Friday, May 13, 2016

The Dangers of this Election

For at least 35 years, our two parties have collaborated in favoring the rich over the poor.  Jointly they have repeatedly cut taxes (except under George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and, in a small way, in 2013 under Barack Obama),  eliminated Glass-Steagall, cut back IRS enforcement drastically, and watched or encouraged the continual erosion of the rights of labor.  They have put through trade deals that obviously favored corporations over American workers, and they plan to do so again.  Above all, they have shut their eyes to the basic fact of capitalism, as elucidated two years ago by Thomas Piketty: that the natural processes of capitalism make capital grow faster than the economy as a whole.  That is the biggest single reason why inequality has been increasing in the United States, and it will continue to increase, as Bernie Sanders alone among the major candidates understands, unless the government intervenes drastically in the economy, most notably by increasing marginal tax rates.

Donald Trump, of course, claims that he is magically going to turn this situation around by virtue of his talents as a negotiator.  Somehow he will not only stop corporations from shipping more jobs abroad, but persuade them to bring jobs back.  I personally don't see how voters can take this seriously from some one who has never done much for working people in his life, but apparently, a good many voters do.  It is not so clear, however, that Trump is in fact drawing mainly upon the white working class--Nate Silver has pointed out that his voters are not significantly poorer than Ted Cruz's, for instance, although they are a lot worse off than John Kasich's.  Last night, on a chilling note, I watched Silver tell Trevor Noah that the strongest correlation his team has found for Trump's strongest showings is the number of "racist google searches" coming from that area.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, claims that she will go on fighting for the less well off, although she can't seem to make up her mind whether that refers mainly to women, minorities, and the LGBT community on the one hand, or to the economic lower half of the population on the other.  The New York Times recently reported, in a story based upon talks with her staffers, that she plans to pivot rightward in the fall to pick up disaffected Trump voters.  Knowledgeable analysts are arguing that she is almost sure to win by a wide margin, although Silver, who is clearly still shaken by his failure to take Trump's candidacy seriously, offered up a frightening scenario.  If the polls are reasonably close in October, worldwide fear of Trump's election could trigger a panic in the markets--and that panic in turn could turn the country against the Democrats and elect him.  Still, she is a big favorite in the betting markets at the moment, despite some disturbingly close polls in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio.

Establishment Democrats like to argue that Sanders should be shunned because he has no chance of having any of his sweeping proposals enacted.  Certainly what he wants could not pass overnight, but those who take that line have to face that they are essentially accepting the direction that our country has been going in economically since the 1970s and allowing it to continue.  And too few people, especially of course in the mainstream media, are asking a critical question: if present trends continue under another Democrat, what will the consequences be?

The premise of establishment Democratic strategy is that the party can safely rely on demographics--but in one crucial sense, demographics are turning against them.  While a great many older white voters are going for Donald Trump, a great many younger white and black voters are going for Bernie Sanders.  While there have not been enough to win more delegates than Hillary, there are a great many, and the activists among them--as I know from a Sanders Facebook page I am on--are as disgusted with establishment politics as any conservative Republican.  Young people like Sanders because they know that he is identifying very real issues: the cost of college, which has left many of them with tens of thousands of dollars in debt; the difficulty of access to health care; and the housing market, which here in the metropolitan Boston area is making it very difficult for young people in prestigious careers to afford a house.  How will they feel in four more years if Clinton has been elected and we are still going in the same direction--and perhaps are fighting a new war in the Middle East as well?

About a year ago, listening to NPR, I heard Robert Reich, who has known Hillary Clinton longer, I believe, than Bill Clinton has, suggest that, given sufficient pressure from the American public, she would move in a genuinely leftward election.  I managed to get through to the show to ask him, in more polite language, what he had been smoking, and I was gratified when he apparently reconsidered and endorsed Sanders.  Even if Clinton does try to shift leftward, however--perhaps in response to a new economic downturn, which seems bound to come sooner or later--the Congress remains so under the thumb of corporations that she probably can't get very far.  The most depressing aspect of our politics today, in my opinion, is the lack of serous left wing Senators and Congressmen--much worse than in 1930, say.   And thus, by 2020,. the Democratic Party could face an insurgency comparable to what the Republicans faced this year, and the destruction of our political establishment might be complete.

Since at least 1828, every major party has claimed to stand for the interests of the common man and woman, and parties have lost favor when their promises seemed to be completely empty.  This happened to the Republican establishment this year--and it nearly happened to the Democratic one as well.  If one believes, as I do, that the disaffection with our leaders is rooted in very real grievances, it will not go away.  The shape of a new era in our politics may not yet be clear.

[p.s.  This post has been written rather quickly, because I did not think it would have to be written at all.  Another one is ready for, but the editors do not want to put it up until next week.   Since I know many readers have come to count on something here every weekend, I shared some of the week's thoughts. I shall of course post the link here when Time posts the new one.]


Assurance-First-Assurance said...

Thank you for your post. I cannot but agree but hate that simple fact. What kind of world am I leaving to my working class grandchildren. If I have no hope, what can they have? How do I tell them. I have just this year began to understand how hopeless our situation really is.

If I was young, I think a gun would be appropriate. But I am not and I will not. And that is exactly why it is hopeless. See?

On your last remark. We do and I thank you for realizing that. I look forward to your Time post as well.

Rupert Chapman said...

Dear Prof. Kaiser: Perhaps you should consider doing this more often! Seriously, I know how hard it is to produce a thoughtful piece and short notice, but this is a very good one. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Hillary v.s. Sanders. Hilary v.s. Trump. Clinton will win the nomination. Is she electable? Can she govern? Would she be better at governing than Sanders or Trump? Answers to these questions go beyond domestic politics because they go beyond domestic economics and other issues. Globalization in banking, industry, even conflicts such as terrorism mean that an assessment of what is ongoing in the rest of the world necessarily affects much of domestic policy decision making. Janet Yellen gets this; that's why there hasn't been a series of interest rate increases in 2016 thus far. Christine Legarde gets this; that's why what happens in Greece or Argentina affects what is advised about the economies of Germany and the U.S. Advising about the national economy and other global issues without consideration of the effects of and on the world, developed and undeveloped, is a form of isolationism.

So which of the candidates is most adept at deciding domestic policies with an experienced view of the wider world? Not Sanders. Not Trump. Ex-SECSTATE Clinton gets this, which adds another problem for her likely presidency: Changes caused by globalization can't be explained to the American public. Labor, for example, has always been a commodity. Labor laws and unions did not change that; they only stopped the abuses of monopolizing, unfair labor practices (a proper role of government). Labor, as a commodity, is cheaper under globalization of end product. That will not change as there will always be places to obtain cheaper labor than in a developed country. That some jobs aren't returning to the U.S. is a hard fact to sell to the public, which none of the candidates are trying to do, but about which Sanders and Trump are intentionally misleading.

There are economic solutions for the U.S. workforce, but government has not, under any recent president or congress, pursued any of them to the extent necessary (globalization is decades old). These have not been forthcoming: investment in education (e.g., less expensive college); resourcing trade and training for jobs in a service economy; sufficient income support for the job displaced, coupled with retraining; much needed infrastructure investment which would provide jobs for the less educated; government requirements for broad expansion of high speed internet similar to that of S. Korea, which would empower entrepreneurs; there are others. These can be reasonably paid for by tax increases in the form of curtailed tax advantages for those who do not need them to maintain a standard of living or an excess corporate profit. Sounds more like Sanders-light than Clinton, but it also sounds like George Soros. This also sounds difficult given the current U.S. Congress.

If experience does not count, then "Joe the Plumber" is highly electable as President of the U.S. Added to Hillary Clinton's experience, and with hesitation and reservation is this written, is the experience of her husband in working with and around a recalcitrant Republican Congress, one of the current administration shortfalls. This election is not only about what is to be done, it is also about what can be done. There will not, as you have written Professor Kaiser, be the revolution Bernie Sanders professes. There can be incremental change with an intelligent, experienced politician who sees broadly the advantages of the U.S. place in today's world. The pendulum now swings leftward, but slowly because the world is a big place.

samuel glover said...

@Unknown -- so you endorse Sanders' ideas, but you expect Clinton to carry them out?!?!? Astonishing.

We had eight years to observe the Clinton school of governance. During those eight years DLC Dems laid down solid foundations for the 2008 economic crisis. The Bush gang didn't help, but make no mistake, 2008 was Clintonism in full bloom.

In any case, even assuming that HRC is interested in implementing Sanders' ideas -- talk about wish-thinking! -- she will face the exact same obstacle that Clintonites love to accuse Sanders people of ignoring: An implacably oppositionist Congress. Sure, the Dems might have a majority in the Senate. But overall the notion that Clinton will magically "get things done" where Sanders could not is purely bogus.

Fortunately, thanks to Clinton's vaunted "experience", the years in which she inhabited various spots in the org chart, we have some history to draw on, and we can make some predictions. Faced with even a whiff of Republican resistance, she'll backpedal and "triangulate". What's more likely is that she won't even get that far, but instead champion "reforms" that any Republican from 15-20 years ago would recognize as an impressive win for his team. Rank-and-file Dems, meanwhile, will again be left to wonder, Why did I bother to vote for the Republican-lite party?

And note that all this assumes business-as-usual. It doesn't take into account the pathologies that another war will bring. Clinton is almost certain to stumble into yet another idiotic strategic debacle. She has plainly learned not a single thing from the disasters of Iraq and Libya. In that sense, I find it difficult to view her election as some kind of salvation from Trump. Trump at least offers the possibility of pleasant surprise. There's nothing reassuring about Clinton predictability at all.

1 -- If Dems **do** achieve a Senate majority out, it will be due more to a happy alignment of state election cycles than **any** strategic foresight from the DNC. As far as I can tell what passes for Dem "strategic foresight" amounts to this: All we need to do is keep telling people that we're not the other guys. Some time in the near future demography will save us.

David Kaiser said...

It seems that some one on facebook has shared this post--some one with a lot of influence--and generated a lot of hits. I am very curious as to where that was, if anyone can post it. Thanks.

David Kaiser