Does it Matter that so Few Congress Members are Veterans?

Graph by Kevin Jefferies

Over at Monkey Cage, Erik Voeten offers an interesting discussion on the decline in the proportion of Congress members who are veterans and what, according to political science research, this might mean for Congressional foreign policy making:

Frank Lautenberg, who passed away this summer, was the last of 115 World War II veterans who served in the U.S. Senate. To the best of my knowledge, there will be only 12 U.S. senators who have experienced active military service in the 114th Congress. Only one in five members of the current House of Representatives were active-duty military. By contrast, during most of the Cold War, 70 percent of the U.S. Congress were veterans, with the peak coming in 1977 (80 percent).

Does this matter for policy making? There is some research suggesting that it does, most notably the work by Peter Feaver and Chris Gelpi. Feaver and Gelpi establish the following regularities (see especially this book and this chapter-length update):

— On issues that concern the use of force and the acceptance of casualties, the opinions of veterans track more closely with those of active military officers than with civilians.

— The U.S. initiates fewer military disputes when there are more veterans in the U.S. political elite (the cabinet and the Congress).

— The U.S. uses more force in the disputes it initiates when there are more veterans in the U.S. political elite.

— Veterans are less likely to accept U.S. casualties for interventionist uses of force than for “realpolitik” uses of force. [keep reading]

[Graph by Kevin Jefferies]

Veterans Day

Some helpful reminders from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France.

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

. . . In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

. . . The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

[Photo shows soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, as they waited for news about the end of hostilities. This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the Armistice went into effect.]

Two Views on Why to Cut Defense Spending

Robert Golan-Vilella, of the National Interest, responds to Melvyn Leffler’s argument in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs that cutting defense spending will actually improve security because “when the government is operating under constrained resources, it is forced to make more difficult choices and prioritize more effectively …”

[I]f one wants to make the case for cutting defense spending now, the best arguments for doing so are those that stem from long-range thinking rather than asserting that the cuts themselves will spur better planning. Such an argument might run like this: The United States is a very secure country. It dominates its own hemisphere. It spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined—and many of those countries are its allies. America has adversaries, but its rival great powers are far less dangerous than those of the past. Thus, there is room to cut the U.S. defense budget to right-size it to the threats it actually faces, while still enabling it to maintain preponderant military strength. The money saved could then be used to accomplish any number of other national priorities.

Whether or not you find this line of thinking persuasive, the point is that it starts with an assessment of what the world and the international threat environment actually look like. . . . [Continue reading]


Chicago Economist Uses Empirical Social Science to Discover the “Law of Unintended Consequences” is Not a Law After All

The New York Times reports:

When Neale Mahoney, an economist at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, set out to evaluate the effect of [the 2009 Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act], he was confident he knew what he and his colleagues would find: It didn’t work.

“I went into the project with this sort of conventional wisdom that well-intentioned regulators would force down fees and that other fees and charges would increase in response,” he told me this week, comparing hapless rule makers to the carnival visitors playing the game known as Whac-a-Mole, where a mole springs up somewhere else as soon as one is knocked down.

But his expectation was wrong. The study came to a conclusion that surprised Mr. Mahoney and his colleagues: The regulation worked. It cut down the costs of credit cards, particularly for borrowers with poor credit. And, the researchers concluded, “we find no evidence of an increase in interest charges or a reduction to access to credit.”

… “Looking at the data forced us to rethink our understanding of the effects of regulating consumer financial products,” Mr. Mahoney told me. “The data changed our view of the world. That is what’s so exciting about being an empirical economist.” [Keep reading]

This is not only “exciting.” It also demonstrates the social importance of empirical social science. It is all too common, sometimes based on mathematically or logically sound (but empirically untested) models, sometimes based on dogmatic acceptance of “laws,” to either overestimate or underestimate what can actually be achieved by politics or public policy. The first principle of empirical social science is that beliefs need to be tested against reality. In this case, it turns-out, contrary to common belief, regulation in the public interest was possible. There are, of course, plenty of cases where empiricism will lead to the opposite conclusion, and that this will challenge or refute widely held optimistic beliefs. Since erring on either side–overestimating or underestimating what can be accomplished–is costly, it is of supreme importance that beliefs be constantly tested against reality.

Our Unsettled Constitution

I often point out to students that several debates that moved outside the mainstream of American politics for most of the second half of the 20th century (or longer) have reentered or are on the verge of reentering the mainstream today. For example, yesterday in my U.S. Constitutional Law (POLS 4130) class, we talked about Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared the U.S. Constitution does not bar states from enacting mandatory vaccinations in order to promote public health. Of course, mandatory vaccinations have once again become a hotly politicized issue in recent years, although this has not yet resulted (as far as I know) in a new round of constitutional litigation. Another example is the call for repeal of the 16th Amendment (under specified conditions) in the 2012 Republican Platform. Similarly, the Tea Party has endorsed repealing the 17th Amendment. Yet another example, as Sandy Levinson has pointed out, is the reemergence of serious arguments over the constitutional right of states to nullify federal laws (once thought long settled by Cooper v. Aaron in 1958 if not Andrew Jackson’s 1832 “Proclamation Regarding Nullification”) and even to secede (once thought long settled by the Civil War). Still another example is Rand Paul’s insistence during his successful 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate that he rejected the Supreme Court’s  unanimous 1964 opinion in Heart of Atlanta Hotel v. U.S. that the Commerce Clause of Article I, Section 8 authorizes Congress to outlaw racial discrimination by certain kinds of privately owned businesses (as Congress did with the Civil Rights Act of 1964). (I could also point to various  other proposals for radically amending the Constitution or drafting an entirely new constitution but that do not yet seem to be on the verge of entering the mainstream of political debate. That said, here are some examples if you are curious.)

My point in mentioning all this in class is to illustrate how the nature and meaning of the Constitution is never really settled. We have moments of relative consensus on certain issues, but you never really know which issues, long thought settled, will reemerge as objects of debate in response to changes in social conditions, intellectual developments, political movements, etc.  And I think a defining characteristic of our time is that an unusually broad array of fundamental questions about the constitutionality of decades-old political-institutional “settlements” are increasingly being raised and debated within the political mainstream.

This was very much on display in a recent exchange among self-described “conservative” opinion leaders over the constitutionality of the welfare state–i.e. much of what the federal government has done since the New Deal era. It started with Charles Krauthammer’s appearance on The Daily Show with John Stewart in which he magnanimously praised “the great achievements of liberalism — the achievements of the New Deal, of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare.” Krauthammer said this in the course of defending what he contends is “true conservatism,” which, he says, is supportive of those “great achievements” but only concerned with keeping them sustainable into the future.

This prompted Andrew McCarthy to argue that Krauthammer’s “conservatism” is no such thing. Rather, it is simply the “moderate statism” of the “Republican establishment” that “‘is more sympathetic to Obama’s case for the welfare state than to the Tea Party’s case for limited government and individual liberty.'”  Importantly, McCarthy did not simply claim that true conservatism is opposed to the welfare state. He went further to insist that it is unconstitutional:

[C]onservatives revere an enriching cultural inheritance that binds generations past, present, and future. It obliges us to honor our traditions and our Constitution, preserve liberty, live within our means, and enhance the prosperity of those who come after us. The welfare state is a betrayal of our constitutional traditions: It is redistributionist gluttony run amok, impoverishing future generations to satisfy our insatiable contemporaries…

This, in turn, led Conor Friedersdorf, a third self-proclaimed “conservative,” to offer an extended rebuke of the views expressed by McCarthy, whom he refers to as more of a “fundamentalist for originalism” than a true “conservative.”

You’d think, given the totality of McCarthy’s positions, that “constitutional conservatism” is an end in itself. It isn’t. Advancing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—that is the end. I, like many conservatives, believe that for the most part those ends are best advanced by working within the constitutional framework. Like many liberals, I also believe that slavery and Jim Crow were such abominations that, if the choices were to strictly construe the constitution or to free the slaves and end Jim Crow, to hell with originalist notions of states rights.

What does that have to do with McCarthy’s argument? He is too enamored of the heuristic that what’s constitutional is liberty-enhancing and what’s unconstitutional is liberty-destroying. It’s a good heuristic, but it doesn’t always hold.

Arguing with him, I normally point out why I think that his expansive views of executive power betray Madison’s vision. Today let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that he has been right all along: that strict adherence to the Constitution really does permit secret kill lists, torture, massive surveillance, and indefinite detention; and it really does prohibit, say, Social Security and Medicare.

Even if that were true, it would not change the fact that the national-security state and its open-ended concentration of unaccountable power poses a far greater threat to liberty than federally bankrolled social-welfare spending (even if you think, as I do, that the spending could be improved upon).

… The Constitution ought to play a prominent role in our politics. But I’d like to see McCarthy construct an argument for his favored policies without any mention of or recourse to the document. Perhaps that would make it clearer that suspending due process puts a country farther along the road to serfdom than old-age pensions.

I say that his position is not conservative because, while conserving our constitutional design is certainly a coherent part of a conservative approach to governing, McCarthy isn’t proposing to conserve something that still exists—rather, he is proposing that we take an approach to social-welfare policy that hasn’t been tried since the early 1930s and apply it to the modern economy: a radical change, whatever one thinks of it. The radicalism and unpredictability of what might happen next doesn’t necessarily make him wrong. But conservative is a weird word for it. . . .

Regardless of one’s views on this normative debate, as a factual matter, I think it’s safe to say that the Constitution–specifically, the debate over its fundamental nature and meaning–is playing and will continue to “play a prominent role in our politics,” and that this means knowledge of constitutionalism is essential for understanding contemporary politics.

(On that note, I highly recommend taking courses offered by the Political Science and History departments on American constitutionalism — usually under the title of “constitutional law” and/or “constitutional history”.)

A Sobering Thought about NSA Spying

Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution offers an alarming answer to a provocative question:

Did Obama spy on Mitt Romney? As recently as a few weeks ago if anyone had asked me that question I would have consigned them to a right (or left) wing loony bin. Today, the only loonies are those who think the question unreasonable. . . . Do I think Obama ordered the NSA to spy on Romney for political gain? No. Some people claim that President Obama didn’t even know about the full extent of NSA spying. Indeed, I imagine that President Obama was almost as surprised as the rest of us when he first discovered that we live in a mass surveillance state in which billions of emails, phone calls, facebook metadata and other data are being collected.

The answer is yes, however, if we mean did the NSA spy on political candidates like Mitt Romney. Did Mitt Romney ever speak with Angela Merkel, whose phone the NSA bugged, or any one of the dozens of her advisers that the NSA was also bugging? Did Romney exchange emails with Mexican President Felipe Calderon? Were any of Romney’s emails, photos, texts or other metadata hovered up by the NSA’s break-in to the Google and Yahoo communications links? Almost certainly the answer is yes.

Did the NSA use the information they gathered on Mitt Romney and other political candidates for political purposes? Probably not. Will the next president or the one after that be so virtuous so as to not use this kind of power? I have grave doubts. Men are not angels. [Keep reading]


U.S. Spending on Public Education is More Regressive than in Most Wealthy Countries

Eduardo Porter of the New York Times reports:

The United States is one of few advanced nations where schools serving better-off children usually have more educational resources than those serving poor students, according to research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Among the 34 O.E.C.D. nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students. [Read the rest here]


Michigan Economist Offers Concise Overview of the Nature of the Health Care “Market”

Miles Kimball writes

Now might be a good time to remind the world just how far the country’s health care sector—with or without Obamacare—is from being the kind of classical free market Adam Smith was describing when he talked about the beneficent “invisible hand”  of the free market. There are at least five big departures of our health care system from a classical free market: . . .

Continue reading (highly recommended)

Is Polarization Caused by Extreme Voters in (Closed) Primaries?

Data from 2008 Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project, merged with turnout data from Catalist. Graph by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck.

A lot of people think that party polarization could be mitigated if states reformed their system of nominating candidates. This is based on the assumption that those who vote in primaries are more ideologically extreme than general-election-only voters. The extreme primary voters, according to this theory, nominate extreme candidates, which leaves the moderate general-election-only voters with no moderate candidates to vote for.  This results in the election of candidates who are more extreme than the majority of voters actually prefer.

John Sides points out that the political science consensus suggests otherwise. Among other things, he points to the chart above, which is based on a large survey of voters in the 2008 election. The data demonstrate that there is in fact little ideological difference between primary and general-election-only voters. For the most part, primary voters are simply more interested in politics than are general-election-only voters:

Those who voted in the primary were clearly more interested in politics but did not have very different views on issues (with the possible exception, for Republicans, of raising taxes on the wealthy).  Other research finds a similar pattern; see here or here or here.   Given these findings, increasing primary turnout would not necessarily create a very different electorate and therefore different incentives for candidates or incumbents. [read the entire post here]


Post-Racial Politics? (Not yet, but wait a generation or two)

There has been much debate over the extent to which Obama’s presidency signals that we have entered a “post-racial” era in American politics. Does the fact that we (twice) elected a black president mean our politics is no longer shaped by negative racial stereotypes? In recent days, the Monkey Cage has discussed research providing empirical evidence that (1) “racial resentment” played a role in the government shutdown, but (2) Obama’s Presidency may have led young people to have attitudes “more favorable to blacks than every previous generation.” This research suggests that, while “post-racial” is not an apt description of our present politics, there is reason to suspect there may be a post-racial politics on the horizon.

Does the Filibuster Prevent “Tyranny of the Majority”?

Richard Arenberg of Brown University criticizes those who contend the filibuster is “undemocratic and unconstitutional.” According to Arenberg, “‘the possibility that senators elected from 21 states that may contain as little as 11 percent of the U.S. population [can have] an absolute veto power over bills, resolutions and presidential appointments supported by senators who represent 83 percent of the people of the United States'” is not necessarily alarming and certainly not unconstitutional. Those who suggest otherwise, he continues, “misrepresent . . . the founding fathers’ design of the Senate.”

 The founding fathers greatly feared the “tyranny of the majority” – and they created the Senate to avoid what they deemed the rule of the mob.

The Senate was the result of the “great compromise” at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, which shaped the body to represent the states. Each state has two senators regardless of its population size – an idea so important to the framers that the Constitution in Article V requires that “no State, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” Therefore, changing the Senate’s composition would, in effect, require unanimous consent of the states, not the usual three-fourths needed to ratify a constitutional amendment.

With two senators representing each state, the idea that a Senate majority must somehow reflect a majority of the population is simply wrong. [More here.]

Mathew Yglesias of Slate Magazine responds:

. . . The whole thing hinges on the idea that filibustering defends minority interests and prevents the “tyranny of the majority.” But this is simply wrong. The problem of the tyranny of the majority is the problem that minority groups in society might see their interests trampled. But protecting the interests of the political party that lost the last election doesn’t achieve this goal.

Most people aren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses, and . . . you might see a proposal to trample on Jehovah’s Witnesses interests by banning them from knocking on doors. In this case, the filibuster would defend the interests of a minority group because it makes it harder to pass laws.

On the other hand, most people aren’t gay and some straight people think gay sex is immoral, so gay people may be subject to discrimination in employment and other venues. You might see a proposal to advance gay interests by banning employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In that case, the filibuster harms the interests of a minority group because it makes it harder to pass laws.

Which is to say that making it harder to pass laws simply makes it harder to pass laws. It has nothing in particular to do with majoritarianism or minority interests or anything else. It’s a status quo measure. To the extent that you think the status quo is great, then maybe you love a 60 vote threshold. Maybe you think it should be raised to 65 or 75 or 95. Or maybe instead of a bicameral legislature we should have a four-chamber legislature. It’s easy to think of new ways to make it harder to change the laws. But that’s the issue. Making it hard to change laws systematically preserves the advantages of whatever groups are advantaged by the status quo.


Projected Effects of SNAP Funding Reductions

Dottie Rosenbaum of the (liberal / progressive) Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) summarizes a new CBPP report:

The 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits ends on November 1, which will mean a benefit cut for each of the nearly 48 million SNAP recipients — most of whom live in households with children, seniors, or people with disabilities.

A household of three, such as a mother with two children, will lose $29 a month — a total of $319 for November 2013 through September 2014, the remaining 11 months of fiscal year 2014 (see chart). That equals about 16 meals a month for a family of three based on the cost of U.S. Agriculture Department’s “Thrifty Food Plan.” [More here]


In Monday’s AJC, Benita Dodd of the (conservative) Georgia Public Policy Foundation wrote an oped supporting the cuts. While citing similar estimated effects of the cuts, she argues it is a step in the right direction:

… This restoration of benefits to their original status should not deteriorate into a political blame game. Both sides of the aisle have acknowledged the need to cut government spending: In June, the Democrat-led Senate approved legislation that included $4.5 billion in SNAP cuts. The Republican-led House last month approved a bill that would cut funding for SNAP by $40 billion over 10 years.

The good intentions of program supporters do not cancel out the need for individuals to escape poverty through jobs and economic opportunity. Unless and until Congress cuts back on spending and reaching into hardworking taxpayers’ pockets to fund dependency, the opportunity for economic growth that creates jobs in the private sector will not occur. Until and unless Congress acts to relieve the overbearing regulatory burdens, mandates and costs that are being imposed on businesses in this country, the kinds of jobs that can advance Americans out of poverty will not be created.

Washington needs to end the bickering over how many fish to feed the five thousand and step back so that the five thousand learn how to feed themselves the traditional American way – through a work ethic. [Read the whole thing here]

Should we use Geoengineering to Cool the Planet?

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to slow the pace of global warming. Humans could stop adding carbon-dioxide to the atmosphere. Or scientists could try to artificially cool the planet — say, by spraying reflective particles in the stratosphere to block (a small bit of) sunlight.

The first option is typically the only one that comes up in policy discussions. But climate scientist David Keith has long argued that we should start thinking seriously about both strategies. His new book, “A Case for Climate Engineering,” makes the argument at length.

It’s a highly controversial view. After all, solar geoengineering is fraught with risks. Things could go badly awry. And Keith is upfront about those dangers; indeed, he has called for an international moratorium on deployment until we understand the technology better. But geoengineering may be the best way to limit some of the damage from the carbon-dioxide we’ve already put in the atmosphere. At the very least, he says, scientists need to start researching the idea more thoroughly.

Keith, who left the University of Calgary in 2011 for a position at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Sciences, talked with me this week about his new book. . . .

The rest is available at WA Post’s Wonkblog.

Will Libertarians and Progressives Ever Form a “Liberaltarian” Alliance?

Zack Beauchamp doesn’t think so:

Unlike some progressives, I’m deeply sympathetic to the idea of a left-libertarian alliance. I like the libertarians line on the drug war, mass incarceration, civil liberties, corporate welfare, immigration, and restrictions on internet pornography and other infringements free speech. Libertarians are a net-positive influence on Republican foreign policy and some of their arguments for economic freedom contain important insights about oppression and domination. There’s a lot to recommend about “liberaltarianism,” in short.

And yet it never seems to amount to anything in real terms. . . . [Continue reading]


The Effects of Partisan News Media on Voters and Members of Congress

Over at Monkey Cage, John Sides discusses new research on media effects conducted by political scientists Kevin Arceneaux, Martin Johnson, René Lindstädt and Ryan J. Vander Wielen:

The emergence of Fox News in 1996 offers researchers a neat opportunity. Cable providers added Fox News gradually, meaning that people in some parts of the country could see Fox News while others could not. The gradual rollout of Fox News makes it easier to identify its effects. For example, Republican-leaning voters were more likely to support then-Gov. George W. Bush in places with Fox News compared to places without it. Now, new research shows that Fox News’s impact extended beyond voters — to members of Congress themselves. And perhaps most surprisingly, both Democratic and Republican members were affected. [Continue reading here.]

Should / Can we Amend the Constitution to Fix “The Biggest Problem in Politics”?

Ari Joseph offers an interesting proposal: amend the Constitution to outlaw private money in public elections.

Questions to ponder:

(1) Is the author correct that there is actually a problem here to be solved? That is, is the system actually tilted toward the “haves” and against the “have nots”? Is this an altogether bad thing? Is there anything to be said in favor of such a system? Conversely, does the author understate the problem? That is, is the system actually more corrupted and/or unrepresentative than suggested? Explain.

(2) If we could wave a magic wand and pass this proposed amendment, how much more representative of lower and middle class income Americans do you think the system would become? Or would it make no difference or even make the system less representative of those economic classes? Explain.

(3) If the “rules of the game” are presently tilted toward the interests of the few, how could a political movement successfully alter those rules so as to make a more even “playing field”? (And if such a political movement could gain that much power, would the amendment then still be necessary?) Explain.

(4) The author suggests that the elimination of private money from politics would be something of a panacea for all the ills of American democracy. Do you think the author is correct in favoring that particular reform, or are there other reforms — e.g. automatic registration, compulsory voting, proportional representation, reforming the nomination process, elimination of equal state representation in the Senate, elimination of the electoral college, moving from a “presidential” (separation of powers) system to a parliamentary system — that would be more likely to fix the problems pointed to by the author? Explain.