Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Enigma of Ford

Rob Ford, the "disgraced" mayor of Toronto, still enjoys an order of magnitude more public approval than the US Congress (I know, I know, apples to oranges). This despite rock-solid evidence that he's smoked crack while in office.

There was, in Tudor England, a habit of old that on the Twelfth Night (as popularized by Shakespeare's eponymous play) of Christmas, the night before Epiphany, peasants and nobility would swap roles, the former dining on... well, I'll let Dan D'Amico explain:

If you get the baby (or the bean, or whatever local variant you like), you get to pretend to be a lord until sunup. @danarchism's right on the money; cultural, social... human capital is the name of the game. This festive celebration obliged feudal constituents to adopt some variant on the very sort of sympathy championed by Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments. If only for a day, the (un?)lucky peasant would have to don the pantaloons of the lord of the manor and hear the petitions of the governed. It was a great, rollicking joke with a great rollicking punchline and a great rollicking serious message embedded within. Using my Pete Leeson spectacles, Twelfth Night was an institution that, as cheaply as contemporary political technology allowed, permitted greater social stability.

And then there's this guy:

The gentleman behind the wheel is Deadmau5. He is a musical whiz, a Giorgio Moroder for the opening act of the 21st century. And he puts up a 30 minute video of him tooling around with his crack-smoking mayor.

Rob Ford governs as if every night were Twelfth Night. AND THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE FOR IT.

Politics minus governance equals politainment (plus ΞΆ, some residual). Three cheers for the City of Toronto to have the courage to admit that politainment is valuable. The grimmest moments in human history were characterized by politics taken too seriously.

I'm none too fond of transactional theories of the state. The analytical fiction of the social contract suffers from Arrovian impossibility problems, and no written constitution can ever hope to bind an active sovereign ruling a clamorous constituency. Despite my reserves, I do still believe that voters basically get what they ask for, within a standard deviation or so. And in Toronto, they've asked for some non-standard deviance. And it seems they've gotten exactly what they want.

Long live the king.

In EE terms, this tests Toronto's Ford on the Shughart/Thomas scale, and I think it finds in favor of euvoluntary institutions. If anything coercion flows in the opposite direction. Conventional morality, conventional politics would have this guy (or Marion Barry before him) out on his ear. Yet buoyed by popular support, he thrives in office. Huzzah!


  1. Voters want political effectiveness and don't want politicians to have personal foibles. Successful politicians are a truncated distribution - those who have foibles but no effectiveness are not observed, and those who are effective and personally "clean" move up to higher office. So at any level of power, there is an observed tradeoff between these two characteristics. Thus, we'd expect politicians who are good at delivering the goods relative to their peers to be less personally salient. Smoking crack is a relatively minor offense; most politicians engage in it, albeit secretly, but there are more serious offenses - killing hookers, waiving your dick at reporters, shutting down bridges to pursue a personal vendetta, for example.

    I don't know anything about Mr. Ford, but I can surmise that he must be fairly politically effective. I recently overheard some political aides (I live in DC) discussing how effective Marion Barry was at delivering goods to his constituents.

    1. If you're right (and I strongly suspect that you are), this means that Ford's stumbled on the lovely truth that outcomes may be unrelated to treating the office seriously, that a grim dedication to duty can produce the same results as being a fun-loving buffoon. This is surely one of the finest accidental discoveries of political economy in recent history.

    2. Maybe this is a sign of my cynicism, but I view the "grim dedication" stuff as mostly either kayfabe or irrelevant.

      Also, note that it's not that fun-loving buffoonery doesn't hurt one's effectiveness. It does, but it's not primary thing determining effectiveness.

      You can also think of a certain disregard for the law as one of the perquisites of office. Let's say you are significantly more effective than any competitor. Your money compensation can't go up, but you can be more buffoonish as a compensating differential.

    3. Agreed.

      "it's not primary thing determining effectiveness."

      The role of luck is easily understated. Especially here.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?