3% of everything is a lot

I often claim that president’s are only responsible for about 3% of national outcomes. Some readers wrongly infer that this means that I view presidents as being not very important. What they fail to realize that that 3% of everything is a lot.

Here’s just one of hundreds of examples of why the US would be better off if Trump were not re-elected:

A federal appeals court ruled on Monday that the Trump administration acted within its authority in terminating legal protections that have allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrants to live and work legally in the United States, sometimes for decades, after fleeing conflict or natural disasters in their home countries.

The 2-1 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit effectively strips legal immigration status from some 400,000 people, rendering them deportable if they do not voluntarily leave the country. . . .

If President Trump is not re-elected, a new administration could choose to maintain the program.

The plaintiffs are almost certain to request that the decision be reconsidered by an 11-judge panel hearing the case en banc. They could also ask the Supreme Court to take up the matter.

“It’s a really devastating day for hundreds of thousands of people who have lived and worked in the country lawfully for decades,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress.

Yes, there are issues where a Trump win would be better; for instance Biden favors boosting the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. (BTW, Republican commenters did not believe me when years ago I said the Dems favored a 28% corporate tax rate. I was exactly right.) But this issue pales in importance next to the suffering that Trump would impose on many of our most vulnerable groups.

PS. A few of you are still unwilling to accept the obvious, that the US has become a banana republic. Read this.



36 Responses to “3% of everything is a lot”

  1. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    16. September 2020 at 07:33

    I would support a corporate tax increase specifically to fund “baby bonds” which would cost $20 billion a year and deposit $5k in an account for each baby that is invested in an S&P index fund and grows tax free until age 65. So it would result in around $300k adjusted for inflation at retirement and gets everyone invested in the stock market. If you don’t want to increase the corporate tax you could pay for it with a .1% increase in SS tax from 19-30.

    I wouldn’t pay for the $1 trillion in reparations to descendants of slaves because white Americans got their dream presidents of W Bush and Trump who together blew $10 trillion on Iraq and Afghanistan and incompetently managing the response to the coronavirus…so maybe next time white Americans should take voting for president a little more seriously and not vote for clowns that flush money down a toilet.

  2. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    16. September 2020 at 07:59

    So it is indeed 1968 again, with similar levels of tribalism and division. What’s different, and worse, about today’s world is the Republican/old/white/conservative side no longer thinks it matters to be fair, balanced, serious, adult, classy, democratic, idealistic.

    It’s a Hobbesian war to them, there are no rules and no norms. Just fight and win and accuse the other side of anti-Americanism and treason.

    Sad. But like the 60s it will pass. Not sure how long it will take though. Social media is the x factor and it isn’t going away.

  3. Gravatar of Thomas Hutcheson Thomas Hutcheson
    16. September 2020 at 08:44

    It would be preferable to raise the revenue equivalent of increasing the corporate tax rate by increasing the top rates of the personal income tax and shifting from tax deductions to partial tax credits for tax-favored consumption.

  4. Gravatar of Lizard Man Lizard Man
    16. September 2020 at 08:50

    If the presidency has the powers of an elected caudillo, how can the US be anything other than a banana republic? Electing a Democrat to the presidency doesn’t change the problem that the US constitution gives the country the governing structure of a banana republic.

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. September 2020 at 08:57

    Lizard, Trump is both symptom and cause of our banana republicization, but mostly a symptom.

  6. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    16. September 2020 at 09:26

    @Thomas H: Agreed

    @Lizard: It’s more of a cultural thing than a Constitutional one. In times past, there was a general consensus that the president would be a mature adult, who upheld long standing norms and believed in the American system of government and wanted to do well for the nation, and for his own posterity.

    Over time as technology and other factors remade our society into a more celebrity-obsessed and tribal one, El Presidente now is just that famous guy who “fights” for “my tribe” and norms don’t matter, being mature doesn’t matter. Only winning matters now, and feelings and attacking the other team. Voters want the banana republic.

  7. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    16. September 2020 at 10:00


    Instead of the 1001st blog entry with simple copy-&-paste links about how evil Trump is or isn’t, I would like to read a plausible, rational analysis that could explain why he still has a good chance of becoming president.

    Sean’s (unintended) analysis from two blog entries was a good start: People choose the candidate, Trump or Biden, from whom they are less afraid of, whose actions they don’t (have to) “fear”. Maybe the word “fear” is too strong for the phenomen at hand, and nowadays it has a very negative connotation, but it is actually quite rational.

    This explains the voting behavior of both sides quite accurately, and it’s also a rational explanation.

    Your accumulation of negative character traits and adjectives as an “explanation” for the behavior of the other side is more than childish and reflects on you.

    You might want to reread the story of this Green voter who voted Jill Stein, but now she’s thinking about voting Trump because she had to take a microaggression course. Lol, what an anecdote but it actually fit in. Such anecdotes can provide interesting explanations if one can think about them with an open mind.

    And no, Lizard is of course right, I noticed something similar a few weeks ago. The US got a pretty standard presidential system (with the tweak of an electoral college) and this is typical for any American-style banana republic. It is designed that way, and from that point of view it is way more interesting that it only goes wrong every few years resp. decades.

    I don’t have the whole presidential history since Washington in my head right now, but I strongly suspect that there have been relevant expansions of power through presidents like Jackson, Lincoln, FDR, LBJ, Nixon, and probably many others, term after term. It is quite typical that in such systems the president gains more and more power over decades and centuries.

    It is also not a bad system per se, quite on the contrary, I see the US as a very vital democracy. A system in which there are still disputes, and in which both sides of the population still have a really realistic chance to power.

    Moreover, the terms are limited. Other countries have to endure their ruler for 15 years now and even longer, some people joke longer than Hitler, with the punch line that it’s actually true.

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. September 2020 at 10:35

    Christian, Biden will receive millions more votes than Trump. Trump will win because the president is picked by the EC, not the popular vote. Does that answer your question?

    (Whether the EC is a good idea is a separate question, but that’s why Trump will win.)

  9. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    16. September 2020 at 10:59

    I liked how Trump and Gavin played nice in the sandbox yesterday–even as they both made their points on climate change in the way each likes to make them. I actually felt good about it. I actually felt like there was no hate——It felt NORMAL—I am corny—did not know it—–but it is the way it should be. It made me realize one can disagree and not be evil accusers. I know—lets all be cynical on why they played nice—–I have got 50 reasons myself —-but I don’t care. It still felt good. If you disagree—who cares.

    And for the first time in a while I felt there was a kind of unity—however political it was.

    Having said that——The GOP always wins the popular vote outside of California. Just one of thos things.CALIFORNIA is PART OF AMERICA—-I know that –and 12.5% of the population—–so it “COUNTS” of course. But its not like Trump wins all the teeny tiny states by 2 votes.

  10. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    16. September 2020 at 11:15

    also—you are becoming a bummer on this banana republic thing. Its one thing to play sarcastic and be bombastic for fun—-but you believe it—-honestly I think your view sucks. When Trump or Biden wins and we go to the supreme court and still don’t agree that the other party won, I will say you are right—but even as I admit it could happen—it won’t happen.

  11. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    16. September 2020 at 11:27

    Michael Rulle, the only group of people that have lived in more states than me are military people…I am not sure why the impact of my vote (or Americans in the military) for president should depend on which state I am living in at the time…and nobody has ever made a convincing argument either. Btw, on principle I don’t vote on local ballot measures when I know I won’t be living somewhere long term. So if we had nationwide internet voting for president then many younger people would not register to vote and simply vote for president and that most likely would benefit Republicans down ballot.

  12. Gravatar of Skeptical Skeptical
    16. September 2020 at 13:41


    Prediction posted for posterity: it still won’t matter. Those immigrants (thankfully!!) are not going anywhere. It will be successfully blocked.

    Your 3% assessment of responsibility is about three orders of magnitude too high in my (admittedly worthless) opinion. [My orders of magnitude estimate is based on the completely avoidable fear and emotional turmoil these families are now undergoing, while I am sure they will not be actually forced to leave the country]

    You say Banana Republic, I say low trust society. Trump is indeed a symptom, not a cause.

    To Msgkings, “this too shall pass” may or may not apply. I think the degradation of trust is a one way street but pray you’re right. 1968 was a consequence of war and a youth bulge. We have neither

  13. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    16. September 2020 at 14:12

    Is Trump a symptom of this?

    “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens
    Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page
    Each of four theoretical traditions in the study of American politics—which can be characterized as theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic-Elite Domination, and two types of interest-group pluralism, Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism—offers different predictions about which sets of actors have how much influence over public policy: average citizens; economic elites; and organized interest groups, mass-based or business-oriented. A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. We report on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues. Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism. “

  14. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    16. September 2020 at 14:25


    regarding troll answers you went to a really good school here. I like the answer to a certain degree though, it is funny and so autistic. It’s good when you can make jokes about yourself.

    I just had a drink when I read your answer, then I had to laugh so hard that I spilled water all over the place. Nevertheless, I would have read a real and serious answer as well.

  15. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatics Cartesian Theatics
    16. September 2020 at 14:33

    I did not hear about the immigration order, that is truly terrible. I wish people could see immigration for the successful “foreign aid” policy that it is. No one seems to care about the moral case for immigration. Incidentally, One Billion Americans arrived Yesterday and boy does Matt make a good case for a larger America. I hope it influences the discourse.

    I think most agree we’re in a banana republic, but we have to admit that both sides are seriously terrible. I suppose Biden’s outrageous spending plan is not so important because it’s only a campaign promise, but still almost every aspect of the public-facing left is just terrible. Biden’s campaign must be the worst ever. The Democrats 100% deserve to lose, although yes it would be better if they win.

  16. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    16. September 2020 at 14:57

    Cartesian Theatics,

    Good analysis of Biden’s abstruse election campaign. He runs his campaign as if he wanted to lose on purpose. What kind of advisors does he have, the same as Hillary? “Vote for me because Trump is so evil” is not very convincing when voters want to know why one ought to become president oneself.

    With people like Matthew Yglesias, I don’t understand why they don’t say, let’s annex Mexico. That’s 130 million people in one fast swoop, and it would be a small taste of how fundamental the changes proposed by Yglesias really are.

  17. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatics Cartesian Theatics
    16. September 2020 at 15:51


    Maybe because Mexico is a sovereign nation who’s citizens don’t want to be annexed. I see few instances of pro immigration policies leading to an expansionist government. Granted, it is a little worrisome that the US might pursue an explicitly expansionist agenda out of fear of China. However, being pro immigration is a great way to combat this. Expansionist pressure increases greatly with nationalism.

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. September 2020 at 16:17

    Cartesian, In a banana republic it’s usually the authoritarian nationalists against the socialists.

    You said:

    “I suppose Biden’s outrageous spending plan . . ”

    What about Trump’s outrageous spending reality?

  19. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatics Cartesian Theatics
    16. September 2020 at 17:13


    Trump’s spending is outrageous, granted, but less face it it’s been driven by congress with high bipartisan support. But culturally speaking, the Democrats have abandoned all pretense of caring about the national debt, or how to pay for the programs they propose. They have immense cultural and institutional power, which they have used convince a generation to pay for programs they will never benefit from.

    I think the cultural right is slightly more awake to the problems we face. The left is completely out of touch and seems hellbent on starting a race war. Just look at that recent NYT article naming all the top earners in the US along with their ethnicity. Let’s face it, it may not be long before that converts into a bloodthirsty call to take down the Jews. Regardless, we are creating the conditions for a majority blowback, as happened already in India.

    Have to say, I have more sympathy for Trump fans than I do for woke liberal voters. Trump supporters are like white blood cells that just don’t know how to kill the pathogen they recognize.

  20. Gravatar of Lizard Man Lizard Man
    16. September 2020 at 17:27

    @Christian List

    I think Yglesias is being way more honest than most immigration advocates. One billion Americans sounds ridiculous, and it does sound like radical change, and is meant to sound radical. That is a lot more honest than the typical “the US is a nation of immigrants” malarkey that you normally hear. Yglesias is at least honest in emphasizing that advocating for immigration is also, in effect, advocating for a whole host of other changes as well.

  21. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    16. September 2020 at 19:57


    We do have another youth bulge, the millenials now outnumber the boomers. Throw in lots of unemployed young people, and you get unrest. But we may indeed never go back to being a country of grownups.

  22. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    16. September 2020 at 20:01


    EVERYONE has abandoned pretense of caring about the debt. Republicans only talk about it when the Dems are in charge.

    When they are, it’s as Dick Cheney said, “deficits don’t matter”

  23. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatrics Cartesian Theatrics
    16. September 2020 at 22:12

    off topic, but I take back much of what a said about One Billion Americans now that I’ve read most of it. His proposal got waaaay too socialist, and he doesn’t yet seem to realize that proposals like this one make reasonable immigration policy nearly impossible:

    “Universal health care for all children, paid parental leave for all parents, a “baby-box” program for newborns, and a comprehensive system of childcare and preschool programs”

    The world is not rich enough for this to be morally defensible. Further, the level of coercion and force that he wants to impose on people’s lives really upsets my bone marrow. He seems to like the kinds of programs like school that I loathed with every fiber in my being. Still, good read overall.

  24. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    17. September 2020 at 00:14

    Look, look, over there, it’s ‘Trump v Biden’.

    Don’t look here at the US ‘plutocrats’ and the M.I.C., there is nothing to see!

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. September 2020 at 07:34

    Cartesian, You said:

    “Trump’s spending is outrageous, granted, but less face it it’s been driven by congress with high bipartisan support.”

    You probably don’t follow politics very closely. Trump’s policies have been highly expansionary from day one. Right now he’s pressuring the Senate to put together a bigger package than what the Senate leaders prefer. Trump is hardly an innocent bystander here. He’s a cheerleader for massive deficit spending.

    BTW, the same thing happened under Bush. When I pointed that out early in my blogging career, GOP apologists insisted that the GOP had learned it’s lesson, that the Tea Party had taken over, and that the GOP hap repudiated Bush’s big spending policy. Instead Trump is even worse than Bush. There’s no empirical evidence over the past 50 years that GOP presidents spend less that Democratic presidents; it’s all a myth.

    Watch what they do, not what they say.

  26. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    17. September 2020 at 10:08


    For decades now the pattern is clear. Republicans don’t care AT ALL about spending unless there’s a Democrat in the White House. That’s the only time a politician cares about spending. Then Republicans start pretending they care so hard that they actually take action on the matter. It’s the ONLY time any action is taken. So if you want someone to take action on spending you should vote for a divided government with a Dem in the WH and a GOP legislature. Then Republicans start pretending they care about all kinds of things that they never care about when there’s a Republican in the WH. They pretend they have principles only when there’s a Dem in the WH.

  27. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    17. September 2020 at 11:22

    @Tom Brown:

    Pretty much this, yes. Seems to me the best configuration is indeed Dem president, Rep Congress. 1994-2000, 2010-2016, those were pretty good periods in governance (relative to the others only LOL)

  28. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatrics Cartesian Theatrics
    17. September 2020 at 12:13

    Sure, Republicans politicians spend just as much. But in terms of the kinds of rhetoric that drives the culture, the two sides are not comparable. Sander’s plan was 100 trillion, Biden’s 11 trillion additional over 10 years. They have disastrous, multi-decade infrastructure plans that will be extremely difficult to reverse and will plague politics for decades. Massive inelasticity in the labor market is what ruins economies and destroys growth.

  29. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    17. September 2020 at 16:32


    okay I give you that annexation is the wrong political word these days. Let’s call it differently then, the effect is the same.

    I had an obscure elite project like the EU in mind.

    The people would simply never be allowed to decide directly whether they wanted the project or not. The elites would simply unite the countries, let’s say the US, Canada, and Mexico and anyone else who wants to join in.

    Of course this project would not be that realistic on the American continent, but it is still way simpler and way more realistic than what Yglesias proposes. And it would be a pure elite project, without the democratic risks but plenty of socialism, which would also appeal to Yglesias.

    @Lizard Man
    I have doubts about his honesty since he repeats several times how it would be so easy.

  30. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    17. September 2020 at 16:39


    I also agree with you regarding the deficit. Being interested in the deficit 50% of the time is still more than what the Democrats do.

    You are exactly right again, it’s rhetoric that drives the culture.

    This is also one reason why the GOP has so far been unable to support certain socialist measures. They have rhetorically opposed them too often.

    It should also not be forgotten that the GOP loves to cause huge parts of their “deficit” by cutting taxes. These taxes cannot be reclaimed by the exact same amount later on, even though certain commentators claim this again and again.

  31. Gravatar of PRC PRC
    17. September 2020 at 18:46

    Great post. Slightly offtopic, but fits into that note with Central Americans. There was a funny graph I saw awhile back where it showed that Trump was doing best (around 50+%) support with Central American(MesoAmerican Indigenous Hispanics) versus around 30% with the more “White” Hispanic groups(Venezuelans, Columbians, etc).

    The most bizarre political phenomenon I have seen is that Trump does really well with non-Whites he routinely attacks(Indigenous people, Muslims), but he does bad with groups he doesn’t really overtly attack(East Asians, Jews, African Americans). I think he got 7x more Muslim support in 2016 and 2018 than McCain and Romney.

    Obviously with TPS, this is an extreme attack, but he tried to do it before and he was still relatively popular with those voters, what gives?

  32. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    18. September 2020 at 08:50

    “They have disastrous, multi-decade infrastructure plans that will be extremely difficult to reverse and will plague politics for decades. Massive inelasticity in the labor market is what ruins economies and destroys growth.”

    Yeah, but it won’t happen. Why? If Biden is elected, Republicans will start pretending they care again (they’re not even trying to pretend now). The “grass roots” Tea Party people will dust off their tri-corner hats and pretend right along with them.

    In fact, it’s the only chance that anyone will even try to start pretending again.

  33. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    18. September 2020 at 09:03

    “Being interested in the deficit 50% of the time is still more than what the Democrats do.”

    That 50% correlates precisely with the percentage of time a Dem is in the WH.

  34. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    20. September 2020 at 06:10

    @ Gene Frenkel

    You and I will never agree on the Electoral College. But our opinions are just that. We have had about 30 constitutional amendments, some of them quite significant. If and when enough people agree with you, there will be a movement. As I mentioned, without sarcasm, it is better for you to figure out how to become part of a political group which seeks that change, rather than try to persuade me. Also, be sure you would like that system if the party you like——even as that may change through time——is more likely to lose. If you still want that system you will know your motives are correct. I have been for the EC since I learned of it. Even as I found out states can basically do as they wish in how they allocate the Electoral,College. In fact, I believe “unfaithful electors” is legal. So there are lots of things you can do——but persuading me is not one of them!

  35. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    20. September 2020 at 06:13

    “faithless electors” is the right term. And is constitutional.

  36. Gravatar of Underscore Underscore
    21. September 2020 at 15:04

    It’s called “Temporary Protected Status” for a reason.

Leave a Reply