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Monday, October 31, 2016


A hollowed out economy

by Tom Sullivan

Making money using money to make more money has all but killed off the middle class. The post-war economic expansion that Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower embraced was built on making real stuff, and while the rich got theirs, the rest of working America benefited. Financialization and globalization have unmade that economy and replaced it with a hollowed out one, with hollowed out communities and hollowed out futures for the country's youth. To the extent that both the Democratic and Republican Parties bought into the new reality they helped create, they lost authority to represent working people. Two lengthy articles address how Trumpism grew out of America's dying blue-collar workscape left by both parties' embrace of globalization and free trade.

At New York magazine, Jonathan Chait looks at how feeding authoritarians in its ranks slowly drowned the Republican Party, not the government, in the bathtub. The party's elite now struggles "to appease Trump’s blue-collar supporters while still maintaining their grip on the party’s agenda, especially its fixation with reducing the top tax rate." Accomplishing that may take some "tough, and perhaps even odious, compromises." Trumpism with a human face, perhaps:

This misalignment between the conservative movement and the American people has, in fact, bred among conservatives a fundamental distrust of the American people. The welfare state, in the eyes of conservatives, was merely a government-sponsored mechanism by which the masses of voters could steal from the minority. (Russell Kirk, the influential mid-20th-century conservative, lamented that “taxation of the prosperous for the benefit of the less wealthy, through the votes of the benefiting crowd,” was “first cousin to theft.”) Since conservatives define liberty as the preservation of property rights, democracy — and its potential for legalizing theft via redistribution — poses a constant threat.

Some things never change.

At the New Yorker, George Packer examines how Democrats' attempts to appease and co-opt the center separated the party from its blue-collar base. Bill Clinton led that effort in the 1990s with NAFTA, deregulation, and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. Hillary Clinton hopes to reconnect with them during her presidency:

In our conversation, Hillary Clinton spoke of the limits of an “educationalist” mind-set, which she called a “peculiar form of élitism.” Educationalists, she noted, say they “want to lift everybody up”—they “don’t want to tell anybody that they can’t go as high as their ambition will take them.” The problem was that “we’re going to have a lot of jobs in this economy” that require blue-collar skills, not B.A.s. “We need to do something that is really important, and this is to just go right after the denigration of jobs and skills that are not college-connected.” A four-year degree isn’t for everyone, she said; vocational education should be brought back to high schools.
What Hillary Clinton sees is how her husband's advocacy of what Packer calls "a secular brand of Calvinism, with the state of inward grace revealed outwardly by an Ivy League degree, Silicon Valley stock options, and a White House invitation" has left behind anyone not suited or constitutionally inclined to life among the "cosmopolitan élite." The question is, what to do about it?

Clinton believes you start with telling a better story:
I asked Clinton if Obama had made a mistake in not prosecuting any Wall Street executives after the financial crisis. She replied, “I think the failure to be able to bring criminal cases, to hold people responsible, was one of the contributing factors to a lot of the real frustration and anger that a lot of voters feel. There is just nobody to blame. So if we can’t blame Company X or C.E.O. Y, let’s blame immigrants. Right? We’ve got to blame somebody—that’s human nature. We need a catharsis.” F.D.R. had done it by denouncing bankers and other “economic royalists,” Clinton said, her voice rising. “And by doing so he told a story.” She went on, “If you don’t tell people what’s happening to them—not every story has villains, but this story did—at least you could act the way that you know the people in the country felt.”
The question is whether Clinton the policy wonk is up to that task. Clinton herself may be more up to the task of addressing people's beliefs that government works against rather than for them by changing how government approaches their problems. Trump voters and disaffected blue-collar Democrats didn't want less government. They want government "to do more things that benefitted them (as opposed to benefitting people they saw as undeserving)." As a minimum, they would like their lives stabilized. If we all survive this election, maybe Clinton will get half a chance to begin work on that.