Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Political Capital

I have a model for how I think about politics, in terms of the Democrats and Republicans: When elected, the parties have a certain amount of what I will call political capital, sort of an idea of tolerance of change from the general public.

If they come in under budget on political capital - if they don't spend it all - they get re-elected.  If they do spend it all, they'll face tough re-elections.  And if they overspend, they'll get thrown out.

It doesn't matter whether the public approves of an idea or not, actually implementing it will consume capital; some events outside a politician's control can also consume capital.

Random events can create capital.  Also, achieving popular non-political goals creates capital.  Creating goals, political or non-political, creates capital, but only achieving non-political goals does; achieving a political goal consumes it, and usually consumes more than the creation of the goal created.  This is because the price tag for political goals is much more obvious to the public, and the achievement is at best going to satisfy those demanding it, rather than making them happy, and make everybody else irate.

So creating the goal of getting a man to the moon creates a chunk of political capital to work with; achieving that goal also creates a chunk of political capital.

Declaring that you'll reform the healthcare system creates political capital - but actually doing so consumes it.

Triumphalism is thus a politically expedient methodology; by continually creating and achieving goals, you can maintain political capital for other ends.

This is why regulations prohibiting gay and lesbian discrimination in private enterprise long preceded regulations prohibiting gay and lesbian discrimination in public enterprise.

This is the basic model I work with, when considering politics.  The reason political goals are messier than non-political goals is more complicated than this - Hayek actually did a brilliant job describing it in The Road to Serfdom, albeit not in these terms - but overall this methodology has been incredibly successful for me in predicting not only how events will transpire, but in what order.

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