Mexican Election Outcomes

Felipe Calderon has officially won Mexico’s presidential election, an outcome that will be challenged in the courts by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and in the streets by his supporters.

The election has been a triumph for modernity and democracy. Calderon’s vision of Mexico’s future is a modern one: openness, more competition, and higher growth based on wealth creation. Lopez Obrador’s vision is based on backwardness: more government spending, protection of national industries, and arbitrary rule based on his own notion of “the will of the people.”

The election so far has been a victory for democracy, or perhaps better put, the rule of law. The electoral commission (IFE) has, by all independent accounts, run the elections with the utmost professionalism, transparency, and strict regard to election rules, thus making charges of fraud difficult to sustain. Luis Carlos Ugalde, the head of the IFE, is a sophisticated scholar and public servant and a student of public choice theory who understands well the dynamics of collective decisionmaking and the importance of the rule of law.

In large part because of the IFE’s performance, I expect that the electoral tribunal that will consider Lopez Obrador’s legal challenges will do so fairly and uphold the official outcome. The IFE’s performance and Lopez Obrador’s own antics will also influence the court of public opinion in a way that does not benefit the leftist candidate. Despite all its problems, Mexico really is more modern today than it was 10 or even six years ago. As Mary O’Grady notes in her Wall Street Journal column today, many Mexicans “have moved on” from the way things were done in the past. To add to Lopez Obrador’s difficulties, leading members of his own party, including rival leaders and those elected to governorships and congress, have little interest in seeing an annulment of the election results.

The other headline from the elections is the marginalization at the national level of the PRI party that monopolistically ruled Mexico for 71 years until Vicente Fox’s election in 2000. The PRI received only about 22 percent of the vote — an outcome that was unthinkable as recently as six years ago. The new political landscape — a divided congress reflecting a divided country — means that Calderon will not be able to easily push through the reforms he favors. But he appears to be more politically savvy than President Fox, so the expectations for a growth agenda that Fox promised but did not deliver are running high. 

Tom Delay Is a Virginian

One of the best arguments for term limits is that we have reached the point where members of Congress are no longer “representatives” of their districts. The latest evidence of that came in this morning’s newspaper, which says Tom Delay will be on a Texas ballot in an upcoming election even though he has now declared himself to be a Virginian. Whether Delay wants to participate in that election or not, it is interesting that he has announced his status as a “Virginian” so fast. Or perhaps it’s not fast by modern standards.

Let’s see: Bob Dole returned to Russell, Kansas, to announce his candidacy for president. When he lost, he decided to live at the Watergate here in D.C. A few years later, his wife Elizabeth went to North Carolina to become a senator. The Clintons left Arkansas and are now New Yorkers. William Weld was governor of Massachusetts, but came down to New York to run for governor there. And there’s plenty more.

We need term limits before the next generation simply assumes that this is all perfectly normal and appropriate.

How Soccer Explains the Dead Hand

This year’s World Cup hasn’t converted me to soccer fandom, but it did motivate me to read a good book. I’m talking about TNR editor Frank Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization.

The book, which came out in 2004, offers a series of fascinating, compulsively readable profiles of soccer’s cultural and political underbelly — its connection to, among other things, war crimes, sectarian conflict, racism and anti-Semitism, political corruption, and culture wars. The beautiful game, perhaps, but what goes on off the pitch is frequently anything but. The picture, though, isn’t all bleak: Foer also tells how soccer has figured into resistance to fascism in Spain and Islamist tyranny in Iran.

The book is heavy on storytelling and light on argument, but through soccer’s prism an interesting picture of globalization emerges. And my apologies to Frank if I’m stretching here, but the picture is quite similar to that offered in my own book about globalization. Soccer, of course, is the global game par excellence — played and loved and marketed around the world. The best teams compete for talent and fans without regard for national boundaries. At the same time, though, this thoroughly cosmopolitan product is consumed in a world where national boundaries — and racial, religious, ideological, and class divisions as well — remain very real and continue to exert an often pernicious influence.

Soccer, then, is the global economy in microcosm. Goods, services, and capital flow across political boundaries as never before, but the global division of labor must contend with local institutions, interests, and mindsets that are frequently profoundly hostile to the market order. At the World Cup as in the larger world economy, the invisible hand of the market and the dead hand of anti-market forces struggle for mastery.

Whether or not you follow soccer, the book offers a wealth of great stories and an overarching perspective that makes our highly interconnected, highly conflicted world a little more comprehensible. And if you are a “football” fanatic, you might also want to check out Frank and friends’ World Cup blog as we head into the final weekend.

Federal Ban on Internet Gambling Marches On

Yesterday, I spoke with an aide to a Republican congressman who, as far as congressmen go, is somewhat libertarian. The aide told me that much to his chagrin, said congressman will be backing the ban on Internet gambling. What’s more, the aide said the congressman actually understands the economics of prohibitions, he just thinks that this will be the one time they don’t apply.

“For some reason, he thinks this is one instance where government can actually pull it off,” the aide said.

Unbelievable.

Internet gambling is already illegal, of course. That’s why gaming sites set up and operate offshore (several are actually traded on the London Stock Exchange). Yet, it’s still a $12 billion industry in the U.S. That means government already is trying, and failing, to prohibit it.

I guess the thinking is — as it is with the drug war — that if we try just a bit harder, spend just a bit more, harass private citizens just a bit more, and give government a bit more power, we’ll be able to buck history and finally make a vice prohibition stick.

Or perhaps lawmakers know it won’t work, and don’t care. The symbolism of trying to take a moral stand against gambling is more important than the policy actually working.

According to the New York Times, the gambling ban moves to the House floor for a vote next week, where it’s almost certain to pass. Here’s the kicker:

The majority leader, Representative John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, announced a few days ago that the measure would be voted on this summer as part of what the Republicans call their American Values Agenda.

So because the Republicans have garnered public scorn for the unethical, corrupt, morally bankrupt way they’ve governed over the last decade, they’ve decided to make a last-ditch attempt to hold on to power by passing judgment on the morals of their constituents (most of whom, polls show, oppose the bill).

Super.

The Times piece also looks at the free trade implications of Internet gambling prohibition, often overlooked in the debate. The Goodlatte-Leach bill will certainly exacerbate existing trade tensions between the U.S. and the 80 or so countries that allow online gambling. But many of those tensions have been bubbling over for years.

This bill brings up some new problems.

Because the bill effectively deputizes banks to sniff out and eradicate gambling among their customers (the creepy privacy implications of that alone ought to kill this bill), it amounts to a piece of blatantly protectionist legislation. Its practical effect will be to shield a domestic company (PayPal, which is owned by eBay) from foreign competitors like FirePay and Netteller.

I’ve explained a bit more about how this will work here.

Thus far, when countries like Antigua have challenged the U.S. gambling ban on free trade grounds, the Bush administration has fought tooth and nail to preserve its right to police the private behavior of American citizens. That means the administration has used millions of taxpayer dollars to prevent more liberty-minded countries from making too much freedom available to U.S. taxpayers over the Internet.

Of course, kicking Antigua around is one thing. When Britain mounts a challenge, as it likely will, this will all get much more interesting.

Gotta love the party of limited government.

Mexico’s Thin Margin

NPR keeps reporting that conservative Felipe Calderon seems to have won the Mexican presidential election “by the thinnest of margins.” Thin, yes. But I wouldn’t call it “the thinnest.” At this writing, Calderon leads by 243,000 votes, about 0.5 percent in an electorate of 40 million.

John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in 1960 by about 118,000 votes out of 69 million cast, or 0.15 percent. (And that’s if you give Kennedy about 320,000 Democratic votes in Alabama, even though only five of Alabama’s 11 Democratic electors intended to vote for Kennedy. If you don’t credit the Alabama votes to Kennedy, then he would win the electoral college vote while losing the popular vote.) Nixon got his revenge eight years later, defeating Hubert Humphrey by about 500,000 votes, or 0.70 percent in an electorate of 73 million. And then of course there was George W. Bush, whose popular vote margin was about minus 500,000 in 2000.

Calderon’s margin is thin, but it is “the thinnest” only by Mexican standards, not when compared to U.S. presidential elections.

A Little Student Loan Perspective

For months, college students and their advocates have decried impending increases in federal student loan rates. This past Saturday, it happened: variable interest rates on existing taxpayer-subsidized Stafford loans rose from 5.3 percent to 7.14 percent, and new loans were pegged at a fixed rate of 6.8 percent. Doomsday had arrived!

Or had it? As a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics makes clear, it wasn’t very long ago that students faced significantly higher interest rates than those that went into effect Saturday, yet for the most part borrowers were able to repay their loans without great difficulty.

According to the report, most borrowers who graduated in the 1992-93 academic year paid interest rates of 8 percent in their first four years after graduation, and between 6 and 9 percent for the remaining years. Despite that, relatively few borrowers had long-term difficulty repaying their loans, and even many who at some point defaulted eventually got back on track.

What this shows, of course, is that taxpayer-backed loans aren’t nearly the burden on students that college activists have made them out to be. But don’t expect student advocates to admit that anytime soon. After all, if they didn’t act incessantly oppressed by having to pay for some of their own education, it would be a lot harder for them to get politicians to fork over ever-more taxpayer dollars.