Winner-take-all politics?

中国日报网 2012-10-30 15:47



Winner-take-all politics?

Reader question:

Please explain “winner-take-all politics”.

My comments:

Winner takes all.

That is what winner-take-all politics means, basically. It is a type of politics that heavily rewards winners, giving little to losers. The winner of a political struggle gets, say, all the credit, gains and glory while the loser gets none of these and other things. In other words, no consolation prize for his troubles. No, no consolation at all. No nothing.

Take the American election, for example, the winner of more electoral seats wins the election, the whole thing. The loser gets nothing. All the seats he’s won go to naught.

That’s just an example, which, I hope, suffice.

At any rate, the idea of winner-take-all is the phrase in question. And I’d like to use the game of boxing to illustrate the point further, in situations where WINNERS of a competition are allowed to TAKE ALL the prizes on offer.

Boxers are also known as fighters, or prize fighters as they fight for a particular prize. Prize money, yes, that’s it, which is also called the purse, i.e. a purse full of money.

Sometimes the two boxers agree to split the purse, i.e. to split the purse right in the middle, allowing each to get 50%, or half of the prize money on offer. Other times, the two boxers agree to allow one of the two boxers to get a bigger slice of the pie due to many obvious reasons. You know, one of them is more established, better known and is the one that draws the crowd. One time, for instance, the late Joe Frazier was offered to split a $6 million purse with Mohammad Ali for a third fight between the two old foes. Frazier refused, noting that he was the reigning heavy weight champion which should entitle him a much greater share of the money. Ali, on the other hand, argued that he was the one that sold the tickets. Without him, reasoned Ali, who to this day calls himself “The Greatest”, Frazier couldn’t draw a fly or something like that.

Anyways, sometimes boxers agree to allow one of them to take a bigger slice of the pie, say, 70, 80, or 90 percent of the prize money. Occasionally, though, they will agree to fight a so-called winner-take-all contest, in which both fighters agree to let the winner takes all the money on offer.

And that’s one of the many real-world situations where “winner-take-all” happens. The term is more often used metaphorically, though, to describe any situation where some people are allowed to get all or most of the spoils at the expense of others, um, the losers.

Alright, without further ado, let’s read a few media examples to get a better feel of winner-take-all in context:

1. World boxing champ Manny Pacquiao is ready to face American boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a winner-takes-all match.

The Filipino boxer made this statement during his pre-fight tradition of guesting on the American late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last week.

During the show, host Jimmy Kimmel proposed that Pacquiao and Mayweather face off in a boxing match where the winner will get all the money.

“Rather than any issue on financial considerations on who gets what, winner takes all, winner gets all the money. Would you sign up for a deal like that?” Kimmel told the Filipino boxing superstar on the show.

Pacquiao answered the television host’s question by saying, “Of course.”

He however added that he does not think Mayweather will agree to such arrangement.

- Pacquiao ready to face Mayweather in winner-take-all match,, November 6, 2011.

2. The weeks since the November elections could be a case study in the premise of Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s latest collaboration, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.

In November and December -- two years after the collapse of financial markets and with “the experts” arguing over whether the economy was still declining or was in a jobless recovery -- the center-stage political fight was not so much whether or not to extend tax cuts to the richest Americans, but how fast those cuts could be renewed.

The tax cuts were approved despite a president and a majority in Congress pledged to opposing them and polling data showing that most Americans opposed them.

How this could happen is the story of Winner-Take-All Politics...

A key message of Pierson and Hacker’s book is that the economy is constructed by government action and inaction. The economy is not in its current state because of global economic trends, they write. We have brought this on ourselves. Choosing to keep government out of economic activity -- such as nonregulated derivative markets -- is as much a political choice as passing tax cuts that enrich the already wealthy. Until we clearly see that, Pierson and Hacker argue, “many of the most effective reforms will evade our sight.”

Yet in this message is also hope.

“Because it is domestic politics, not global economic trends, that matter most, the future is within our control. This is the truly good news that this book delivers. As hard as winner-take-all politics will be to change, the economic developments that precipitated our present crisis represent political choices, not technological imperatives.”

Making government more responsive to the middle class will not be just a political achievement, it would reshape the economy, they write.

- The many losers of winner-take-all-politics,, January 12, 2011.

3. There is another, larger “counterfactual” to consider—the one represented by Obama’s Republican challenger, Willard Mitt Romney. The Republican Party’s nominee is handsome, confident, and articulate. He made a fortune in business, first as a consultant, then in private equity. After running for the Senate in Massachusetts, in 1994, and failing to unseat Edward Kennedy, Romney relaunched his public career by presiding successfully over the 2002 Winter Olympics, in Salt Lake City. (A four-hundred-million-dollar federal bailout helped.) From 2003 to 2007, he was the governor of Massachusetts and, working with a Democratic legislature, succeeded in passing an impressive health-care bill. He has been running for President full time ever since.

In the service of that ambition, Romney has embraced the values and the priorities of a Republican Party that has grown increasingly reactionary and rigid in its social vision. It is a party dominated by those who despise government and see no value in public efforts aimed at ameliorating the immense and rapidly increasing inequalities in American society. A visitor to the F.D.R. Memorial, in Washington, is confronted by these words from Roosevelt’s second Inaugural Address, etched in stone: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide for those who have too little.” Romney and the leaders of the contemporary G.O.P. would consider this a call to class warfare. Their effort to disenfranchise poor, black, Hispanic, and student voters in many states deepens the impression that Romney’s remarks about the “forty-seven per cent” were a matter not of “inelegant” expression, as he later protested, but of genuine conviction.

Romney’s conviction is that the broad swath of citizens who do not pay federal income tax—a category that includes pensioners, soldiers, low-income workers, and those who have lost their jobs—are parasites, too far gone in sloth and dependency to be worth the breath one might spend asking for their votes. His descent to this cynical view—further evidenced by his selection of a running mate, Paul Ryan, who is the epitome of the contemporary radical Republican—has been dishearteningly smooth. He in essence renounced his greatest achievement in public life—the Massachusetts health-care law—because its national manifestation, Obamacare, is anathema to the Tea Party and to the G.O.P. in general. He has tacked to the hard right on abortion, immigration, gun laws, climate change, stem-cell research, gay rights, the Bush tax cuts, and a host of foreign-policy issues. He has signed the Grover Norquist no-tax-hike pledge and endorsed Ryan’s winner-take-all economics.

But what is most disquieting is Romney’s larger political vision. When he said that Obama “takes his political inspiration from Europe, and from the socialist democrats in Europe,” he was not only signalling Obama’s “otherness” to one kind of conservative voter; he was suggesting that Obama’s liberalism is in conflict with a uniquely American strain of individualism. The theme recurred when Romney and his allies jumped on Obama’s observation that no entrepreneur creates a business entirely alone (“You didn’t build that”). The Republicans continue to insist on the “Atlas Shrugged” fantasy of the solitary entrepreneurial genius who creates jobs and wealth with no assistance at all from government or society.

If the keynote of Obama’s Administration has been public investment—whether in infrastructure, education, or health—the keynote of Romney’s candidacy has been private equity, a realm in which efficiency and profitability are the supreme values. As a business model, private equity has had a mixed record. As a political template, it is stunted in the extreme. Private equity is concerned with rewarding winners and punishing losers. But a democracy cannot lay off its failing citizens. It cannot be content to leave any of its citizens behind—and certainly not the forty-seven per cent whom Romney wishes to fire from the polity.

Private equity has served Romney well—he is said to be worth a quarter of a billion dollars. Wealth is hardly unique in a national candidate or in a President, but, unlike Franklin Roosevelt—or Teddy Roosevelt or John Kennedy—Romney seems to be keenly loyal to the perquisites and the presumptions of his class, the privileged cadre of Americans who, like him, pay extraordinarily low tax rates, with deductions for corporate jets. They seem content with a system in which a quarter of all earnings and forty per cent of all wealth go to one per cent of the population. Romney is among those who see business success as a sure sign of moral virtue.

The rest of us will have to take his word for it. Romney, breaking with custom, has declined to release more than two years of income-tax returns—a refusal of transparency that he has not afforded his own Vice-Presidential nominee. Even without those returns, we know that he has taken advantage of the tax code’s gray areas, including the use of offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands. For all his undoubted patriotism, he evidently believes that money belongs to an empyrean far beyond such territorial attachments.

But holding foreign bank accounts is not a substitute for experience in foreign policy. In that area, he has outsourced his views to mediocre, ideologically driven advisers like Dan Senor and John Bolton. He speaks in Cold War jingoism. On a brief foray abroad this summer, he managed, in rapid order, to insult the British, to pander crudely to Benjamin Netanyahu in order to win the votes and contributions of his conservative Jewish and Evangelical supporters, and to dodge ordinary questions from the press in Poland. On the thorniest of foreign-policy problems—from Pakistan to Syria—his campaign has offered no alternatives except a set of tough-guy slogans and an oft-repeated faith in “American exceptionalism.”

In pursuit of swing voters, Romney and Ryan have sought to tamp down, and keep vague, the extremism of their economic and social commitments. But their signals to the Republican base and to the Tea Party are easily read: whatever was accomplished under Obama will be reversed or stifled. Bill Clinton has rightly pointed out that most Presidents set about fulfilling their campaign promises. Romney, despite his pose of chiselled equanimity, has pledged to ravage the safety net, oppose progress on marriage equality, ignore all warnings of ecological disaster, dismantle health-care reform, and appoint right-wing judges to the courts. Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices are in their seventies; a Romney Administration may well have a chance to replace two of the more liberal incumbents, and Romney’s adviser in judicial affairs is the embittered far-right judge and legal scholar Robert Bork. The rightward drift of a court led by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito—a drift marked by appalling decisions like Citizens United—would only intensify during a Romney Presidency. The consolidation of a hard-right majority would be a mortal threat to the ability of women to make their own decisions about contraception and pregnancy, the ability of institutions to alleviate the baneful legacies of past oppression and present prejudice, and the ability of American democracy to insulate itself from the corrupt domination of unlimited, anonymous money. Romney has pronounced himself “severely conservative.” There is every reason to believe him.

The choice is clear. The Romney-Ryan ticket represents a constricted and backward-looking vision of America: the privatization of the public good. In contrast, the sort of public investment championed by Obama—and exemplified by both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Care Act—takes to heart the old civil-rights motto “Lifting as we climb.” That effort cannot, by itself, reverse the rise of inequality that has been under way for at least three decades. But we’ve already seen the future that Romney represents, and it doesn’t work.

The reelection of Barack Obama is a matter of great urgency. Not only are we in broad agreement with his policy directions; we also see in him what is absent in Mitt Romney—a first-rate political temperament and a deep sense of fairness and integrity. A two-term Obama Administration will leave an enduringly positive imprint on political life. It will bolster the ideal of good governance and a social vision that tempers individualism with a concern for community. Every Presidential election involves a contest over the idea of America. Obama’s America—one that progresses, however falteringly, toward social justice, tolerance, and equality—represents the future that this country deserves.

- The Choice,, October 29, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Man of the world

Romney sticking to his guns

Cut from the same cloth?

That particular bridge?

Informed decision?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)

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