed his employees well, allowed them to be creative, innovative, keeping up with changing skills, full family supporting young men AND women, then there are 100's of jobs available for them.  And maybe those employees will find a more innovative and thoughtful employer as well.

    We're talking about a larger problem:

    It seems to me that "Atlas" describes his problem, although none of his critics or defenders commented on it: "I have never seen it this slow and a second Obama term will spell the end." His business is going broke, and he blames it on Obama. All the rest is his explanation of how none of it is his fault. It may be that a stronger economy would help his business, but I have my doubts. I have no doubt that he is stressed by his failing business. It's unfortunate that he buys the Republican argument about the source of the (broader) problem rather than recognizing insufficient aggregate demand, calling for a stronger stimulus program, not a weaker one.

    His defender, who equates imprisonment for a scientific opinion with a slightly higher marginal income tax rate, is milder than Mr. Schwartzman, who equated ending the carried-interest preference with the Holocaust. Still, it's difficult to not be embarrassed for him.

    The long-named critic is surprisingly accurate in his assessment of job creation. Republicans try to make the whole thing more complicated than it is. Looking around, it's not difficult to identify work that needs to be done: There are people without homes, people without enough food, streets that should be repaired, parks that should be maintained, to name some obvious examples. The problem is *not* in identifying useful work to be done. The problem is having a social arrangement that rewards people for doing useful work. The people who do the arranging (managers and financial types, for example) deserve some reward, but only if it results in useful work actually being done.

    I'll skip the discussion of what constitutes useful work, but note that it doesn't have to presumptively include an additional few thousand square feet of housing for someone who already has several thousand square feet of housing per family member.

    Big deal:

    This fellow is blowing too much smoke to be taken seriously. He uses every trope he ever heard on FOX & Limbaugh & Beck.  ONE KEY EX. :  If his biz is solid, he can sell it and the new owners will keep making things and employing people. Only he has left the workforce. Big deal; biz owners sell all of the time. He facetiously claims that if he closes his operations, then everybody suffers. But that's not true at all. If there is a demand for the product or process, then his employees are still able to work that business model. If there is no demand, he would have gone out of business anyway. This guy's rhetoric doesn't pass the smell test.

    The hypocrisy of the defense contractor. This was the most popular category:

    I can only assume that Atlas must be a defense contractor.  If Obama wins he'll fold up shop because he's that much less likely to have a contract.  If Romney wins and fulfills his promise to spend more on defense than the Pentagon requests, there will be more defense dollars from which Atlas can "build" (*ahem*) his business.  Maybe he should move his business to a less Socialistic country--one with more "freedoms," fewer leeches, and lower taxes. 

    Canada?...no....Australia?....no....Singapore?....no.  I'm sure I can think of one in a minute.  When have we ever had a form of government that this guy insists he deserves?  What evidence is there that a Republican president will exert any sort of fiscal discipline?   The question isn't whether there will be too much spending, the question is "where do you want your tax dollars spent?"  Do you want them spent on weapons systems and farm subsidies or social services and education?  At least with Democrats you're more likely to have the tax revenue to cover the spending.

    If Atlas is successful it's because he's lucky.  He certainly doesn't come across as thoughtful.


    An anti-government defense contractor?  I think you've been had. [JF: His current business is not defense contracting, though apparently that's in his background.]

    First world problems:

    I don't understand his reasoning except that he thinks he is somehow in a business where no one else will have the same expenses as he does. Either he finds ways to increase his prices and lower his expenses, or he closes. If his talents or skills or products are in high demand, the market will adjust.
    The larger picture is that what he does--make something or sell something--happens in the context of the larger society we live in--rich, stable, confident, fairly predictable. We can make money in America, hand over fist, because we have a stable market and government and society. We aren't Somalia or India.
    And the people of these United States have worked and paid for this stability. Returning tax rates to the onerous levels of the Clinton era does not seem like that much of a jump. We aren't even talking taking tax rates to the Eisenhowerian level.
    It is expensive to live and produce in a rich, expensive, first world country. That is the price of making a living by having a business. A business owner would, or should, carefully consider all his costs before entering a business.

    Back to hypocrisy:

    Surely I won't be the only one to notice - even if Atlas doesn't - "missile technology", "GPS", "wireless telemetry" are all military technologies.  Does he have a single customer that isn't a federal contractor?  Has he made a single penny that didn't derive from tax dollars?  I can only hope he's not in that part of the middle South that derives all its power from the TVA.  Tony Stark has nothing on your Irony Man.  


    So he took nothing, and made something. Didn't this guy say he has a degree in physics? The refusal to acknowledge the foundation (laid in large part via the government) on which business success is had, and the eagerness to blame the government for any possibility of business decline is very telling of this person's worldview. If I succeed, it's because I'm so intelligent and worked so hard. If I fail, it's not because I wasn't intelligent enough or didn't work hard enough; It was the government's fault.

    Tech people refusing to acknowledge the seminal role of military-driven government research in just about everything they do is like Paul McCartney claiming to have invented music spontaneously. Maybe no one had written Eleanor Rigby before, but not having to come up with an orchestra from scratch was pretty handy.

    A few years ago my best friend was reading Atlas Shrugged and was going on and on about it. I asked my dad if he'd ever read Ayn Rand. He snorted, "Yeah." I asked "Well?" He said "Juvenile." I haven't been able to come up with a better one-word description for the way these people think.


    His hypocrisy at other people's "handouts" is endlessly amusing when he built his company around gps, the missile guidance system of the US military that Mr. Shrugged certainly did not build. He has made a living out of a system built with taxpayer's money (all $12 billions of it, for the initial system, plus the ongoing maintenance costs), and now throws a hissy fit because he has to pay some back.

    He adds: "Is it so unreasonable to advocate a government to leave me alone and live within its means?" Yes, it is, when you depend on that same government to keep the satellites in orbit that keep you in business. If he were a gold miner that dug by hand and walked to his buyers, then he'd have a leg to stand on. But as a technologists that depends on universities to come up with the ideas and the US military to build them, he hasn't.

    In general, as a non-US citizen, I must say that these fervent "small government" advocates come through as utterly ignorant of the world they live in. He really sounds like he believes that the police, and roads, and satellites he depends on to run his business are services he shouldn't pay for, and that he has never needed (!).


    Your latter day John Galt makes all the same chest thumping arguments that I've been hearing since I read Atlas Shrugged in my Sophmore year of High School in Orangevale California (Class of '69). I really had to laugh when he boasted about putting himself through Seattle U (me: UW, paid for it) and then added that he was putting his children through college too. What? Is he trying to turn them into wimps? Shouldn't he have the courage of his convictions and tell them to move out, get a job and create their own futures? Why does he allow these slackers to pick his pocket?

    And then there is the usual assertion that he can allocate his profits better than the government. Added to which are complaints about regulation and, in his follow up, redistribution of wealth. But I am just wondering, he claims that his business develops some sophisticated avionics & etc., the kind of stuff I wouldn't understand. I bet my brother would though. He's a GA Tech grad, works for Boeing and has spent a fair amount of time building smart bombs and drones and so on. Which is to say that when he was doing so, he was working on a government contract. I'm betting that this guy does some not unrelated government contract work, works with Boeing more often than not and that most of the regulations he complains about have less to do with sales taxes or Worker's Comp and more to do with the delays and cost overruns that are inevitable when fitting various sub-contracted sub-systems together.

    So, I imagine he's got a nice thing going on doing business with a company whose single largest customer is the U.S. government. Nothing wrong with that. I suspect it would be pretty hard to manufacture and sell advanced avionics without working alongside other advanced avionics guys....

    The John Galts of the world take great pride in their personal accomplishments, and justifiably so. But, to borrow Clinton's quote of Bob Strauss, "every [John Galt type] wants every[one] to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself." It just ain't so.


    I think the most interesting dimension of the "Atlas Shrugged" saga is whether or not your correspondent will in fact close his business if Obama wins. Please, I beg you, follow up with him and hold his feet to the fire... make him prove that he has in fact entirely closed his business in response to Obama's re-election. And then follow-up with his employees, and see how how they fare. To me, this smacks of the "moving to Canada" canard so many on my side of the aisle thundered on about in 2000 and especially 2004. I think sound money says your correspondent may be exaggerating, but you really should work to keep him honest in the coming months. And if he does fold up shop, you'll have a great story following the fallout.

    This now leads me to a bait-and-switch policy announcement. Contrary to what I said several thousand words ago and in this headline, it turns out that the above is only about half of the sample I plan to use. But at the moment it is all I can manage, especially over Amtrak's I'm-grateful-to-have-it-at-all but-ever-shaky wifi coverage. Also, I have heard back from our understandably somewhat-taken-aback small businessman, with his second-thought reactions about the controversy he has provoked. I'll get back with that, plus a few more reader messages, as soon as feasible. For now plenty to digest.

    More »

  • A More Impressive Win Than in 2008, and a More Important One

    The presidential election of 2008 mattered. This one matters more.

    I was up very late last night and have been out of reach of the info-sphere until just now today. So I don't know whether what I'm about to say is, on the one hand, already conventional wisdom -- or on the other, thoroughly debunked. Or in between. But for what it's worth:

    Barack Obama's election four years ago was, by definition, more historic than his reelection last night.

    But his second win last night was more impressive than his first, and probably more important.

    Why was it more impressive?

    • Marriage vs. first date. It was more impressive because he had to run this time as the candidate of half-a-loaf, compromised, you-know-the-goods-and-bads-of-me reality than as the vessel of unbounded, defined-upward-by-each-observer hope.

    • Economic headwinds vs. tailwinds. It was more impressive because four years ago the world economic collapse, plus the rubble of the Bush administration, pulled the John McCain campaign down -- beyond McCain's own mistakes and limitations. This time economic problems were Obama's burden rather than part of his rationale.

    • 'We gave those people a chance.' It was more impressive because of the change in racial dynamics. Among non-whites, any "disappointment" in Obama may have been offset by what Ta-Nehisi Coates has often described: the greater importance for African-Americans of a re-election for this president even than of his getting there the first time. (And in any case, black support was overwhelming both times, and Latino support seems to have risen because of the GOP's anti-immigrant madness.) But very shrewd Republican messaging -- "You tried. He tried. It isn't working" -- appealed to many white voters' sense that they had proved their color-blindness by voting for him once. No one would think worse of them for deciding that the experiment had failed.

    And how could it be more important -- apart from the obvious effect of doubling the span of years in which Obama can expect to influence policy?

    • Effect on collective memory. As I argued earlier this year, we tut-tut presidents who care too much about re-election. But in fact a re-election run affects everything about how we view their entire tenure. Defeat casts a retrospective air of failure on everything they did, including the successes (e.g. Jimmy Carter with China normalization and Camp David.) Victory makes even the mistakes seem like mere bumps in the road. Everything about Obama's approach to policy and politics will now be seen through this prism: yes, he had a mid-term setback in 2010, like those that Clinton and Reagan endured, but his strategies led to a 300+ electoral vote resounding win.

    • Learning on the job. I also argued in that previous piece that every new president "fails" at some part of the job he takes on, simply because no real human being has the range of skills required for all-fronts success in the presidency. The only sensible question, then, is whether a president learns and improves. I argued a few months ago that Obama is improving and would be a stronger second-term president than in his first. I still think that.

    • The Party itself. For the first time in my conscious life, the Democratic party is now more organized and coherent, and less fractious and back-biting, than the Republicans. It is almost stupefying to imagine that.

      But think about the facts: We've now had four of the past six presidential elections won by Democrats. In five of the past six, the Democrat has won the popular vote. The most effective advocate for the current Democratic incumbent was the previous Democratic president. The current president's toughest rival in the primaries is now his Secretary of State, and another former rival is his vice president. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the nominee dared not even mention the existence of the previous Republican president. His rivals in the primary were tepid at best in shows of support. Democrats now disagree about a lot, from their relationship with Wall Street to the ethics of drone wars. But they are a more coherent whole than through most of their recent history -- and much more coherent than the Republicans.

    • Obamacare. Passing it was difficult, divisive, and important. Letting it take effect -- which was one of the clearest differences between the implications of a second Obama and a first Romney term -- will permanently change the American social contract. I remember, as a school child, the hyper-bitter controversies about the socialist menace of Medicare, before Lyndon Johnson "rammed it down the country's throat" in 1965. Obviously now the only political risk is seeming to oppose Medicare. Something similar will be true about these further steps toward universal coverage once they go into effect.

    • What economics can mean for politics. Without belaboring the case, most people expect the next four years to be better economically than the past four. At a minimum, Obama won't see many millions of jobs disappear in the first six months of his term. In political terms, a rising economy inevitably tends to validate the policies in place when it occurs. (Skeptical? Think of terms like "the Reagan boom.") Presiding over a better four years will give Obama an object lesson for talking about the importance of investment, public-private partnerships, "growing from the middle," etc. -- as they did for Bill Clinton. Presiding over those years would have given Mitt Romney a Reagan-like opportunity to talk about the prime-mover virtues of tax cuts.

    • The Supreme Court. When the campaign memoirs come out, maybe we'll get an explanation for why neither side was saying "Supreme Court! Supreme Court! Supreme Court!" at every stop. The fact is that the past two Democratic presidents gave us Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. The past two Republican presidents gave us Justices Souter, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito. Elections matter, and this one will, with four members of the Court now in their 70s.

    There's more, but that is my reaction the morning-after. Plus,the surprising impact of seeing all these names on the list of Senators in the 113th Congress. Few of these would have seemed to be complete gimmes earlier this year, and many would have seemed implausible long-shots: Tammy Baldwin (!), Sherrod Brown, Joe Donnelly, Martin Heinrich, Heidi Heitkamp (!!), Mazie Hirono, Tim Kaine, Claire McCaskill, Chris Murphy, Debbie Stabenow, John Tester (!!!), Elizabeth Warren.


    Sorry for many sleepiness-induced typos in first version of this piece, including "Dana" Stabenow. Sorry. She's a mystery writer.

  • The Election-Night Thoughts of the 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy

    Someone displeased with the night's results explains his views.

    It's too late at night for me to plug in the links to the preceding items about the "Atlas Shrugged Guy," who has promised to close down his business and its $500,000 annual payroll if the election went the wrong way. (Actually, here some previous links: one,  two, three.)

    Without comment, here were the items in my inbox from him through the evening.



    This stream is unedited, in that the messages came in as shown without intervening responses by me (I was away from internet-land). I've photoshopped them in one way only, which is removing all of his real name except the first letter.

    When I get up tomorrow, I'll quote some of the incoming material about his outlook.

    For now, congrats to the victors and sympathies to the losers on Election Day 2012.

  • Election Night Sites

    Lessons of the evening

    Like other Atlantic writers, I am weighing in this evening on the election live-blog on our home page.

    Tomorrow, I will relay updates I have received from the "Atlas Shrugged guy," who declares that he will indeed shut down his business now that the vote has gone the wrong way. Plus some of the cornucopia of response that has come in about him. 

    For now, sympathies to Mitt Romney and his family and supporters; congratulations to the Obama and Biden team; special congratulations to a number of the successful Senate candidates; and maybe we will not have to listen to these people any more:


  • The World's 2 Great Powers Choose Their Leaders

    Why it is easier to say "我已 投 票!" in America than in China

    OK, I mean the U.S. and China. We make our choice, in the embarrassingly slipshod and sometimes deliberately unfair democratic way we have. They make their choice in the next couple of days, in a process that is embarrassing and unfair in a host of other ways.

    Here's a nice immediate reminder of the comparison and contrast. The brand experience manager for Timbuk2 in San Francisco, who is also my daughter-in-law, just put up a post of various get-out-the-vote activity in her office. She includes this picture of her own "I voted!" sticker.


    My two simultaneous thoughts:
    • Good for America (and California, and San Francisco) that is has the spirit for that kind of button. My one guiding insight about America over the years is that our openness to the world's talent, through immigration, has been and remains the strategic advantage we have over anyplace else.

    • Not so good for China that lots of people in America can wear buttons saying "我已 投 票!" while almost no one (apart from those in the upper reaches of the Communist Party) can do so in China itself. For more, check out again this interview with Chen Guangcheng.
  • The 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy Has His Full Say

    A response to his critics

    I open the electronic mailbag to find 150 or so reader replies about the 'Atlas Shrugged' guy, who plans to close his business and eliminate its "$500k total payroll" if Obama wins today. First Atlas post here; second here; third here.

    For now, I say thanks for the messages, and I'm letting them sit. But following yesterday's one-time-only all-day Festival of Posts™, here is the one-time-only Election Day Plan:

    1) I will post a full statement from the Atlas Shrugged businessman in standalone form, since many people criticizing him have been heard and may yet again.

    2) I will go out and vote.

    3) When I get back I will put up a one-time-only, explicitly non-precedent-setting "Election Day Open Thread" post, allowing people to post their comments. UPDATE: Never mind! This turns out not to be technically possible at short notice. Probably for the best.

    Here is the reply from the 'Atlas Shrugged' business person, who says he will close down if the election goes Obama's way tonight. This came after he read the long preceding string of criticisms:

    I just had a chance to sit and read this on large screen. Funny, I'm am to be burned at the stake? Spoiled child?

    I put myself thru college selling scrap metal and working. I have a degree in physics from Seattle University. I worked avionics and fly by wire systems and missile technology for 16 years and switched to embedded systems, gps and wireless telemetry (no not wifi, wifi is for pussies) for the past 10 with a emphasis on extreme ruggedization. We do research and development into new technologies and guess what funds that; r&d? Profits which apparently are now a resource better allocated by the geniuses in government than I.

    The comments are mere bitter mockery. I treat my employees very well, the issue at hand is growth. Growth is fueled by profits, not regulation and taxation. The national issue is not taxes it is spending and over regulation. Maybe you and your readers could enlighten me as to the 18 tax cuts I got that I have no clue about?

    Is it so unreasonable to advocate a government to leave me alone and live within its means? Is it necessary that to insure a few requires the control of a entire industry? Student loans are now the business of the federal gov? Really? Since when is, or was, a college education assured? I paid me way, I am paying my children's way? I am the spoiled child? What but a child are you to expect, demand, I pay for secondary education?

    No, I stand as a man whom is proud to know the virtue of hard work and thru work alone i expect to reap the wealth of my labors. Giving back implies I took something. I took nothing and created something. I feel no guilt, why should I? Your readers can pound sand.

    I stand by my assertions. I will be fine, will they? Maybe they should vote for the business guy? The business of America is business, isn't it?

    I appreciate a chance to respond. So seldom does anyone do such.

    And when I wrote back asking if I could quote the material above:

    Quote away.

    It is not as if I relish this thought of moving on but the decline in business is a reality I must, as a business owner, deal with. I didn't get here by being lazy nor stupid. What I am is tired. I made a promise to myself long ago that if it starts to decline I am not riding it down to the bottom.

    I should point out I am not opposed to a reasonable means tested safety net nor the usual responsibilities of govt. What I am opposed to is a ideology that promotes redistribution of wealth simply on some moving target of "fairness" and a debt that is unsustainable and that, despite claims of the pols, is not going to be fixed by taxing the rich.

    If your down on your luck or cannot make it, that is one thing. However, a lifestyle generation after and after on public assistance is just plain wrong.

    I could pontificate ad infinitum, we shall see tonight which vision for America prevails.

    Just one more note for now. If I were to encourage you to revisit a single item from yesterday's Festival™, it would be this. Or maybe this. Happy Election Day.

  • 'The Party of Romney Is the Party of George W. Bush'

    Pushback to Dr. Popkin

    We're nearing the end of our One Day Only, All-Day Election Eve Festival of Posts™. We started many hours earlier with the last pre-election installment of Ask Dr. Popkin. We near the conclusion -- Dixville Notch, NH results have come in -- with some responses to that post. First, from Joseph Britt, a former Republican senate staffer who now lives in Wisconsin:

    You can probably guess where I think Dr. Popkin's analysis, post today, is weak.  He overstates Mitt Romney's difficulties with the Republican Party's right wing, and understates the handicap imposed on Romney by the last Republican President.

    This has been a recession election.  The incumbent President, whose term has coincided with most of the recession, should have been toast.  That he wasn't is due largely to the fact that much of the public still blames the recession on his predecessor.  They have ample reason to do so, but as I wrote you earlier this fall the Obama campaign has done little to press home that advantage.  Neither Obama or any of his surrogates have sought to identify either Romney or the Republican Party with the very unpopular George Bush personally; even the fact that Bush did not campaign for Romney while Bill Clinton was on the stump full-time for Obama has gone unmentioned.

    I've never understood the Obama team's thinking on this point, but the view from the other side of the fence is that the GOP is still George Bush's party.  None of the ideas in this year's Republican campaign were distinctively Romney.  Every one of his major policy positions track directly back to Bush's platform in 2004; most of his campaign staff and advisers he inherited from Bush's campaigns and administration.  Neither he nor his running mate had any record of clashing with or even challenging Bush on anything important while Bush was President.  Perhaps most important, among the Republican Party factions Romney had to placate in his campaign for the party's nomination was the group of Bush alumni -- including alumni of Bush's campaigns who make up a large part of the GOP's permanent campaign infrastructure, and large Republican donors who profited from Bush's tax cuts -- that he would have alienated by distancing himself explicitly from Bush and his record.

    With due respect to Dr. Popkin, he and many other commentators are too prone to exaggerate the importance of the social conservative faction in the Republican Party.  This is largely, I think, because a certain class of affluent white Americans has been insulated from the effects of the devastating recession that began in 2008, and from the human costs of the Iraq adventure and the Afghan muddle as well:  not their jobs, not their sons.  Much closer to home for them are issues like contraception, abortion, and gay marriage, on which their views are diametrically opposed to those of the full-mooners in the GOP right wing. 

    I'm not arguing that social conservatives' influence in the Republican Party doesn't pose some serious problems for a national Republican candidate like Romney.  However, from the standpoint of political analysis, we have to remember that it wasn't Michele Bachman or Rick Santorum or that Akin person from Missouri that got all those Americans killed for no good reason in Iraq and brought on the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.  The main stream of the Republican Party -- George Bush's party -- did that.  Lots of Americans remember this, and while Obama's campaign did not make all it could have out of the memory, Romney was never able to move beyond it.

    Romney's campaign, viewed as a whole, did much better than it should have.  Romney navigated the maze of obstacles to the GOP nomination without alienating any important Republican constituency, despite being stiff personally; from a liberal state, with a relatively liberal record in public office; a Mormon; and a virtual cypher in terms of his deeply felt beliefs on major public issues.  I'm not an admirer of the man, personally; I regard his momentary ascendancy in the GOP mostly as a symptom of the party's infirmities.  I just don't think Romney will lose this election primarily because of his campaign's mistakes.  That the journey to the White House was too far for Romney was a product of the way he chose to run, the only way that could have gotten someone like himself the Republican nomination.  He ran as the man who would say nothing that might offend any of his party's easily offended factions, so after Obama's ha;f-sedated performance in Denver opened the door for him, Romney couldn't take advantage.  He had nothing to say.

    One closing thought:  a rule of modern American electoral politics is that a candidate must never admit to specific mistakes during the campaign.  Both candidates hurt themselves by following this rule as mechanically as they did.  Obama's economic advisers put out an analysis in early 2009 -- written before he even took office -- that underestimated how bad the recession was going to be.  Obama had little personal stake in it, but never stepped up to admit that the estimates made then had simply been wrong, which allowed Republicans to more effectively attack his administration's response to the recession as ineffective.  Romney for his part could have saved himself a lot of trouble by admitting he'd been mistaken about the bailout of GM and Chrysler; under the unique circumstances obtaining in 2009, no one would lend money to auto companies even with a government guarantee.  He couldn't bring himself to admit error, and it might have cost him Ohio.  The bipartisan campaign industry has succeeded in turning electoral politics from an art into a science, a process based on rules -- but that doesn't keep some of the rules from changing.

    And, one more:

    Thanks for again bringing us these analytical pieces from Dr. Popkin. However, I think his use of the post-1984 Democrats as an example of the likely path forward for the Republicans in the event of an Obama victory (and failure to gain control of the Senate) is flawed.

    In 1984, the components making up the modern conservative media ecosystem (Fox News, conservative talk radio, the various Internet outlets, reinforced by social media) didn't exist. While I suspect he's correct about what the various local and state-level officials and candidates will want to do - break to the center - I think he discounts their ability to get an electorate to follow them. The inhabitants of the conservative bubble of today shake off any and every thing that conflicts with their worldview, and this contrary feeling is supported by the media feedback loop....

    Unless something significant happens which proves the undoing of the conservative media machine, I fear rationality on the right will be a long, long time coming.
  • On Fair Portrayals of the Evangelical Point of View

    Let's look more closely at the Bible.

    Some of the palaver in the run-up to today's one-day-only, nearing-its-end Festival of Election Eve Dispatches™ concerned the hiving-off of America into separate information and fact spheres. Some readers argued that the increasing role of evangelical Christians in the Republican party was an important part of the closing-off to argument and contrary evidence on the right.

    A reader who identifies herself as an evangelical Christian writes to object:

    I just read [this post] and had to comment on the reader with the Facebook "friend" that is an evangelical Christian.

    I'm not sure why the columnists and reporters always have to quote an evangelical that is so... dare I say wrong or perhaps even ignorant of what the Bible actually teaches? I have some similarities with the "friend." I am also an evangelical Christian. I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. I believe in Creation. But I think we evangelicals are getting a bad rap during this election--from people just like the well meaning Facebook "friend."

    I would suggest that your reader's Facebook "friend" go back and read the Bible rather than extremist websites. Obviously she is not familiar with what the Bible actually teaches. As far as the end times, Jesus very specifically states in Matthew 24:36 "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." So all the alarm about the signs of the end times is patently false. And is actually counterintuitive to Biblical teachings.

    As far as following God's law the Bible also says in Romans 13:1 "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which is God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." Which means that God specifically selected Obama to be our President for the last (almost) four years. Hopefully the Facebook "friend" will acknowledge and be in prayer for President Obama and whomever wins the election next week.

    I don't pretend to know who will win this election, but whoever does will certainly have my prayers.

    But it disturbs me that most evangelicals are portrayed as unthinking, uneducated simpletons. Of course there are extremists, but then there are extremists in every party and group -- both liberal and conservative. Chris Matthews and Rush Limbaugh come to mind. A large number of evangelicals are educated and articulate. Unfortunately only the mindless seem to be quoted in the media.
  • The 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy Pushes Back!

    A business owner defends 'going Galt.'

    Earlier in today's Festival™ I quoted a self-reported small business owner who said that if Obama is re-elected, as now seems likely, the businessman will live out the reality of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and deny the "takers" in the economy the benefit of his wealth- and job-creating efforts.

    A lot of readers made fun of him, many suggesting that the letter was a clumsy parody designed to make anti-tax, anti-Obama attitudes look bad. For instance:

    If you put (sic) after every spelling and grammar mistake that Atlas laid down, you'd have one sick rant.
    The "Obamaphones" is the thing that really wrecks the suspension of disbelief.  And hey! That Milton quote. That's the devil talking.
    I personally do not believe for an instant that this guy is president of anything or employer of anybody.


    This reminds me very much of the letter passed around by right-wing emailers, also supposedly from a business owner, that was debunked.


    Like most  John Galt pretenders, your high-tech job creator is a fraud.  The tip is there in his comment about S Corp revenues: he has read a talking point somewhere but missed the difference between operating income and net income.  As a very small business investor myself, I am certain that even mom-and-pops know the difference between operating revenue and taxable income.  [Hint: they lease their delivery van.]  Your Galt wannabe apparently doesn't even understand the advantage of the S Corp pass-through and thinks he's at a disadvantage.  Or would be, if he really ever got within 10 miles of running a business.

    As it happens, I've now had several exchanges with the author of the original message; I know what business he runs; I've seen lists of his speeches and writings; and I know that he lives in .. well, I'll narrow it down to a relatively high-tech area of the middle South. I give him the stage again, followed by several other responses. Let's do this in three parts.

    1. The guy himself. Before I knew his real identity, I asked by email, Do you really own a business? He said:

    Yes I do own one. I started in 2002 in my spare bedroom and now have a payroll of almost 500k per year. I will close it if he wins.

    I found out who he was, and then got this more extended defense:

    I enjoyed the spoiled child comment best. Spoiled children usually work 60 to 70 hours a week? What the readers fail to grasp is that the market is shrinking. I will do just fine, I am highly skilled. What I don't want to deal with is declining growth and growth is revenue driven. I don't understand why people cannot grasp that we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending and regulatory problem.

    Simply put, why should I work myself into the dirt for no return? This is, or was, my dream. Why is that suddenly something I didn't build nor deserve to reap reward from?

    Maybe your readers should ask, whom [sic] are they to take the fruits of my labors? Is not creating jobs a form of sharing wealth?

    I will gladly rebut anyone whom [see above] wished. One man said no and all of Rome trembled? I am no afraid to stand my ground....

    2. His defenders. Let's start with a very successful tech executive I know in California. He writes:

    That capable people may choose to disengage from what they experience as an exploitative society or government is not merely the realm of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Recently an Italian court convicted six of the country's seismologists and leading national disaster staff for manslaughter for having failed to predict 2009's L'Aquila earthquake which killed more than 300 people. One visible response was the immediate resignation of several scientific and national leaders

    The more significant, and I believe insidious, response is that a number of scientists that I know directly have decided never to offer a clear opinion on anything to the government or in an official capacity. In a recent European Commission and European Union summit it was clear that a general "stepping back from clarity" is underway in parts of the science community. Will there be an earthquake tomorrow? "Maybe or maybe not." Is the climate changing? "Maybe or maybe not." If this understandable reticence becomes more widespread in Italy then a semi-return to the Dark Ages will have been accomplished.

    This is not unlike Rand's portrayal of the act of desperation by those abused by predatory societies. John Galt was still there, but he was laboring in the underground railway not designing engines of the future. Italian scientists still have the greatest insight on their
    areas of expertise, but the choose not to utter them. There is another approach in such cases, to blame oneself for the abuse by others, always working harder to earn their fairness. The progressive income tax system was designed to scale the punishment of the individual with their financial accomplishments in life. Many have withdrawn their capital from this system just as John Galt withdrew his mind. Likewise, a business owner who may come to feel crushed by "Obamacare" or other majority of voters take from minority of producers laws may well step back and reconsider their own actions. Is their continued participation a perpetuation of their own abuse? If their answer is 'yes' then a withdrawal is as reasoned as fleeing an abusive spouse.

    Could Tuesday's election be our L'Aquila earthquake? Maybe or maybe not.

    Actually, that is the only such message so far. Which brings us to:

    3. And yet the critics persist. A sampling of the other point of view. First:

    I notice that your correspondent calls himself "highly educated" but still spews discredited right wing talking points like gut welfare requirement, and Obamaphones. I thought one of the distinguishing characteristics of being educated was the ability to separate fact from nonsense but looks like your correspondent is so delusional that all that expensive education seems wasted IMO. So I would suggest he remember the old adage  - "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt".

    Also on Obamaphones:

    The part of the "Atlas Shrugged" email that got to me was the mention of "Obamaphones". At least a half-dozen people with smug smiles have asked me (a public interest attorney) what I think about "Obamaphones". I tell them that they have been lied to. The program was created in 1984 to help people pay for landlines; Bill Clinton expanded it. The first time the program was extended to cellular phones was under George W. Bush. The phones are not paid for out of Treasury funds but are part of the fees each cell customer pays in their monthly bill. I repeat this and no one believes me. Here's the Snopes.com takedown of the rumor/propaganda:

    On the general philosophy of "going Galt" and withdrawing your efforts from a parasitical "taker" society:

    Philosophically I'm a libertarian. i don't agree that the atlas shrugged guy should destroy his business just because Obama gets reelected.

    It would only make sense for him to do so if Obama were like the villains in the novel, hes not. The villains in Atlas Shrugged are complete communists/Stalinists. Obama at "worst" is a center left progressive who believes strongly in the free market, but also in strongly regulating that market in new creative ways (dodd frank, obamacare ect...). I'm 24, and I voted for Obama in 2008, but I voted for Romney this time.

    Also I'm sure many people would gladly trade places with him, but you dont just get to where he got without really hard work. If someone wants to take his place, than do for yourself what he did. Spend the years of hard work blood, sweat, stress and tears he likely spent building up his business and then you can "replace" him.

    Ayn Rand's philosophy was one of self-reliance and building win-win relationships with other people based on enlightened self-interest. She said its ok to do what you want, and not worry about being self-sacrificing (especially in win-lose relationships where you are the loser)...


    What really strikes me about that rant from the Randian entrepreneur is its complete lack of patriotism and gratitude.

    Is this entrepreneur's patriotism so low that love of country won't motivate him to carry on and continue doing his best to be a job-creator?  Is it really the case that any increase in taxes or regulation is going to cause him to pack up his marbles, so to speak?  Pretty pathetic.

    And where, where is the gratitude for his situation?  I know Randians are not particularly religious, but I would think Republican Christians would be put off by the profound ingratitude to Providence in this guy's email.  Of course, most of the religious right strike me as profoundly ungrateful too, but it always surprises me that no one points out this un-Christian attitude.


    Allow me to pile it on. That "job creator" is insufferable, and too full of himself.

    "Why, I make to much so pay more of my fair share? Maybe you should attempt to understand the concept of a S Corp and how it's income becomes, for tax reasons, my income. "

     Highly educated? Judging by his spelling I doubt he made it beyond fifth grade.


    Allow me to add myself to the list of people rolling their eyes at the "Atlas" guy. One of the more bizarre tropes in this election is this weird subtext that if Obama is reelected, things will go to hell in a hand basket. Wait: isn't he *already* president? So, isn't voting for him a signal for more of the same? I mean, I suppose you can say you don't like current trends and want to go off in a different direction, but it's almost as if they are in denial that he's president NOW. There is too much of a core in the Republicans of people who seem to be completely crazy. If Obama winning could do nothing else, it could only help to get the Rs to spit these people out and get back to reality-based governing.

    Rush, on the other hand, isn't so much delusional as he is just a big fat lying political operative/entertainer. I do not for two seconds (about as long as it took me to read what he wrote; God forbid I should actually listen to him) that he believes a word of what he said about Sandra Fluke. It's sheer sophistry, if you can use such a highfalutin word for an audience who can't spell it. That's the other big Republican problem: too many people who can't tell the truth.

    It's kind of ironic that, registered as a D as I am (because I'm in Maryland, and that's the only way to get a vote in most elections), I'm increasingly finding myself wanting to morph into a Rockefeller Republican. But there's no way for that to coexist with the crazies and liars that seem to dominate Republican discourse these days.

    And, with a spiritual angle:

    I read "What If the GOP Loses? 'Atlas Shrugged' vs. 'The Fire Next Time'", and noted two worlds of the GOP. One is comprised of money worshipers and the other of those fearful of eternal damnation. The current iteration of the GOP has been an unholy union formed by expediency. Change will come about from a revolution in thinking on the "Christian' side.

    The winds of this can be seen in a book called, "The New Pharisee", by Jeff Saxton. As the navel gazing begins after the election, this work will surface in many communities. It will usher in a major debate about what makes one a Christian and the proper life of a Christian. There will be much soul searching which will ultimately result in a major split in the GOP and an exodus of Christians from the party.

    Social issues will no longer carry the weight they do now. Because sin is sin, regardless of the act and it is not "ours" to judge. The hypocrites who now call themselves "Christian" will feel increasingly uncomfortable in the renewed Church and will not be as free with their "stone-throwing" as they have been to date. It will be interesting to watch.

    Consequently, It will be difficult for the Republican Party to carry on in it's current form. Without the Religious Right, they will have money but fewer voters. They will continue to lose access to the "Oval Office" and many Senate and House elections. South of the Mason-Dixon it will never be the same. It there is one thing conservative "Christians" fear more than anything, it's eternal damnation. They will adjust their behavior accordingly. This will be seen as a complete withdrawal from politics and its "worldly ways". They will focus on family and Church and ignore the rest. There will still be sermons about abortion but no reach for political action, just the opposite.


    Look. I know why you posted that email. I get it. Your readers get to relish in the hathos (thanks, Sully, for that nonword). You get to contrast it to the email of the much more thoughtful, much more grammatically persuasive tech company honcho. You get to appear to have taken the high road by giving space for a dissenter.

    But it needs to be said: that was some weapons-grade bullshit.

    The runniest part is the premise that he (if he is who he says he is) will quit. The fallacy that the wealthy will just stop being productive if they are too heavily taxed is one that needs to be called out loudly and often. (I'm about to start writing to this troll directly.) Really? You're really going to just give up ALL your income because you have to pay an extra three cents on the dollar - above the first quarter million you make? Good. Do that. That will really demonstrate your refined sense of leadership.

    But here's the heart of the turd that needs to be called out even more often and in a deafening roar. You, Mr. Tech Company Owner of such great import, are not - I repeat - NOT Atlas. This whole individualism myth you're so invested in is the legacy of people WHO OWNED OTHER PEOPLE. There is no such thing as independent financial wealth. No. Such. Thing.

    You drive a nice car, right? Audi? Benz? Maybe a Tesla? (Unlikely.) That's your rich-guy-totem; that's how you let the world know how much of a big shot you are when you're just going out for a burger. But think for a second about that car. You can have all the money in the world, but what good does it do your over-compensative driving desires if the following people decide to "shrug": the people who mine the ore for your car's metal components, the people who process the ore into consumer grade alloys, the people who machine the metal into parts for your car, the people who assemble those parts, the people who extract the oil that fuels your car, lubricates its moving parts, and makes up its plastic components, the people who refine the oil, the people who install the components, the people who program, assemble, and install the electrical components, the people who test its fuel efficiency, driving performance, and accident safety, the people who design, build and maintain the roads you drive on, the people who work at the gas station, the people who produce the electricity that keep all of these functions happening, the teachers who shape all of these people into functioning adults, the healthcare professionals who keep them alive, the janitors who keep the hospitals they go to clean and safe, the farmers who grow the food that sustains everyone in this whole project, the people who make the heavy equipment for the farmers... Have I made my point? Atlas is everyone who allows you to enjoy the luxuries of wealth.

    If there is a parasite class, its made up of people who "own capital" and "manage" and "earn" profits from the people who do real, hard, sweaty, nasty, monotonous work every day, and then after counting the profits they've reaped from the work of all those other people have the gall to complain about how hard they have it. And it's interesting that you claim to be from the tech industry. It's interesting because that is an industry that is second only to the financial "industry" in terms of pure, unabashed parasitism. Oh, you don't think so? You think you've created whatever it is you produce in some vacuum of innovation? Well, in fact the only reason that the US tech industry as we know it exists is because of corporate socialism. The government uses tax payer dollars to fund R&D via the Pentagon. They pour billions and billions of dollars into lots of cool shit. Most of it doesn't really serve a purpose, or if it does, the purpose was already being served by technologies that are far more advanced than what the rest of the world has. But when that cool shit serves a new purpose and also happens to be marketable to consumers, the government gives the technology away to the tech industry, which then manufactures its products in Asia, ships them back to the US, at which point the tax-paying American public pays for it once again. That's right. We fund the research. We create the demand. We pay retail price. You get the profit. It's a pretty sweet deal for you and your ilk. Yeah. Ilk. I can use that word too, and I swing a hammer in a factory that competes with Chinese labor, so come at me.

    You have neither a leg to stand on nor a crutch to lean on. I sincerely hope you're a man of your word. Shrug. Do it. I dare you. Go to western Colorado, grind your own flour, split your own wood, dig your own grave, you heroic individual, you. The rest of us will continue busting our asses at real jobs that matter, paying taxes that significantly limit our ability to pay for things like food and unreasonably high rent for our small apartments, getting by with minimal healthcare and generally doing all the things that you take for granted. Or maybe one day we'll have had enough of people like you. And we'll shrug. And you'll see that we don't, in fact, need shareholders or executive boards to tell us how to put food on our tables, roofs over our heads, how to teach one another, how to care for one another.

    You are afforded the life you have by the consent of those you hold in contempt. I advise you to not tempt us with the catharsis of withholding it.

    A Working, College-Attending, Volunteer-Tutoring, Tax-Paying, Civically Engaged, Higher-Information-Than-Thou-Hast, Member and Probable Leader of the Generation That Does Away With Your Bullshit

    Temper, temper! Just one more:

    If Obama wins, I'd be interested to see a column where you look into whether the guy who says he owns a high-tech S-Corp actually does own such a business & actually retires.
  • But What If Obama Loses the Popular Vote?

    A silver lining: the beginning of a bipartisan effort to get rid of the outdated and destructive Electoral College system

    As another thought experiment for our one-day-only, day-long Festival of Election Eve Dispatches™, here is a proposal for what Barack Obama should say tomorrow night if the Electoral College projections hold up and he gets more than 270 votes -- but Mitt Romney rolls up big enough margins elsewhere to win the popular vote.

    I am a charter member of the "let's get rid of the Electoral College" movement, in keeping with the rationale laid out in loving detail at this National Popular Vote site. There are many reasons to wish that 60 or 70 thousand votes had gone the other way in Ohio in 2004, but among them is that it would have made resistance to the Electoral College a potentially bi-partisan issue. In 2000, the Electoral College (along with a lot of other factors) was rigged against Al Gore and the Democrats; in 2004, a shift in Ohio would have left George W. Bush with the popular-vote lead, but made John Kerry the president.

    If it happened again this time? A reader tells us about that scenario:

    If Obama loses the popular vote but wins the Electoral College (as seems at least somewhat probable), conservatives will predictably howl that his is an illegitimate presidency, bereft of mandate (as a friend of mine said, they didn't even think he was legitimate when he won with 53% of the popular vote).

    But here's how the President could turn that consternation on its head:  On the first day after a split-vote re-election, he could call a press conference and say (essentially) "Look, we all played by the same rules, and I won fair and square.  However, I also think the Electoral College is well past its due date.  It's an archaic relic of an era when leaders weren't sure if people could handle self-government by themselves.  I think we know better now.  So, tomorrow I am calling on the Congress to immediately take up a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College."

    This would do three things:
    1. It would neutralize the "he didn't really win" argument.  If conservatives are so upset about losing the Electoral College vote, they can stop whining and do something.
    2. If such an amendment passed, it would move the elections from carry-the-state, winner-takes-all affairs in a handful of key states to campaigns to maximize votes in people-dense cities and suburbs nationwide.  Democrats would start campaigning in places like Austin, TX and my hometown of Louisville, KY; Republicans would go to Orange County, CA and Dallas, TX.  Overall, I think, a more urban electorate would tend to benefit Democrats. 
    3. Taking the election national might do a lot to increase voter turnout.  If the campaigns have to make a play for voters in population centers everywhere, people who thought their votes didn't matter might be more likely to get to the polls.
    My guess is that for these very reasons, Republicans would be loath to abolish the Electoral College.  And if they don't act to pass a Popular Vote amendment, President Obama will have called their bluff.

    Meta-point: a truly remarkable aspect of this campaign is that neither side has spent any time dealing with the procedural issues whose importance we've been reminded of through the past four years. The Supreme Court (four of whose members are in their seventies). The %*%$&(* recent abuse of the filibuster. Gerrymandering and obstructionism in general -- and the overall breakdown of our machinery of democracy. This item is a reminder of the kind of thing we might talk about, if we were talking about this kind of thing.

    More ahead. (The Festival™ runs until around the time the Dixville Notch votes start coming in.)

  • Accountability Watch: Who Is Predicting What

    Why bookies are morally preferable to pundits

    A fascinating interview this afternoon ran much, much longer than expected, which is a good thing. But if I am to get back to the pace of the one-day-only, all-day Festival of Election Eve™ updates, I can't spend much time actually setting up items. So I won't explain why I think prediction is usually the least useful thing journalists can do -- even though huge amounts of pundit time and effort go to tell us what they think is going to occur. I refer you to the classic text on the subject for more. And, as I'll explain further another time, I see a difference between prediction in the tactical sense -- "I really think Hillary is going to run next time" -- and trying to assess the long-term consequences of different choices or policies. (Eg this and this from The Atlantic.)

    Here's why political prediction is morally inferior to sports-line wagering or other kinds of normal betting: In pundit-world, the losers never have to pay off. You can assert with blowhard certitude that this or that candidate looks strong, this or that voting bloc is going to turn out, this or that strategy will be effective. If you're right, you play up that fact. If you're wrong, no one seems to notice or care. In Vegas, you have to pay up. In pundit land (or "we need to invade Iraq, now!" land), you just move on. That's why, to give yet another argument in shorthand, I think it's good rather than bad if people who are making a big deal of their predictive talent are willing to back their views with actual bets. I will flesh out that argument some other day.

    For now, two data points:


    1) Let's talk with these people in a few days. A number of people whose claim to public attention is that they know about politics are flatly predicting a blow-out win for Mitt Romney tomorrow. There's a nice (if maliciously) illustrated guide to them at The Blaze. Another roundup is here. These names and electoral-vote predictions include, starting with the four pictured above:

    •  George Will: 321-217 electoral vote landslide for Romney
    •  Michael Barone: 315-223 for Romney
    •  Dick Morris: "a landslide"
    •  Karl Rove: "at least" 279 for Romney, meaning at most 259 for Obama
    •  Joe Scarborough: close race with Romney in a better position.
    •  Charles Krauthammer: a "very close" win for Romney, which means 270 electoral votes or just above
    • Peggy Noonan, "a [Romney] win"

    Remember, these people's claim to fame -- especially in the case of (in their respective primes) Barone, Morris, and Rove -- is that they know something special about politics. If they are putting their names behind these predictions, presumably they would like us to take them seriously. We'll see what happens in the next day or two: If they are right, all appropriate credit. But if they are not, this should be remembered, rather than just blown off. And similarly, if the "quants" who are unanimously predictable a sizable Obama win prove to be wrong, they should be made to explain.

    (Why am I not making my own predictions? Because that is not the business I have ever been in.)

    2) Avast! When I used PC's I used Avast! anti-virus software, from a company in Prague. (They now have a Mac offering, which I will check out.) They recently surveyed a very large number of users on presidential views -- and the results highlighted the ever-fascinating "preference versus expectations" divide.

    The preference of Avast! users, and their own personal voting plan, was that Mitt Romney should become the next president:

    Thumbnail image for map-who-will-you-vote-for.jpg

    But their expectation was that Obama would win:
    Thumbnail image for map-who-do-you-think-will-win.jpg

    The "who we expect to win" map gives Obama some 349 electoral votes. We'll see how this matches up against the "experts."

  • No Love for the 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy

    Business people who don't buy the Randian view of the world


    Many readers are getting in the spirit of the one-time-only day-long Festival of Election Eve Updates. Here are responses to the previous item, in which the founder of one small high-tech business predicted a crackup for the Republican party if Romney loses -- and another person, who says he also runs a high-tech business, said he would shut his enterprise and lay off all his workers if the election went the wrong way.

    Representative sample of incoming messages, most from people who identified themselves also as being in business. Number one:

    ...If your correspondent who is about to shut down his company if Obama wins is serious, could you have him contact me? I'd be glad to satisfy the market demand he's leaving behind. The economy won't miss him at all and will go creating jobs just fine.

    Of course, I'll understand if this is too snarky to post. I'm just fed up with the "job creators" who think they create the market rather than demand creating their opportunities. As a business owner myself, I understand that without a functioning society, my business skills amount to zilch.


    To your correspondant who wrote: "I will tell you what happens, I close my business of 10 years and lay off my employees."

    I doubt I was the only person who read this and thought "Don't let the door hit you on the ass." You'll have no problem finding someone to flat-out trade places with you. Perhaps one (or all!) of your employees. Just sign the business over to THEM and let 'em deal with "all the headaches." You'll love living on temp work and medicaid, boss, it's a fricking party down here.

    Unless of course this is a parody, in which case: bravo, sir or madam! Well played. You managed to make American business owners look like cackling be-monocled stereotypes. If this is the face of the Republican party, I want nothing to do with it ever again.


    "I will tell you what happens, I close my business of 10 years and lay off my employees. I am done. Thats what happens."..

    I love hearing this tired trope from the right and is a great example of the echo chamber in action. Talk radio and fox news hammers this point repeatedly to the point that people actually believe that money is the sole motivation for entrepreneurs. If you're in business for the sole purpose of making money and you feel the past four years has been terrible then maybe you should close shop, you're in it for the wrong reason anyway.

    I believe most people are in business because they want to create something and believe in what they're doing. Part of creating anything requires working within the regulatory framework, it's part of doing business. That's part of the challenge, if you're not up for it, or the financial returns aren't enough for you then I say good riddance, we're better off without you and your company.

    My gut tells me that this guy enjoys having power and "stuff" more than he cares about his ideals.


    Here's a response to "Atlas will shrug" email:

    Two words: spoiled child.

    So glad I don't work for this person. This is nothing more than a "conservative" rant and offers nothing. Seriously, he's going to close his business if Obama wins and let go all of his employees? Talk about a lack of professional ethics, much less business sense.


    Your "Atlas Shrugger" is full of it.  He (you just know it's a he) is bluffing.  And if he's not, then the niche in the economy his business takes up will be filled in by someone else, and he'll be poorer, and that will be it. 

    What these Randians don't get is that their jobs do not provide money for employees like mannah from heaven.  His customers will become someone else's customers, his employees someone else's employees, and no one will miss him

    And finally a question, from someone in DC who wonders:

    whether your Atlas Shrugs correspondent really is what he says he is (i.e., the head of a high tech company)? That whole letter read more like an exercise in Randian mythology than a genuine self-portrait. But maybe I'm giving the human race too much credit...

    The answer is: I don't know. I'll send this post back to the original Atlas Shrugged reader and see what he says.

    For the record, I didn't hear from anyone defending the Atlas perspective -- nor anyone complaining about the other post.

    More grist in the mill ahead.


The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.


How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe


A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.


I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."


Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion



From This Author