Learning From Trump in Retrospect

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Mike Konczal is learning from Trump in retrospect, as a demoralized progressive:

Watching Trump with fresh eyes shows that we need to think clearer about how our policy forces people to concede to changing social norms, how to convey the rich as the problem, how to have clear messaging, how to deal with trade, and how to deal with wages and power.

Trump talked about jobs:

All the time. This gets lost in the coverage, which focused on the inflammatory scandals. [...] It’s the first and most consistent thing he discusses. It’s implied it is a specific kind of job, a white, male, bread-winning manufacturing job. He doesn’t discuss “the economy” and how it could work for all, he doesn’t talk about inequality, he doesn’t talk about automation and service work; he makes it clear you will have a high-paying manufacturing job when he is President.

Trump never blames the rich for people’s problems:

He doesn’t mention corporations, or anything relating to class struggle. His economic enemies are Washington elites, media, other countries, and immigrants. Even when financial elites and corporations do something, they are a combination of pawns and partners of DC elites.

Trump is unapologetically against trade that harms American workers:

The brilliant economist David Card gave me a useful point here during an interview: the divide among economists on trade is driven by the fact that labor economists study the real effects of unemployment on real people, where trade and macroeconomists treat people as just another commodity.

I’d phrase it this way: are people just like a barrel of oil? In the abstract models of trade economists, commodities like oil will always get sold at some price, they will get to where they need to get to do so, and they’re largely indifferent on the process. Even when commodity markets are off, oil can sit in tankers floating in the ocean waiting out price moves, and it makes no difference to the oil.

Oil doesn’t experience unemployment as the most traumatic thing that can happen to it. Oil moves magically to new opportunities, unlike people who don’t often move at all. A barrel of oil doesn’t beat their kids, abuse drugs, commit suicide, or experiencing declining life expectancy from being battered around in the global marketplace. But people do, and they have, the consequences persist and last, and now they’ve made their voices heard. It’s the the dark side of Polanyi’s warning against viewing human being as commodities.

Trump also never mentions poverty:

And while he talks a lot about reducing taxes, he never talks about increasing transfers, redistribution, or access to core goods. He talks about wages, full stop. He also talks about places. Dying towns that need revitalizing.


  1. Graham says:

    Well, that showed some level of paying attention. And yet we have these:

    “we need to think clearer about how our policy forces people to concede to changing social norms” the invariable progressive conceit about change and norms always moving in their direction as ceaselessly as the turning of the earth, and how their job is not only to make people concede to inevitability, but to accept and love it, as opposed to something like “we need to think clearer about whether people want the changes in social norms we wish to make through our policy”. FAIL.

    They’re like extremist free marketers in a way. Though they revel in state power, everything with them is really about how they have the clearest insight into some kind of inevitable natural force. Nothing is ever really just the result of deliberate policy choice.

    “how to convey the rich as the problem” Which rich? How rich? Pursuing what goals? Threatening others in what ways? There are plenty of ways in which multiple subsets of “the rich” might be problems for American workers, including white rich and white workers. Including pursuing the gains of free trade absolutism. But many of them just want to get rich and are willing to see those workers suffer. Fewer actively want to grind those people down and destroy their communities. You need progressive minded rich for that.

    There’s something to that critique on Trump’s idea of jobs. They won’t be coming back, if they come back, in the numbers or type of the 1970s. But still there’s room for a better approach than we’ve had. Also, notice how these types of jobs are now whitewashed by the progressive in order to delegitimize them.

    The distinction between ‘jobs’ and ‘the economy’ is an interesting one and worth exploring. Though for most people they aren’t that separable. What he means by ‘how it could work for all’ seems a bit opaque insofar as most people think it works when they have a well-paid job and although not all will ever do that in manufacturing again, that’s the sector of the biggest losses in the recent past and the biggest problems. Automation is coming even more, and it will be a problem. I wonder if the potential of ‘service work’ to soak up people is exhausted yet, as these too are automated. And does Konczal really just mean it’s time to look at universal guaranteed wage and decouple work, the economy, and life altogether? Maybe. That will be wrenching to all economics and politics. I myself work at a desk and have two degrees and would live in a sort of [worse than already] deep psychological terror if I thought I would live to see that world.

    I remember in the free-trade boom ’80s of my youth never being interested in factory work but still struggling to imagine a world in which everybody doesn’t work, or works in nail salons and every kind of other small service business servicing one another as equally dignified to the world of makers. I never really managed it.

    ‘Pawns and partners’. Indeed. Which is the pawn shifts around. Always partners.

    ‘Corporations’ are a form of organization that pools resources, raises capital and collectivizes liability among owners. It’s brilliant, thought it could surely use some rebalancing and I’m not sure whether that is more shareholder control over the executives in some things and less in others- owners need to take some power back but we also need to see less obsession with quarterly return. What the answer to all that is I have not one clue. But the form of the corporation itself is less the issue and ‘the corporations’ less the bogeymen- any one merely reflects the goals and assumptions of the class that supplies the executives.

    Not that I would care to see the post liberal democratic form of government be a “Corporate Congress” as one recent sci fi series had it. I mean, I guess some form of neofeudalism is already underway and inevitable, and the progressive vision is one part of it, but still.

    The last excerpt is right, it seems. Both left and right have ignored these considerations for a generation or more. One for prog reasons, the other for market reasons.

    Progressives don’t care about place or community in the traditional sense, just about mobility and diversity and the communities that can be built around them. They love Sesame Street and want to genocide the residents of Mayberry, to put it bluntly. They don’t, if recent commentary is to be believed, really even like the quirky-left sensibilities of Stars Hollow. Still too white and rooted. People with ancestors who lived there in the Revolutionary War? Eeew.

    OTOH, the right went full retard on the marketplace. The correction of the 1980s was welcome, but it was a last shot in an old war that was nearing its end, and it overshot. I remember Reagan with honour. But his quote about not losing “faith in the magic of the marketplace” strikes me as oversweetened koolaid.

    I worry that this vision will not stand the workless world to come, but there you go. It’s not my goal to treat bad things as inevitable.

    On the redistributive angle, I’d need to see details. A great deal of money goes into transfers and redistribution already and has for generations, to limited and intermittent good effect. How much more is proposed, to be targeted how, and how is it expected to perform better? Or does Konczal here just anticipate the universal income again? And what is meant here by core goods?. I assume something more than public services.

  2. David Foster says:

    “It’s implied it is a specific kind of job, a white, male, bread-winning manufacturing job”…..(1) there’s nothing specifically white about manufacturing, (2) Trump has also talked a lot about “infrastructure”, which means construction—most construction sites I see have (judging on appearances) more Hispanic workers than white workers.

  3. Graham says:

    Spotted Toad characterized it in an interesting way a few weeks ago, one which united the election, the future of work and the future of redistribution, and also cited Konczal in a putatively negative way:


    Mr Toad’s characterization of the contending forces as ‘welfare state neoliberalism’ and ‘postwar industrial capitalism’ certainly reframed the issues for me. And cast them in an even more terrifying light. YMMV.

  4. lucklucky says:

    Well i hope for the time when we can build colonies/nations in space.
    That is the time that those the believe politics like once western people believed religion would stop to harrass and impound their views in others. Be either national socialism or leftist socialism.

    In the end they both end up like Fascist Italy that went native(Autharchy) in 30′s and started WW2 with a fighter force made of biplanes and no proper fighter engine whatsoever…

  5. lucklucky says:

    Colonies and nations in space( or seasteading)

    That will be the time that the nation would have to work to have people. Finally the individual nation free market would arrive.

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