How to Console Myself?

January 3, 2016

1-Four years is only a blink of the eye in the history of time, why trouble myself?

2-How much damage can one person do in 4 years?

3-He won’t be able to do the things he proposed.

4-Knowing his executive orders can be reversed on day 1 of the next presidency.

5-Remembering I never enjoyed watching national news on TV anyway.

6-I could occupy myself by learning Chinese, watching only Chinese news for 4 years, then if things don’t work out….

7-By substituting sports for politics and economics for 4 years.

8-There is great comedy to enjoy for this four years—Stephen Colbert, Alec Baldwin, Seth Myers, etc., and of course, Donald Trump himself.

9-There are lots of good alcoholic drinks I haven’t yet explored.

10-Marijuana is now legal in California

I’m only half-joking. The scene that is unfolding is disquieting to say the least–the people he’s selecting, the continued crazy tweets, the distrust for national intelligence identifying Russian hacking, the seemingly unavoidable conflicts of interest with his businesses, etc., etc.

True, there is a certain sense of initial optimism in the US. The stock market appears to be reacting to the prospect of lower corporate taxes and reduced regulation. Trump supporters rally behind his rescue of 800 jobs at Carrier, with little note of the tax breaks with which he bought Carrier off, or the sheer reality that this is only  a grain in the eroding sands of manufacturing job losses.

So, as I see it, the euphoria is essentially (a) an accurate reflection of truly increased prospects for wealth–but only for the already wealthy–the owners of capital; and (b) misplaced optimism for jobs prospects among Trump’s core supporters.

Seriously, the greatest consolation I can find so far is summarized in writings such as this article in Politico Magazine, Jan. 3, 2017. This is a series of short paragraphs by highly respected political writers, each identifying a different obstacle to Trump’s governance and accomplishment. There are 20 of them listed here, enough to sink his Presidency. I’ll list here only a few of the most significant: “Revolutionary States and Islamic Extremist Organizations; Washington’s deep capacity to resist change; the major cleavage within his coalition; the next recession; Vladimir Putin; a serious replacement for Obamacare; US China relations; Donald Trump, himself.” I.e., maybe he won’t be able to do too much damage.

To be fair, rescuing the jobs in the US is beyond the capacities of the very best leaders we have, in the short  run, meaning across the next 4 years, probably the next 10-20. There are huge forces, forces of resistance which are beyond the control of politicians in any practical sense. The greatest of these is thought to be technology, which is rapidly replacing workers with robots and software systems. Another is globalization. Notwithstanding Trump’s chest thumping against Mexico and China, he is a Republican and he will not end up desiring nor politically able to damage US industry by significantly slowing globalization, with foreign sales and production accounting for a significant part of US corporate earnings. We have had 40 + years of an advancing neoliberal political legacy which now has roots through our entire system of law and government. The loss of good jobs and wages will take a long time to fix, if ever possible.

But this doesn’t mean we can afford to write off the next four years. It could have been (and still could be) a big step into foundational policies that would pay off for the next generation. Alas, there is not yet even a hint of anything tangible that will move us in the direction of reduced inequality and better opportunity for all. See the new report produced by NBER scholars on income mobility–a measure of whether the next generation can hope to earn more than their parents. The summary in two sentences: “We find that rates of absolute mobility have fallen from approximately 90%for children born in 1940 to 50% for children born in the 1980s. What can be done? These scholars found that “….increasing GDP growth rates alone cannot restore absolute mobility to the rates experienced by children born in the 1940s….These results imply that reviving the “American Dream” of high rates of absolute mobility would require economic growth that is spread more broadly across the income distribution.”

Put simply, improving the growth rate of the economy (the Trump promise) will not create significant improved mobility (opportunity to exceed one’s parents in real income). To do that, we will need redistribution–measures that assure the fruits of economic growth are “spread more broadly.”

We wouldn’t need to kill motivation and incentive with tax rates so high as to do so, in order to start the move in the right direction.  Modest increases could be significant. Revised allocations of government expenditures are another way to redistribute–e.g., less on military, more on education for all. Public/private investment in not only infrastructure, but also in innovation can help. A Federal minimum wage indexed to income growth by locality can help.

I don’t blame the Democrats for this election outcome, nor credit the Republicans. Republicans rode in on the coattails of a demagogue few of them wanted. And the demagogue simply capitalized very cleverly on resentment to the effects of policies of the last 40 years, policies which he proposes essentially to continue under different names, with a few nasty twists.

It is truly distressing to see continued adherence to “trickle down” economics, when the reality of the last 40 years has so clearly disproven it.

I welcome your comments

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