Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Zero-sum politics: Donald Trump is tailor-made for elections and nothing else

Since nothing of interest is happening at the convention, I'll begin a more rigorous series on Trump.

You ever notice that Trump talks a lot about winning?  Like, a lot?  Social science time.  "Zero sum."  In order for someone to gain, someone else has to lose.  The classical zero sum game is "divide the dollar."  For every penny I gain, you have to lose, and vice versa.  So, it's all about who has the power to make the offer and who has the power to walk away.

So, if I can make a one-time, take it or leave it offer, I'll offer you a penny, and if all you care about is money, you'll take it.  Changing the outcome requires changing some structure of the game.

For our purposes today, the critical thing is that concept of zero sum, though.  In order for one person to gain, somebody else has to lose.

Elections are zero sum.

Almost nothing else in politics or economics is.  Creating economic growth isn't.  That's the point.  Adam Smith's central observation about free markets is that if I buy a loaf of bread, I care more about the bread than the money, and the baker cares more about the money than the bread, so we are both made better off by the transaction, even though we are both motivated by self interest.  Not zero sum.  Trade, contrary to Trump's central campaign platform, isn't about winning or losing.  This, more than anything else, shows what Trump is about.

Trump cares about some abstract notion of winning.  That maps well onto elections because there is a winner and a loser.  He wants to be that winner.  That notion maps well onto nothing else.  He has never cared about policy anyway, so that doesn't matter.  The messiness of his political language comes from the fact that he tries to take his central goal-- winning-- and map that language onto areas where it is inapplicable.

Charlie Sheen is running for president.

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