Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Fighting The Incentives

     I’ve written frequently about the importance of structural and institutional incentives in determining the behavior of organizations. In that connection, David L. Burkhead cites one of Milton Friedman’s most insightful and important statements:

     Incentives aren’t quite omnipotent, but they come as close as any sociopolitical force known to Man. Powerful incentives to do the right thing – as Dr. Friedman said in the above, by making it the profitable thing – could make an evil creature reconsider his malice. Inversely, powerful incentives to do the wrong thing could make a saint behave like the lowest of demons. The incentives built into the laws and instantiated in America’s governments beckon the Rulers to peculation and tyranny while urging deceit and dissimulation upon the Ruled.

     That makes the emergence of persons who fight the incentives and triumph over them a remarkable development, something to be noted and analyzed. Particularly deserving of attention is the rise of a champion among them, one who can rally them around him sufficiently that the incentives and those who’ve engineered them are overturned.

     To lead off, let’s peer over Kurt Schlichter’s shoulder at one individual who’d rather “go with the flow” despite the contradiction to his supposed “principles:”

     “Civility and decency” is the common refrain within the [David] French Fredocon Legion. Understand that the civility and decency requirement applies only to us, and it operates only to restrict our ability to accurately describe and aggressively fight our enemies. It does not apply to our betters’ conduct toward us. Look at their last three years of attacks on Donald Trump and we who support him – super civil and super decent, right? My Twitter feed is an endless series of vicious tweets from libs and True ConservativesTM telling me what an awful, awful person I am for thinking that we should jam that same civility and decency right back down their collective throat.

     French himself recently dubbed us the “gutter right” in a tweet, wherein he also described himself as a “real man.” Peak cringe aside, I’m pretty sure “gutter” is not a term of civility or decency, but then the rules never apply to protect us, only to restrain us. Remember, you are morally obligated to lose for some reason. Anyway, this utter nonsense is why we should ignore the Priss Platoon’s rules and do whatever we have to do to protect our liberty and property.

     In this case, “the flow” is the availability of a platform and financial backing. David French is an Establishmentarian who’s “done a corner” in being a “conservative in opposition.” He has no experience with being “on the winning side” and would have to scramble for a perch to pontificate from. The same could be said of many figures on the NeverTrump pseudo-Right. They vilify President Trump and his supporters despite Trump’s extraordinary record of successes because of the incentives that apply to their positions.

     It’s not my way to be quite as scathing as Schlichter. I know the power of incentives. I know how much resolve, how much fortitude it takes to oppose them. It takes a stronger-than-average man with a character of adamant. There aren’t many of those in politics, neither inside the corridors of power nor peering into them and commenting about them.

     President Trump is fighting the incentives. He could have quadrupled his wealth by playing the game the way the rest of the Rulers’ wealthy supporters do it. He chose a different course. It’s already cost him heavily in several dimensions. Yet he fights on. More significant yet, he’s been winning consistently. He’s attracted a growing base of support not only for his policies but for his supposedly uncouth methods as well.

     We who support President Trump face a weaker but still significant array of disincentives. We must bear with being demeaned and slandered by our opponents, including those in the media. Many have faced personal penalties of various kinds for being candid about their positions. We must endure the denigrations of those such as David French, to whom many once looked for the articulation of their positions and sentiments. It’s a lot to cope with.

     Nevertheless, we have found our champion. We’ve stood behind him despite the disincentives, and we’ll remain there for as long as he faithfully carries our standard.

     In consequence, the incentives are changing. Relentlessly and implacably, Donald Trump is changing them. With each new Trump Administration success, it’s slowly becoming more profitable – politically, economically, and socially – to be with him than against him.

     Ask the president of Mexico if you disbelieve. Ask the queen of England and the prime minister of Japan. Ask the panjandrums of Western Europe who continue to dismiss him as a passing phenomenon, and the satraps of Eastern Europe who’ve already seen the light.

     Look at the array of losers and nonentities who hope to contest the presidency against him next year. You can learn a lot about a man from the stature and character of his enemies. This lineup tells a revealing tale – and it’s not in their favor. Not one of them has a morsel of Trump’s moxie. Should the Democrats nominate one of them, Trump might take every state but California and New York.

     Things are changing.

     The lesson, of course, is that there are greater and larger “institutions,” each capable of setting out its own incentives. The largest “institution” of all, the American electorate, had its say in 2016, is being rewarded for its decision, and is responding to those rewards. The lesser institutions of the Deep State / permanent government, the big donors, the unions, and the media have struggled to stem the tide. To be fair, their resistance has partially stanched the flow in Trump’s favor. Even so, he’s out-muscling them to a thunder of cheering from ordinary Americans.

     Politically, election results outweigh the incentive structures of lesser institutions, as long as those results are honest and honored. That points directly to the battlefield that’s genuinely critical for the 2020 election and those beyond it. Draw the moral.

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