A More Polarized Union?
Former OTer Jamelle Bouie argues that we are heading for a more polarizing political future.
Bouie’s argument is based on speeches given by Hillary Rodham Clinton (almost certainly the Democratic nominee in 2016) and Scott Walker (a strong contender for the GOP nomination). Bouie notes that Clinton is following the heart of the Democratic Party and seemingly abandoning the triangulating moderation that launched Bill Clinton’s Presidential ambitions and victories. HRC’s policies to boost working and middle-class incomes are tax-reform to encourage long-term investment instead of quarterly dividends and profits, more money for Social Security and the ACA and protections for freelancers, young, and low-income workers among other things. Clinton also mentioned that she was skeptical about the sharing and freelance economies.
Scott Walker’s proposals are a bigger version of his tenure as Wisconsin Governor. Bouie described them as devolving medicare back to the states, drilling for oil, and an appeal of the ACA (with Walker it is hard to tell whether this is a cynical gesture or a sincere wish).
Bouie notes that the most important observation is the seeming lack of overlap in approaches. While it is true that winning a primary means playing for the base. Both candidates appear to be trying to win the general by a get out the vote plan instead of appealing to a broad-based group in the general public.
What I think is that people are very angry and frustrated and still experiencing shocks from the Great Recession. There is a sense that home ownership is beyond the grasp of a lot of Millennials. People who lost their jobs during the Great Recession are still struggling to recover old ground and finding that they can’t afford to live in places that they called home for decades.
Lots of things have gotten much more affordable over the past few decades and these are things that make life more bearable and fun. Housing and Medical Care seem to be constantly spiraling upwards in a never-ending fashion. The only thing that seems to make housing affordable is living in a distant and/or unsafe area from where the jobs are.
I’ve written before about how we seem to be developing a tale of two economies on a variety of levels. There is a national level where a few states and cities command large chunks of the money and economy of the United States. New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, Portland, and many other cities are seeing population and economic increases and gains and this is the opposite of the late 1970s and early 80s when those cities were at rock-bottom and nearly bankrupt. But a new generation of cities is going bankrupt and suffering decline. But there are economic divisions within those cities. The Bay Area is really good if you are in the tech industry or own a business that caters to the whims and fancies of techies. The Bay Area is seemingly not so good for anyone who is not fortunate enough to be involved in tech. Kevin Drum noted recently that the U.S. added 223,000 new jobs in June but the rest of the report was bad news. Unemployment decreased because nearly 500,000 people left the labor force, not because unemployed or underemployed people got jobs and real wage growth was negative. The Atlantic also noted that the last time labor participation was this low was in the 1970s.
So it seems that a lot of Americans feel a lot of stress and despair about their economic futures. We are far from being as bad as Greece and Spain but there are still a lot of glum feelings around. The technocratic talk of cheaper gadgets is not selling anymore and the technocratic policy wonks don’t know what to do except repeat their old messages over and over again. We have wealthy tech wonks wondering about the psychological benefits of a 32-hour week (video) but people are saying “Hey man, I just want to stop this drowning feeling and be able to live in the place I called home for decades or my entire life.” Economic insecurity leads to people feeling rather angry and exhausted and the more it goes on, the more people are going to be drawn to farther left and farther right politics. This is especially true when a self-styled elite class of wonks portrays their political and policy preferences as hard facts or just the way it is. People don’t like being condescended to and they dislike that a handful of people can seemingly control the nature of employment and benefits.
I don’t know which factors drive people to farther left politics or farther right politics. Some of it might be natural disposition. Big Audio Dynamite’s The Bottom Line contains the lines “A dance to the tune of economic decline/Is when you do the bottom line/Nagging questions always remain/Why did it happen and who was to blame?” People on both the Democratic and Republican lines are likely to blame the “elites”. What is interesting is that both parties have very different notions and definitions of who is the elite and what makes someone elite. There are also notions on the right and left of economics being a zero-sum game and there are always demagogues to portray it this way. I am old enough to remember the infamous “Hands” ad. Donald Trump seems to be going the “Hands” route for his Presidential campaign.
1970s Britain faced a steep and serious economic crisis and climate with concerns about power outages and rising costs of living. According to Dominic Sandbrook in Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979, Harold Wilson confessed to his aides that he “only had the same old solutions for the same old problems’. This seems to be the issue in the United States right now. Everyone realizes that the picture is not as bright as it seems. We are facing a future where more and more jobs might be automated but all parties involved. No politician or wonk is going to say “Things are fucked and the only thing we can do is wait and see.” The problem is that everyone is like Harold Wilson and only going for their old solutions with the words try it more and try it harder added. Part of this might be the natural way politics works. We are simply at the point where the center-left is not going to give up on the Welfare State and the center-right is not going to admit a welfare state is potentially necessary. There is no Balm in Gilead from the technocratic crowd either. Even the biggest technocrat would need to admit that building at full speed ahead is going to take many years before housing prices let up because it takes a long time to build a multi-story building even if you streamline the permit process and are as developer friendly as possible while still being safe. Building might be one of those things where demand can never out pace supply except in areas with mediocre or worse economies.
Things seem rather unstable and unsustainable but unsustainable systems have a way of existing for long times and then suddenly collapsing. I am starting to wonder if everyone including the elites worries about a future of long-term and maybe life-long underemployment for most Americans and they are just afraid to admit this is true. I can’t imagine any politician would last long if they said something like “The United States might just not be able to produce that many high-paying or decent paying jobs anymore. We might have an oversupply for almost every profession imaginable. Going to university or grad school is going to be necessary for these good jobs but only you will only be given a gambling chance at success.” GBI might help but so far I only see GBI mentioned on political blogs by a small minority of liberals and libertarians. The United States will probably never be as bad as Greece or Spain but that doesn’t mean that it will be pleasant for the majority.