And ironically, despite my blog’s focus, to date my US predictions have been more accurate than my Russian ones. Obama to become President? Check. Republicans to win 2010 mid-terms? Check. The emergence of “a new party, a new politics”, with “the feds [facing] challenges from the far-left and the far-right”? Check (Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street). Dammit, even the prediction about falling fertility rates is panning out (to Mark Steyn’s presumed chagrin, it now equals “decadent” France’s) – though that wasn’t a particularly hard one to make, given the recession and looming economic collapse and all. Perhaps I should give up on this Russia-watching thing and just analyze the US?
Anyhow, back to Obama’s impending loss. To be fair, the title is a bit of a misnomer. I’d actually put his odds at 35% (Republicans – 65%). There really isn’t much to explain, is there? The economy sucks and is almost guaranteed to get better than worse. Output remains below peak 2007 levels. The deficit remains stubbornly high and the budget crisis will rear its head again in January 2012. Lord knows what it will become if there is another recession on the scale of the last one. Unemployment remains stuck at over 9%. Obama’s net approval rating is -12%. By the metrics I used to predict McCain’s defeat in 2008, Obama looks like he’s in deep trouble.
For what it’s worth, the InTrade prediction market is coming to the same conclusion. The latest figures created by gamblers who put their money where their mouths are give Obama a 48% chance, but as you can see since the market became high-volume in around April this year he has been trending down. (PS. Note the spike in early May, that was the Osama bin Laden assassination).
Incidentally, it was right around this time that I gambled $10 at Bodog on an Obama loss, immediately after the OBL assassination to take advantage of the cacophony of voices proclaiming Obama’s victory was now sealed. Yes, it would have played a huge rule had it happened a few days before the elections. But in May 2011? A year is an eternity in politics. New issues will cover over any lingering legacy of the OBL assassination. And that is why, with the bookies offering very favorable odds of 17/10 – and at the time, assessing Obama’s chances at only 45% – I made the bet below on Bodog.
In retrospect, with Obama’s re-election metrics continuing to decline, this was a very good bet if I say so myself. If things pan out, I will almost make back the $20 I lost betting on Medvedev as Russia’s next President.
Now a few words on the consequences (and refraining from bringing my own ideologies into this). Obama is not going to solve America’s economic problems. Nor is a Republican President. In any possible political configuration arising post-elections, raising taxes is nigh impossible – and that is the only way to alleviate the budget deficit which has been running at banana republic levels of 10% of GDP since 2009. Not cutting spending will lead to default, either outright or as is more likely by inflation (cue Argentina 2002). Both will be deleterious. Cutting spending at a time when the private sector is too over-leveraged to take up the slack will knock the legs out from the economy and likely result in a big collapse in output (cue Latvia 2008).
The fundamental problem is high oil prices, and the fact that any marginal increases in supply of this commodity that underpins all modern economies is being bid away by emerging markets that can make more productive use of them – primarily, China, with its factories and surfeit of cheap, relatively high-skilled labor (what’s the better return for a barrel of oil – the gas tank of an American SUV, or a Guangzhou factory making useful widgets?) – or the oil exporters themselves. To make the best of the current situation, the US needs long-term investments in raising its human capital (which, elite universities aside, is fairly low by developed country standards, as measured by international standardized tests) and raising energy efficiency. But these are only good in the long-term, and even here special interests are doing their best to prevent anything from being accomplished.
That is why the entire debate in the US over austerity vs. stimulus (both are suicide), or “American exceptionalism”, or the Presidential elections (given Obama’s stance on the War on Terror, Wikileaks, interventions, poker, weed, etc., to what extent to they really matter?), are all so tiring and mundane. In the face of uncompromising fiscal and energetic realities, which the US can mitigate to a degree but chooses not to, they are nothing but meaningless distractions.