The Clintons, Hotelling’s Law, and its disastrous distortion and misuse by the consultant class

I don’t remember exactly when I arrived at 9000’ – I mean, I remember the circumstances but not the date – but I know that soon after I got here I delivered my opinion that the greatest long-term political threat to the country was the rightward drift (or sprint, at times) of the national Democratic party.

Which I ascribed (and still do) to control of the national party being captured by a relatively new predatory class of political consultants, of whom Mark Penn was and still is the exemplar. This band of deeply subversive wretches had one product to sell: immediate short-term success – success in the next election, no matter what the longer-term cost.  Whether they delivered this success is by the by – in fact their performance has been mixed at best. What is anything but by the by is their unquestionable success in capturing the Democratic side of national elections, presidential and senatorial. The moment of their final and complete capture occurred in the early nineties when the Clintons bought into their methodology lock, stock, and barrel. In fact, they more than bought into it: they extended it to the problem of appearing to govern successfully, of staying popular while in office. The technique they developed has become known as triangulation. This isn’t a terrible name for it, but its basis is more than obsessive compromise, obsessively seeking the mean in every political controversy. Its true basis, which was consciously-advanced consultant dogma, is a strange distortion of Hotelling’s Law, a distortion brought about by the by-now-analyzed-to-death rightward plunge of the Republicans.

Harold Hotelling, who was active from roughly the late twenties to the late sixties, was a titan in the history of statistics. He also more than dabbled in economics, where he provided sound statistical underpinnings for Georgism (aka “Market Socialism”), a late-19th century school of economics that can be thought of as a rigorous theoretical defense of the Commons. One of his contributions to economics goes by the name of Hotelling’s Law and is very well known for a peculiar reason: its conclusions can be accurately conveyed by easily understandable visual analogies, the most famous of which is “the two ice cream sellers at the beach” parable.

If you don’t know it, the two ice cream sellers at the beach parable goes like this. We’ve got maybe a mile-long stretch of beach packed with hot, hungry, thirsty bathers, and two competing ice cream sellers approach it from the landward side. Where will they set up their carts and start selling? They will naturally, instinctively cut the beach into thirds and each will take a position halfway between one of the outer segments and the center segment – like this:

Fig 1: (a)———X———Y———(b)

where X and Y represent the ice cream sellers and (a) and (b), the left and right boundaries of the beach.  In terms of the market, X owns the segment on the left and Y owns the segment on the right, but toward the middle of the center segment they compete, because the bathers there are more or less equidistant from both of them. This is therefore an unstable configuration because, X and Y being competitors, each will naturally attempt to encroach on the other’s sales by moving closer to the center. Eventually they will wind up in this stable configuration:

Fig 2: (a)————-XY————-(b)

As one popular explanation puts it, “Ever noticed how refrigerators in the same price range look almost identical from brand to brand? Or why car dealerships all tend to pop up along the same stretch of road? Or even why the menus at McDonalds and Burger King are hard to tell apart?”

This is also a pretty good picture of the American electoral landscape circa, say, 1960. Both parties are relentlessly centrist, but marginally, the Democratic X is still the party of the left and vice versa. If there is to be movement, it will seem easiest for voters at (a) to drag X leftward and for voters at (b) to drag Y rightward. As disappointing as their distance from X is to the (a)-people, X is still closer to them than is Y, and more importantly, the voters between (a) and X are far more congenial to the (a)-dwellers than are the voters between Y and (b).

There’s some sound math at work behind Figures 1 and 2. I mention it because we’re going to leave it behind us very soon, since now comes the great distortion. Independently of the apparent market forces, the (b)-dwellers are able to pull Y rightward – while at the same time, the (a)-dwellers’ faint grip on X grows ever weaker. Suddenly we go from Figure 2 to

Fig 3: (a)————-X—Y———-(b)

and then very quickly to

Fig 4: (a)—————X-Y———-(b)

as X moves to gobble up some of the ideological territory that Y has abandoned. This sequence repeats itself until the end of the Reagan era, when we’re approximately at

Fig 5: (a)——————-X—-Y—(b)

as Y continues its rightward march and market forces push X into the territory Y has vacated.

At this point the pseudo-statistically-adept Democratic consulting class emerges (from more or less thin air) to quickly convince the party elders (and especially Mr. and Mrs. Clinton) that the optimal configuration for them is now

Fig 6: (a)———————XY—(b)

In no time at all, the Democrats adopt this consultant-authored rule: whenever Y moves ever so slightly to the right, X must immediately follow step for step. Because X’s rightward creep will be risk-free: X will lose no one on its left but will keep picking up voters to its right.

Now if this theory were in fact true, Al Gore would have beaten George Bush in an historically unprecedented landslide. But he won by only a very small and, it turned out, insufficient margin. It didn’t matter: the consultants were by now so firmly embedded that not even a kick in the balls from reality itself could dislodge them. By 2016 the consultants believed they were facing this enticing prospect

Fig 7: (a)————————XY(b)

as, first, the Koch-class and their tea-head shock troops kept booting the GOP ever rightward and, second, Hillary followed mercilessly and triumphantly in their wake. But in fact what happened was something, that if we hold onto the by-now-ought-to-be-thoroughly-discredited beach model, is not only very different but close to impossible:

Fig 8: (a)————————XY………………….………(b)

In other words (or in words, period) a wholly unexpected mass of voters, the dot (“…”) people, swarmed onto the beach and crowded in to the right of Y and somehow occupied a stretch of beach that no ice cream seller had ever noticed before. Consultant-world, which is still synonymous with Clinton-world, is struggling to explain Figure 8. Who are these mystery voters? Where did they come from? What do they want? And most of all, how do we make them ours?

This is horseshit. It’s been horseshit since before Figure 3, which is where the pretty pictures began to jettison the sound mathematical foundations of Figures 1 and 2. But until now it’s been saleable horseshit. The question remains, have we yet reached the point where it stinks enough that the horseshit buyers will decide to kick the horseshit sellers back to their hedge funds and real estate development deals?

Let’s try to answer that question.


In my next installment, which will arrive in this very place somewhere between a day and a month from now, I will look at this from the triple context of the famous Overton Window, Bernie Sanders’ stump-delivered agenda, and the Democrats’ theoretically promising but pathetically weak and casual Better Deal. I will argue that a much fleshed-out Better Deal (call it what you like) based on a much fleshed-out and small-d democratically debated agenda like Sanders’ would have a realistic chance of moving the Overton Window back to where it was circa 1946. I will argue (or just note that I’m taking it for granted) that when the program is ready, the candidates will appear.


In my third installment (to be delivered whenever), I will discuss how the mechanisms of the gigantic but rarely analyzed state-capitalist sector of the US economy (which I’ve worked around for thirty years and which paid me directly for twenty) can be applied to three items that will inevitably appear on that hypothetical, Sanders-like national agenda: jobs (i.e., good jobs, and where they’re needed), climate change and other environmental catastrophes, and infrastructure restoration and replacement. I will argue that a single prescription (and only a single prescription) can address all three of those problems far more successfully than the usually-proposed-and-hardly-ever-enacted timorous and piecemeal proposals that we’ve become used to hearing about – and used to seeing fail time and again (usually in congress, well before they’re actually attempted). I will argue that in the seventy-five years since 1942, the Department of Defense has slowly and clumsily evolved downright magnificent techniques of planning, management, and control that can fairly easily be adapted to socially useful projects of the scale of missile, aircraft, and submarine acquisitions – projects that, when combined, really can begin to address those problems effectively.

15 Responses to The Clintons, Hotelling’s Law, and its disastrous distortion and misuse by the consultant class

  1. bluthner says:

    Blair aped the Clinton tactics (as described above) and fucked his country well up in the process, all the way down to making Brexit conceivable. And he’s still hovering around out there, with his mad angry eye, sqwaking like a hoarse old crow from the sidelines that drinking that Mark Penn Koolaide is still the only possible way to put Labour back in power. And most of the Labour parliamentary party is still singing along with him.

  2. StillBernie says:

    You need any help with the essential marketing and the rich field of consumer behavior (required psychology for junior year hucksters and flackers, Expat touched on it briefly back on the Marketing thread), I’m here to help. Also any of the other econ.

    As for the Clinton/ Blair/ House Flippers/ Penn/ Obama / Pelosi / Feinstein/ DNC / DCCC / DSCC third way – they like the money and the smug points to boot, simple as that. That’s why they roll with the rightward triangulation, they found a way to get to make and keep the money while wrapping themselves in virtue. Deflect, deflect, deflect. And gfl trying to tear it out of their filthy hands.

    Told y’all that back at the start of the milennium, i was a Democrat. And a New Yorker. Somehow, in a state of 33 million (mostly) fine people, it was buzzed to us, and then we were informed, that the best candidate for our new Senator was going to be the carpetbagging hosebag wife of the exiting potus. Backed by every sleazebag politician in the state, and every butthurt divorcee on the Upper West Side whose hubby dumped them for a newer model. And as Dems, we were supposed to just roll with the program and show up. I gave them back their D, and took an I instead and my vote along with it. Best political decision i ever made. But anyone pretending to be shocked that Brazile exposed gambling in the casino is either disingeneous or just an idiot. Or complicit.

  3. StillBernie says:

    and btw, that’s no implicit defense of Republicans, who are guilty of the exact same thing. Their idea of virtue is just different than the Dems.

  4. StillBernie says:

    Small joke is that back in 2000,it was supposed to be Nita Lowey’s turn for the Senate, but Clinton fubar’d that, she was told to gtf out of the way. Her district now in NYS’s 17th, which Chippaqua falls in. She’s 80 years old not, and still refuses to retire and gtf out of the way so Chelsea can run.

  5. StillBernie says:

    And yeah, the model has totally gone to hell, because now it looks like this – and where the fuck did those folks come from.

    Fig 9: (a)……………………————————XY………………….………(b)

  6. StillBernie says:

    In other news, looks like Flynn is next on deck.

  7. NatashaFatale says:


    Tangential to the subject of marketing, there are three horrible, disaster-guaranteeing mistakes that have been made over and over again and are by now proven to doom any movement to reform the Democrat party back into an institution that advances its constituents’ wants and needs:

    1. Espousing any program at all that requires a majority of voters to learn a significant body of new (to them) facts and to think in new and unfamiliar (to them) ways. A relative few can always do this; a relative few never can; and the rest can only do it on those rare occasions when they see an obvious reason to try. Thus, for instance, “Single-payer healthcare makes the most economic and business sense” is, though true, a losing argument, while “Single-payer healthcare offers the most benefits to the most people at the cheapest cost” is a potential winner – because voters are already concerned about healthcare benefits, coverage, and cost.

    2. Tying hopes for reform to particular individual politicians, no matter how much they seem to be paragons of every desirable political virtue. I will go to my grave believing that, as politicians go, Obama is a great guy – but no one whose constituency is what you call the donor class and no one whose agenda is congenial to what I call the consulting class can ever, ever be the president that the great problems of his day actually call for.

    3. Tying hopes for reform to the professional managerial political class, meaning, roughly, the DNC, the RNC, and their numerous appendages. Really good managers can implement policies that others have thought up, but they are not and can never become the sources of those policies. This is why, for instance, reform of the DNC itself, however necessary it may be, can never be the reform the party needs most – the party as an institution, I mean, not the party as the combined political efforts of millions of people.

    This (# 3) is a uniquely Democratic problem. It’s a problem that the Republicans (and so much the worse for them) don’t have. Their objectives have been clearly laid out for them by their employers. You will do everything we tell you to do to advance our economic interests. Beyond that, you will do everything you can to stay in power and keep our class enemies content in their subjugation by us – but these secondary objectives we’ll leave in your own capable hands, just as long as those hands remain capable and you yourselves remain effective stewards of our interests. The sheer nastiness of this program and the sheer ruthlessness with which it is implemented have served to effectively obscure from most of the people who imagine that the Democratic party supports their wishes the fact that it no longer has any equivalent, coherent, and beyond-merely-tactical program of action of its own.

  8. StillBernie says:

    1) There’s more going on than that. In terms of sales and marketing to the base. Because it requires a whole lot more than getting people to just think in new ways. They have to learn to behave in new ways, they have to learn to accept new things, not just mentally or belief-wise, but in ways that will change their actual lives. And not in a way they want, at all. That’s a rough fucking sell, that i don’t think can be pulled off. There is shit that you are just not going to sell to the nimby brigade.

    2) Yep. Here’s my litmus test. Could Trump’s “platform”, as he ran on it, be taken over by another politician? Absolutely. Could Sanders’? You bet. Could Clinton’s? Nope. Because there was no platform, the product was her.

    3) I think the DNC is ultimately toast. I think Bernie and Keith and Lizzie are in lala land when they double down on saying we have to reform the DNC or the party. You are not going to get a party of the people anymore when there is such hideous inequality up and down the ranks. And they’re not needed for money anymore, they don’t have any and they aren’t going to get any. Nancy can’t herd her cats anymore. And the reasons for all of this go back to 1), and that’s a whole nother wormhole of its own. That i don’t have the time to go down right now. But i might after another of your long posts.

  9. NatashaFatale says:


    Re: “… it requires a whole lot more than getting people to just think in new ways.” I think you ought to read my # 1 again. Because I said that “Espousing any program at all that requires a majority of voters to learn a significant body of new (to them) facts and to think in new and unfamiliar (to them) way” was one of the things, far from being necessary, is “proven to doom any movement to reform the Democrat party back into an institution that advances its constituents’ wants and needs.” We’ve seen very few instances in the history of the world where people on a large scale have fairly quickly taken up new ways of thinking: the first few decades of Marxism, the first few decades after the French revolution, the first few decades of the reformation, the first fifty or so years of the rise of Islam – maybe a few others as well. But I don’t think we’ve ever seen it happen in a period as short as from the last presidential election to the next one.

  10. StillBernie says:

    True, i did read it wrong. But. I think that “…proven to doom any movement to reform the Democrat party back into an institution that advances its constituents’ wants and needs.” begs something too – i think their “constituents” (or “base” is probably more accurate) aren’t who they think they are anymore. Do they even know?

    Back to what Gunny said on the last thread, where i said Trump won because of jobs and he said that his neighbors stocking up on ammo were what got Trump there. Those guys were never going to be Democrat voters. But, the Dems lost PA, WI, and MI. They voted for Obama both times, the racist card ain’t going to play. Bernie won the primaries in WI and MI (PA was closed). Oh, so they’re misogynist then? Don’t think that will play either. Are they Democrat constituents / base? What about Indies and Berners like me. What about the butts on couches. Whose constituents are they? I don’t even have an answer for you, but i think the Dems can’t really count them as anything but very tentively potential constituents/voters/base.

  11. StillBernie says:

    Somehow over a number of election cycles, i can’t even pinpoint where it started, the Democrat party morphed to one who coughed up an agenda (with the help of your consultants), and then tried to browbeat the electorate into voting for it / them. No fucking wonder they keep getting their asses kicked. They seem to have lost the notion that their job as politicians and as a party is to cough up an agenda that the people want to vote for and that serves their interests.

    Want to save the DNC, your best bet is to kick out Perez and hire Howie pronto. Dude genuinely gets it. Said the DNC keeps crafting these messages that go nowhere because they have nfc how the people they’re trying to reach actually live their lives.

  12. Squirrel says:

    Why would two rival ice cream sellers naturally divide the beach into thirds?

  13. bluthner says:


    I think they are splitting the beach in half and each posting their stands in the middle of their respective halves, if I read the diagram correctly. That would make sense if what they were trying to do was a.) split the beach evenly, and b.) placing their stands where no one would have to walk more than a quarter of the length of the beach to get ice cream.

  14. NatashaFatale says:


    This was an extrapolation from sample economic data – and I know nothing about Hotelling’s data, though I imagine he must have published it. But the psychological explanation he posited is that sellers will always initially seek to maximize the open territory surrounding themselves – the territory in which they have no competition.

  15. StillBernie says:

    Somebody is starting to think properly. Hallelujah, it’s a start anyway.

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