Monday, October 27, 2008

Rauch's "perverse voting" = contrarian = stupid

My grand theory on being contrarian as a general preference is that it: a. only works reasonably well in the business field; and b. even there it only works a minority of the time. When it does work in business, though, it pays off big, addicting some people to the idea that being contrarian in general is more likely to be right than otherwise. Perfect example of this wrong approach:
The Lab's work is guided by two founding principles:
  1. Just because an idea appeals to a lot of people doesn't mean it's wrong.
  2. But that's a good working theory.
Jonathan Rauch is another example of this, saying that people who want action on climate change should support McCain, because only bipartisan legislation will stay enacted in the long run (Dems would run over minority Republicans otherwise) and because "McCain is running on carbon-emissions limits that are not much different from what Democrats want."

As to Rauch's first point on the necessity of bipartisan legislation, he provides no evidence. I can think of several counter-examples (tax cuts by Reagan and Bush, increases by Clinton) that weren't bipartisan and have been fairly stable. I can't think of dramatic (mono?)partisan legislation that was later overruled.

And on the issue of climate change, they're not the same. Obama would auction carbon permits that McCain would give away freely, and use the money to finance investments in alternative energy. McCain makes fewer promises for alternative energy, doesn't say where he'll get the money from, and his combined Iraq war support plus one-year non-military spending freeze plus tax cuts for the rich would severely limit his budget options.

I agree that McCain could convince Republicans to support climate legislation better than Obama can, but the converse possibility of Republican pressure on McCain to weaken his position is equally likely, as promised by McCain surrogates Tim Pawlenty and Steve Forbes on national television. That's a wash.

Finally, I think it's appropriate to punish the incumbent president's party for malfeasance in office when the incumbent's termed out. If McCain had run on a complete repudiation of Bush that would be one thing, but he didn't. There should be some form of accountability for the disaster that Bush has been on climate.

Being contrarian on the choice of president is like between contrarian on the reality of climate change.

UPDATE: I should add that on a one-time basis, a few scientists have done well with a single contrarian position that's ultimately proven correct, giving them enormous street cred in the science ghetto, with their paradigm shifts and all that. What I'm not aware of is non-crank scientists who consistently take contrarian positions and generally are right. Nor can I think of a single public policy based on a scientific opinion of a tiny minority that's worked out well.

UPDATE II, Feb. 2010:  Well, given the problems in getting climate legislation past, I'm less certain that I was right.  McCain has veered hard right, showing questionable political integrity, but maybe he would've been different in the imaginary world that would have elected him as president.

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