Thursday, April 21, 2011

Getting Things Done

A line at the bottom of Nate Silver’s excellent work on the poker website bust made me think a little bit:
… poker players, who tend to have vaguely libertarian but mostly indifferent views toward politics, may not be aware of how difficult it is to get anything done in Washington, even when there are a number of interests coalescing [in favor of a bill legalizing online poker].

“Some people inside the poker industry are delusional when it comes to the likelihood of legislation,” Mr. Adams said.

If it’s a delusion, it’s an exceedingly reasonable one: the poker players have a decent number of Republicans in favor, they have a powerful patron in Harry Reid, and the casinos et. al. appear to be in favor of it. More to the point, no one in particular seems to be against internet poker. Nevertheless it’s a good bet that nothing will happen and that the delusion characterization is fair; it’s not the poker players who are crazy, it’s Washington after all.

Around the same time as this piece Vivek Wadhwa, a professor at Duke who studies innovation, started complaining about Obama’s unwillingness to push hard for the Startup Visa bill (the bill would create a class of visas to immigrant businessmen who would receive them if they could secure a certain level of investment money). From Wadhwa’s perspective the signs must seem awfully good again: bipartisan support, some big companies enthusiastically lobbying for it…and no one against it. Who dislikes immigrant businessmen creating jobs again?

But the political observer can’t help but be bemused at Wadhwa’s beliefs: the worst thing Obama could do for the Startup Visa bill is actually push hard for it. Because, of course, if Obama were for it, denying it to him would be perceived as a blow and therefore someone would find value in denying it—i.e. Republicans. The less leadership Obama shows on the matter, the better.

This must seem dreadfully ironic and backwards to the casual observer and of course they’d be right to feel this way. Blame the structural incentives, as always.

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