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rant

Evolution and politics

No, this isn't about social conservatives denying the existence of natural selection; it's some musings about the effect of evolution and natural selection on politics.

We all know about battles between predator and prey. When a hungry lion meets a juicy-looking antelope, one of them is going to lose. Obviously, natural selection favors lions that are better hunters, and antelopes that are better hiders and/or better runners.

Many people may not realize that when a hungry lion meets a juicy-looking antelope, the antelope usually wins. Most predator-prey conflicts in nature end with the prey escaping. This is because if the antelope loses, it's out of the game; if the lion loses, it misses a meal and can probably hunt again tomorrow. The antelope has a lot more at stake than the lion does, and is therefore under much more natural-selection pressure. Sure, the lion would do better if it were a better hunter, but it also has competing biological priorities such as mating, reproducing, withstanding disease, training its young, etc.

Now, let's suppose you represent a group that has a Federal tax break worth, say, $100 million/year, and the tax break is going to expire next year. You have an incentive to extend the tax break, because its demise will seriously cut into your profits. On the other hand, every taxpayer has an incentive to end the tax break, because it will save tax dollars. Who's going to win? The group with the tax break, of course: the tax break is worth $100 million/year to you, but only $.33/year to the average individual taxpayer, so you're willing to spend far more to extend it than anybody else is willing to spend to terminate it. In short, once a particular group is granted a valuable preference at public expense, it's really difficult to take it away.

How could one reduce the tilt of the playing field? One possibility is to say not "this tax break will expire in ten years," but rather "this tax break will decrease by 10% per year for ten years." If you want to prevent it from decreasing this year, you have to lobby for that, and even if you win, you'll have to lobby for it all over again the next year. The cost of lobbying is just as much as in the previous scenario, but the payoff to you is 1/10 as much -- still more than what the tax break is worth to the average individual, but now it's more likely that you'll face real opposition. Of course, for this to work, it must be more difficult to change the "10% per year" thing for good than to cancel an individual year's decrease. This probably means having two or more tiers of laws, each tier more difficult to change than the next (like the U.S. Constitution, ordinary Federal law, and agency regulations). And whatever group lobbied for the tax break in the first place has a strong incentive not to accept such a "10% per year" clause in the first place, because such a clause makes it more difficult for them to keep their preference forever. I don't know if there's a politically feasible way to institute a general "10% per year" rule on all such tax breaks.

As I've mentioned in other posts, a single-payer health care system is not going to happen in the U.S. any time soon because it would put a large fraction of the insurance industry, like the antelope, out of the game; they're willing to spend billions to escape it, while the rest of us only have maybe a thousand dollars a year apiece to gain from it. However, we might be able to get single-payer if it kicked in gradually enough -- if it wouldn't put anybody completely out of business until the current lobbyists and top executives have all retired. Say, make every child under the age of 1 eligible for Medicare this year, then 3 next year, then 5 the year after that, and so on. (The slope is greater than 1 so we don't have the scenario of two kids born a day apart, one of whom has Medicare all his life, and the other of whom doesn't get it until she's 65.) As a fringe benefit, the Medicare bureaucracy would have time to adjust to having a lot more clients. One could simultaneously decrease the eligibility age at the senior end, until the two meet somewhere in the middle and everyone's covered, twenty-odd years from now. There would probably need to be a "balloon" clause that says once the number of uninsured Americans drops below a certain number, we'll cover them all the next year, or the last few would be left without either public coverage or a functioning private insurance system.

Comments

I like it.

Why are you not in charge of explaining things like this to, well, everyone? You've taken a complicated scenario and explained it in a way that makes sense, unlike the deliberate obfuscation of the insurance company lobbyists and their meat puppets.
I did put my name in for Benevolent Dictator, but for some reason the nominating committee didn't return my e-mail.
Of course the antelope will usually win. The lion is running for his dinner. The antelope is running for his life.
Yes, that's it in a nutshell.