Monday, January 20, 2020

Yang/Warren: that's the ticket!

There's a lot to be said for Yang as a presidential candidate: he's funny and likeable (able to use humour to deflate Trump's chest-thumping appeal to voters' lizard-brains), an "outsider" candidate (which in recent history appears to be a necessary feature for Democratic candidates to actually win the presidential election), and betting markets currently give him the highest conditional probability (amongst those with a greater than 1% chance of nomination) of beating Trump if nominated (77%).  Yang's automation-focused economic narrative seems broadly plausible, and may have a real chance of combating the immigrant-demonizing narrative peddled by Trump & co, and winning over swing voters in key states.  As a NY Times editorial board member wrote of their interview: “He really seemed to have an almost emotional sense of what people have been going through and what the problems are. His portrait of the fundamental economic problems were more moving than Bernie’s, and Bernie has been selling this for 30 years.”

Yang has the right priorities, with his top three policy areas being the economy, environment, and voting reform.  His proposals within each of these areas are excellent.  Yang's signature "Freedom Dividend" / basic income policy has many virtues.  I'm not wholly sold on his tax policy, but I like his evidence-based approach of appealing to what's worked in other countries.  He's pragmatic on climate change: expanding nuclear power as a carbon-neutral stop-gap measure, regulating rather than banning fracking, etc. Perhaps most importantly, his proposed democratic reforms (ranked-choice voting, proportional representation, statehood for DC & Puerto Rico, abolishing the filibuster, etc.) could have immense long-term benefits for improving policy outcomes in future.

Yang's main weakness, at least by the lights of the NYT editorial board, is just that "he has virtually no experience in government."  This is probably seen as a boon by many voters, but does raise questions about how effectively he could govern once the election is won.  Those questions would be instantly answered by picking Elizabeth Warren as his running mate.  As Ezra Klein argues, "She understands how to focus and wield the powers of the regulatory state better than anyone else, because she’s actually done it, and because it’s core to her political project."

I would love to see Warren given broad discretion over personnel decisions, and closely advising a Democratic president on how to effectively implement their policy agenda.  She'd be a great VP pick (especially for a non-white male candidate). Why not have Warren at the top of the ticket?  Several reasons: (1) She's too likely to overreach and do disastrous things like ban fracking by executive order. (2) Not coincidentally, she'd be much easier for Republicans to demonize as "too extreme" in the election -- and betting markets give her the lowest conditional probability of beating Trump amongst all the major candidates. (3) Even if she won the presidential election, these fears might harm down-ticket candidates, especially in the Senate which is crucial for actually implementing a progressive agenda.  Relegating her to a VP role would greatly mitigate these risks, whilst still making her expertise and reforming zeal highly available to the Democratic administration.

Yang and Warren appear to have a good rapport: Warren has expressed an openness to piloting basic income (though it's not her top priority). Both are interested in "big, structural change" to fix both the economy and the political system (even if their approaches on the former do differ in detail).  They'd constitute the most diverse presidential ticket in US history.  It's a ticket that could bring the party together and expand its appeal beyond the base, exciting progressives without alienating moderates or independents. Most importantly, I think they plausibly score well on the two key metrics: (i) likelihood of winning the election, and (ii) whether they would govern well.  Overall, this strikes me as the best Democratic ticket, for balancing electability and governing quality.

What do you think?

6 comments:

  1. I found this article by economist Tyler Cowen on Warren‘s economic proposals pretty damning:
    https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2020/01/the-economic-policy-of-elizabeth-warren.html

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    1. Yep, that's the link in my top reason not to want Warren at the top of the ticket. :-)

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  2. Sorry, I should've known that I was too tired to contribute anything. :-D After a second reading I'm completely on board with your argument (though that shouldn't count for much, no expertise here).

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  3. I wonder if Yang's conditional probability reflects the fact that something major would have to happen for him to win the nomination. If he can somehow figure out how to beat all of the democrats, his present appeal must be significantly underappreciated.

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    1. Ha, interesting possibility! Though shouldn't we then expect similarly high conditional probability for other low-probability candidates like Steyer?

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    2. Possibly. It looks like Steyer also has a super high conditional probability. Its also possible that the best explanation for why Yang wins the nomination is that there is something unknown and special about him, and the best explanation for why Steyer wins is that there is something unknown and bad about every leading democratic candidate. If that is the case, then finding out that Yang won should make you more confident that he would beat Trump, but finding out that Steyer won should not.

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