Wednesday, December 7, 2016

People Worry Too Much about the Result of One Election

Here is one example from a whole genre:
Whether or not Trump can or should attempt to reverse the decline in manufacturing jobs is not the big story here. He can’t. The real story is that he continues to tap into the anger of his voters about being left behind. That will give him much more power than our criticisms will take away.

Politicians, aided by economists, have long ignored the negative impacts of trade-induced structural change. Indeed, they have even cheered it on. After all, the process “releases resources” for use in other, more productive parts of the economy. Those workers are just “low-skilled” workers. The US needs more “high-skilled” workers anyway.

Fact: Workers hate being referred to as “low-skilled.”

How we respond to Trump is important. If we simply fall back on our standard numbers, we lose. If we confidently predict that TPP is a big win because it will add 0.5% to GDP by 2030, we lose. If we just use this as an opportunity to reiterate the importance of a college degree, we lose. We have been doing this for decades, and it helped deliver Trump to office.
I think this is hysteria.

Elections do matter; I wish Trump weren't about to be President. But just because things are important doesn't mean they have any deep meaning in historical terms, or that we have much control over them. In fact lots of really important events, from the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, have been pretty much random.

Trump won the election because of a bunch of transient factors that have no relationship to the long-term direction of the country: fear of terrorism, Hillary's unpopularity, a reaction against eight years of Obama, slow job growth in a handful of key states, Facebook's current news algorithm, Trump's personal rapport with a certain sort of working class voter, etc. Exit polls showed that a substantial majority of Americans favors free trade, so it is not clear to me what would be accomplished by aligning the Democratic party with anti-trade forces just because we lost one election.

If support for protectionism and other ways of propping up dying industrial regions is so important, then why have voters in those states been electing Tea Party Republicans to Congress? Somebody like Michigan representative Justin Amash is a free-trader absolutely opposed to any sort of program for helping workers who lose their jobs – really for any program that helps anybody. To think that something like trade policy effects votes is to make people out as far more rational than they really are.

Democrats absolutely need to tone down the contempt for working class folks, and it would be nice to have a candidate who resonates better with those voters. But there are other ways of showing support for the working class than protectionism. After all, Obama and Bill Clinton did very well with those same voters without saying a word about Chinese competition.

8 comments:

G. Verloren said...

1/2

Democrats absolutely need to tone down the contempt for working class folks, and it would be nice to have a candidate who resonates better with those voters. But there are other ways of showing support for the working class than protectionism. After all, Obama and Bill Clinton did very with those same voters without saying a word about Chinese competition.

To be honest, I don't understand where this notion of the "elite coastals" showing all that much "contempt for the working class" comes from, and I find it very hard to sympathize with these people.

They don't like being called "low-skilled" workers? What kind of ridiculous nonsense is that? How is that even remotely offensive to these people? How absurdly thin must their skin be, to be bothered by such a mundane and innocuous term?

And these are overwhelmingly the sort of people going out and railing against political correctness! These are the people who want to be able to toss around words like "retard", "faggot", "nigger", "pussy", "bitch", "whore", "cunt", et cetera, and never have anyone speak a breath against them for it! These are the people who mock those who want "safe spaces" for being "special snowflakes"! These are the people who routinely subsist on a cultural diet of hatred, violence, and cruelty! And yet they can't handle being called "low-skilled" workers? What utter insanity is this?

Contempt for the working class? They think the Democrats are the ones showing contempt for them? The people whose "evil liberal agenda" consists of protecting people's rights, guaranteeing everyone proper healthcare and education, and giving assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable parts of society?

These people rail against liberals for promoting "socialized healthcare", and in the same breath demand that their Medicare and Social Security benefits be preserved! Then they vote for the political party that has been trying for decades straight to dismantle our government welfare programs! The hypocrisy and double standards are staggering!

G. Verloren said...

2/2

And talk about contempt for the working class! These are the very people who absolutely, undeniably hate the poor!

They somehow think the homeless and the desperate are just lazy; that the poor and downtrodden are only that way because of their own failings and thus deserve their fates; that if people don't like being miserable they should just work harder and be "better people"! Giving help and assistance to the poor just reinforces their failings and keeps them poor! The only way to success is for them to toughen up, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and achieve it honestly for themselves!

The key here, naturally, is that these people don't consider themselves to be among the poor.

Of course they don't think of themselves that way - they're not the poor, they're the working class! See, because the poor don't work! No, the poor are a bunch of lazy and immoral parasites who deserve to suffer for their wickedness!

But they, the working class, are the proud and noble salt of the earth, the honest and hardworking backbone of America, and they deserve nothing but great things! And they are being unduly robbed by the corrupt liberals who are stealing their hard earned wages with unfair taxes and then wasting that money by giving it to the undeserving poor!

And bubbling away underneath this twisted reasoning is a fetid mixture of racism, xenophobia, and patriarchy cementing it all in place. Who exactly are the contempible poor? Blacks! Asians! Latinos! Muslims! They come to America to steal from the working class - id est, from the White Christian Men, a.k.a. real Americans!

And all those gay hippy communist liberal coastal elites love them for it! And they go around spreading their sinister agenda everywhere they can! They send the poor flooding into our local economies and communities, stealing our jobs and even our homes! They let Muslims pour into this country in order to tear down our Christian values! They turn our young girls against us with their absurd talk of "gender equality", and they turn our young boys into faggots with their "weaponized sensitivity"! They even turn our own language against us, using "political correctness" to control how we are allowed to speak and think!

It's a conspiracy, I tell you! The noble Herrenvol- ... I mean, working class are under attack by the disgusting poor and their fat cat liberal overlords! And I for one am appalled - utterly disgusted! - that they would ever do something as monstrous as calling us "low-skilled" workers, just because we perform labor that requires a miminal amount of training and education to carry out! How dare they!

pithom said...

"Somebody like Michigan representative Justin Amash is a free-trader absolutely opposed to any sort of program for helping workers who lose their jobs – really for any program that helps anybody."

-His district did not vote for Trump in the primary, and probably did not trend towards him in the general. If it did, it was because of hatred for Hillary more than due to love of Trump. Not all Michigan is the same. West Michigan may as well be Canada to me.

pithom said...

"Contempt for the working class? They think the Democrats are the ones showing contempt for them? The people whose "evil liberal agenda" consists of protecting people's rights, guaranteeing everyone proper healthcare and education, and giving assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable parts of society?"

-Do you seriously think Hillary had any realistic plans for these? She did not. Paul Ryan is not Bernie Sanders. A unified Republican government had far more realistic prospects for working-class advancement than a divided Democratic one.

John said...

Unified Republican rule just means more of the same "neo-liberal" economic policies that got us where we are now. Since Reagan we have had lots of what Paul Ryan wants: free trade, low taxes, reduced regulation. The result has been economy that is exciting and dynamic but highly unfair, dangerously unstable (see 2008), and hell on workers in old manufacturing towns. What workers in Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia are unhappy about is the result of past Republican policies. How is more of the same going to help them? Cutting corporate taxes might help a little, but only a little, and cutting income taxes on the rich will not help at all. At this point environmental regulations are a non factor, even for coal production, as I have documented here extensively.

I completely agree that Democrats don't have policies that will reverse the decline of these places either, but at least the Democrats are offering health care subsidies and help with student loans. Paul Ryan is offering America's workers exactly nothing.

What Trump is offering remains to be seen, but so far the indications are not promising.

David said...

@John

I wonder if I detect in your original post a whiff of that old British "nothing to see here" historiography that we have both decried in these pages. Cromwell was simply a typical Stuart-era squire (or whatever) and Hitler just a traditional German statesman. Nothing to see here. I make no predictions, but I certainly sense in Trump the possibility of a Black Swan.

Here's a scenario I just ran across in the comment thread to a Tom Edsall article; the author calls this "the internal view of a major American bank":

"Their view is that Trump will spur a short-term economic free-for-all and euphoria that will conclude with yet another disastrous crash - but this time, thanks to all the tax cuts and wasted spending, the government and FED will be powerless to do much about it, and a new Great Depression will set in."

Is this not a plausible and rather worrying scenario?

For myself, I'm troubled by the legitimacy the election seems to have given to shrillness and vulgarism in American life, not to mention racism, rat-pack sexism, etc. I wonder what politically effective means can be found to bring us back to the Better Angels of Our Nature. Or, to mix my presidents, who can bring back a sort of FDR, fireside chat, Fanfare-for-the-Common-Man kind of politics, which I miss.

John said...

David, yes, it is certainly possible that Trump's term will be a disaster; I worry about Michael Flynn and some of the other snakes on his foreign/military policy team, who would love a war with Iran.

I am not sure what to think about the economic situation. On the whole I am more comfortable with Trump than I would be with Mike Pence or Ted Cruz, because I think Trump will hesitate before dismantling Medicare and slashing Social Security. But maybe Trump will end up being a disaster in some other way. But maybe not; the official position of my corporate higher ups is that we need to position ourselves to get our cut of the trillion dollars Trump says he wants to spend on infrastructure.

The point of this post is not to say that Trump isn't so bad, it's to say that he did not win because Democrats have been too pro trade. Many smart people pointed out before the election that Trump's victory showed a real problem with our electoral system in that a demagogue can capture a party nomination with the strong support of a small minority, but because the country is so partisan all the rest of your party will vote for you anyway. America is poised on a partisan razor's edge, so any combination of random or semi-random things (e.g., a major terrorist attack, or Hillary's email server) can tip the balance.

I do not believe that white workers in declining towns are the new power in America. Trump won because in the end almost all normal Republicans voted for him. If there is something disturbing in our situation, it is right there. Why didn't more Republicans recoil from Trump in the way that George Will and other conservative moralists did? I would say it is because they are largely indifferent to politics at anything but a superficial level, and they simply don't believe that any leader from a major party can really be that bad. We are spoiled by a generation of prosperous stability.

It puzzles me that most people simply hate the other party so much that they will overlook any amount of bad behavior by their own candidate. I am not sure what that is, but I think the level of support Trump got from Republicans proves that it is so.

I suspect that more and more people are just voting their identities, regardless of what the candidates say, because who wins doesn't seem to make that much difference in practical terms. Because neither party can get a commanding majority, neither can enact much of its agenda, and things just trundle along. The Republicans can't enact Social Security privatization, and the Democrats can't enact single-payer health care, so instead they just fiddle tax rates up and down a few points and wrangle over Wall Street regulations that not one in a thousand Americans understands. People will break their current pattern and vote for the better candidate when things go very wrong -- as Obama got such an easy win in 2008 -- or when somebody offers a real formula for making life better.

Shadow Flutter said...

What's happening here isn't just happening here.

Neither voting party line or identity, alone or together, explains Trump's victory. You need to middle, and neither Christian conservatives nor rural poor voted identity.

Maybe another factor was 2008. Maybe 2008 caused a paradigm shift in the way many view capitalism and economic fairness, the greatest effects of which are just beginning to show themselves. People losing their jobs and homes while those responsible walk away with their pockets full. The reckless banker and greedy investor over leveraging themselves and their banks, but instead of paying the price by losing everything, are bailed out, while the innocent lose their jobs and homes.

No wonder "the System is rigged" has enduring power. We had to bail them out. Not doing so would have made everything worse. But we had to bail them out because we permitted them to become so large their failure threatened the world’s credit markets. That we had no choice shows the system was rigged.

So now we look at globalization in a new light, where it looks like the same people who in 2008 brought the system to its knees (or people like them) are again making huge profits while others are losing their jobs and their homes. It may be that there is nothing that can be done about this, but if you are one of those affected, or think you are vulnerable, you won’t just accept that. You’ve been told before things that turned out to be not true. People lie. Experts get things wrong, and economics has none of the certainty physics has.

Then comes along someone who says, "yes, there is something that can be done." He tells people the system is rigged — something they already believe — and he will fix it, but doesn’t tell you how. And people vote for him anyway, despite his despicable behavior, because his opponent presents herself as the candidate of continuity — the candidate of no change.

I fear Michael Lewis is right. That at the center of Mr. Trump is a weird guy. Certainly looks that way to me.