Have you ever heard of the Monty Hall problem? The name comes from a famous game show called, “Let’s Make a Deal,” hosted by Monty Hall from 1963 to 1986. While the game show was a guilty pleasure for most, one of its games raised the eyebrows of some mathematicians. Contestant picks one of three doors, one concealing a prize and the other two goats, giving the player a 33% chance of winning. The host, knowing what’s behind the doors, then opens up one of the two remaining doors to reveal a goat. The host then gives the contestant the option to switch to the remaining door or stay on their current pick- seemingly a 50-50 decision. However, there is a mathematical advantage to switching doors – doubling the contestant’s chances of winning the prize from 33 percent to 66 percent. This paradox even confounded mathematicians – but it is true that switching doors is that statistically correct choice (you can read more about the Monty Hall Problem here: link).
This might seem like a pointless topic for many, but the Monty Hall paradox can be likened to the choices in our current political system. Thus far on “Let’s Make a Deal” election edition, Americans already know the outcome of doors 1 and 2. They hide politicians indifferent to the nation’s fiscal future, and we have been picking one and then the other for decades. There is, however, door number three. This door has yet to be revealed; by voting with our nation’s economy in mind, we have the power to shape the outcome of this game show. This is not to say avoid voting right now. Our democratic system depends on voter turnout. But while government spending and waste continue to plague our nation, and the deficit continues to grow, candidates from the current two doors continue to prioritize slanderous talking points over proactive, fiscally-focused dialogue.
The most important asset a voter has is knowledge. And since we already know what lies behind the first two doors, here is a summary of each “prize.” Feel free to imagine the voice of your favorite game show announcer.
Door Number One: Republicans
Once hailed as fiscal hawks, Republicans have all but forgotten their once conservative approach to fiscal policy. Despite already deteriorating budget conditions due primarily to the growth an entitled programs, Republicans spent their time in charge exacerbating our fiscal woes with increased defense budgets and sweeping tax cuts under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, in a scenario that maintains current tax and spending policies enacted by the GOP – the 2038 federal debt would be equal to 148% of the GDP – the highest in our nation’s history. In the report, CBO says the numbers were based on the simple idea that government spending is exceeding government revenues, and as time goes on Medicare and Social Security, as well as interest on the government’s debt, will equal 7% of our nation’s total GDP by 2038—up from the current 3.9% in 2018.
Republicans have historically looked to reform social welfare programs to save money, but when Democrats push back, rather than making a clear case to the American people about our unsustainable federal budget, the GOP listens to political operatives that tell them to abandon fiscal responsibility and retreat to more popular election year taglines.
Lastly, Republicans consistently campaign on a platform of strong Defense. With the latest 3%, $21 billion increase in FY 2019 defense spending, and another $68 billion in overseas contingency operations funding for 2019, Republicans lived up to their mantra of supporting the troops. But as Air Force personnel spend over a quarter of a million dollars on coffee cups and Army officials purchasing new handguns well over their market value, increasing the defense budget only seems to encourage the same wasteful habits.
Door Number Two: Democrats and Democratic Socialists
The big news for this midterms is how many seats Democrats might gain. But will a “blue wave” address the problems that were wrought behind door number 1, or make them even worse?
The Social Security actuaries reported this year that the trust fund is losing money year after year and will go bankrupt by 2034. Yet, a rallying cry by Democrats is Social Security expansion. On the party website, the platform cites Social Security as “one of the nation’s most successful and effective programs.” In reality, while Social Security has helped millions of elderly Americans by providing a stable retirement, the immense cost of the program makes it the federal government’s largest annual expense and largest contributor to our federal deficit. The Democratic Party says via their platform page, “we will fight every effort to cut, privatize, or weaken Social Security, including attempts to raise the retirement age.” According to CBO, simply raising the age to receive full social security benefits by two months each birth year with a maximum cap at 70-years-old, would only shrink the program’s outlays by $8 billion over the next decade but would reduce total outlays by 7% by 2046. With projected costs of Social Security to exceed one trillion dollars by 2024, a 7% reduction would save approximately $105 billion in federal spending, and reduce the program’s impact on the GDP from 6.3% to 5.8%.
There has been a popularity surge of “Democratic Socialists”. While most are running on the Democrat ticket, it was an independent named Bernie Sanders who got the ball rolling on this movement. Many establishment Democrats are pushing back against this new political wave; a movement that calls for Medicare for All, minimum wage increases, open borders, free college, and ending capitalism through wealth redistribution. But some Democrat candidates, especially those who risk losing an election over a failure to move further left, have taken up the torch—moving the Democratic party further left into a costlier era.
According to the Urban Institute, Medicare for All would cost a mind-boggling $32 trillion over ten years. And as another Pursuit piece pointed out, “doubling Americans’ taxes wouldn’t even cover” the tab.
Door Number Three: A New Hope
No, not Star Wars—although Yoda might have the ability to turn this ship around. Door number three has yet to yield a prize. It is still closed, and we are being given the option to switch. Our generation of young voters is now larger than the baby-boomers, making us the most influential demographic in the voting booth. Politics is simple. Voting dictates policy. As the nation’s fiscal future becomes more and more grim, we can demand that door number three produce a candidate with our future economy in mind. The next generation of politicians, coming from our generation, will have to shoulder the burden of the failed decisions of past policymakers. This will be felt by our entire generation. But the quicker we commit to fiscally responsible policy, the better off we will be. It’s time to end government waste, fraud, and abuse. Spending should be dictated by revenues, not how much the political class can get away heaping obligations on future taxpayers. Partisan smearing will mean nothing to door number three because money is not red or blue, it is green (but not the same shade as the Green Party).
So we suffer from a Monty Hall problem this midterm – unaware that switching increases our chances of prosperity. And we probably will continue to suffer from it until something like Social Security insolvency, or a nationwide debt crisis hits us in the gut and forces a number of us to consider switching. Luckily, we don’t have to wait for such drastic events to switch. Door number three remains a beacon of hope for what can be the future of politics.
The Millennials and Generation Z will shoulder the burden of whichever door is picked. That being said, we have the most influence over the prize. The options aren’t great this year, and we will certainly have to wait for future elections to see more optimistic choices, but if we focus on the economy and embrace a fiscally conservative approach to voting (not to be confused with voting Conservative), we can adjust the outcomes behind door number three. Switching is in our favor—so says the mathematicians. So, let’s make a deal.