Politics is Still Boring or How I Learned to Love Path Dependency

I’m sorry. Your grand socialist scheme for the U.S. won’t work. That said, I have little hope for my great free market solution, either.

There will be no revolution. Politics is still boring.

Whether it be ‘Medicare for All’ or the ‘Green New Deal’ or whatever warmed up bolshevism being dreamed up by the newly empowered leftists in the Democrat Party… it ain’t gonna happen. The same can be said for my free market revolution — not happening.

Path dependency is the idea that decisions made in the past on sometimes irrelevant issues limit the choices we have in the here and now.  They serve as guard rails and limit our ability to make change.

Long before Socialism became a thing–again–amongst the younger set in the Democrat Party, decisions were made, votes were held and interests were created and the die was cast. We chose relatively liberal markets, a federalist system of governance and a pluralist society in the beginning.  Decisions have moved to and fro since, and each of these have established interests. As we all know, established interests are the greatest barrier to overturning the status quo. Whether it be health care reform, climate change or even gun control, decisions made long ago are going to determine we can do today.

In the 1960’s, Congress created the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Both have proven quite durable and popular. Everyone, for example, has a family member, friend or other person in their network that have been recipients of the program. They are both popular with voting public and recipients alike.  That popularity gives these programs a great deal of insulation from swings in public opinion.  But when we add of all the other stakeholders in the system, it becomes really apparent that we will neither repeal nor replace these programs.

In his recent New York Times column, David Brooks, made the argument against Medicare for All. He pointed that the doctors would be loathe to support a program that cut their pay. The thousands and thousands of insurance employees would never sign on to their own economic death, nor would the 80 percent of the insured that have private insurance want to transition to something else should we eliminate private insurance. Then there are the pharmaceutical companies who would not want to be dependent upon a single purchaser.  All of these interests — those of patients, providers and suppliers — would all have to be satisfied in order to transition to a government run/single payer system. Conversely, we aren’t getting rid of government insurance anytime soon.

Energy is another sector in which decisions made decades, and even a century ago, act as guardrails to any reforms. Gasoline was the favored choice of government in the early days of the autos. Gasoline, a byproduct of kerosine, was being dumped into rivers.  By using it to fuel cars, an environmental hazard (burning rivers, poisoned water etc.) was mitigated. But from coal to oil to natural gas, fossil fuels have made and make far more  sense than renewables.  Regulatory regimes, livelihoods, and habits are in place. At the end of the day, carbon is not going anywhere. The die was cast long ago.

One issue that hits my hot button is gun control.  Once I calm down, however, I do have the sense that there is little chance of change. Prior to the establishment of the Constitution the Right of Self Defense was part of English Common Law. People made their own weapons. They can and still do today. Regimes to regulate the purchase of rifles and handguns are useless when the average Joe can do it himself in his garage or basement. Technology — such an CNC machinery can be housed in the at home.  You can build an AR with hand held tools.  The rise of 3D printing assure that better than military grade weapons are in the hand of the common man. These are just the recent developments.

In order to establish meaningful gun control, the country still would have to disarm a Nation of 320 million. Impossible. Any regime imposed without the consent of gun owners has been and will be continue to be ignored –thus creating more problems than solutions. Guns are staying.

Decisions made long ago continue have outsized impact on the outcomes of today’s political debates. While the Great Sorting and the tyranny of small differences is upon on us on the small issues of the day, there is still agreement on the large issues such as rules, norms and governing institutions. Elections results are still being accepted–except by the fringes.  While we cannot undue the damages of the progressive era and our most recent leadership, even that damage is been limited. We are not living in a dystopian society. In sum, Politics is still boring. I am grateful for that.