Trump, The Problems of Living Memory, and the Limits of Free Trade

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209 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    openly-protectionist, racist, vulgar, authoritarian, xenophobic demagogue in the form of Donald Trump

    Guys, guys. I know that I said the same thing about Romney, and McCain, and Bush, and Dole, but, seriously, Trump is totally openly-protectionist, racist, vulgar, authoritarian, and xenophobic. For real this time.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      There are two kinds of people: those who believe that the fact that a xenophobic authoritarian openly supported by white supremacists is leading the race for the Republican nomination means that the people who said Republicans had a barely concealed undercurrent of racism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism were actually wrong…Report

  2. Avatar aaron david says:

    I think this is a good piece Saul. Gives me a bit to think about which is nice.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I wish I were smart enough to write a post about the Autor, Dorn, Hanson paper tackling the impact of international trade on economics here in the US.

    “Severe and permanent harm to US workers” seems to be the conclusion.

    Tyler Cowen called it “the most important work done by economists in the last twenty years”.

    Everything we (for small values of “we”) knew about trade appears to have been wrong.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Thanks for sharing the linky! I’m gonna read it in a bit, but this from the the abstract makes it sound interesting:

      Rising imports cause higher unemployment, lower labor force participation, and reduced wages in local labor markets that house import-competing manufacturing industries

      I think you’re right to restrict the scope of “we” in your comment. I’m not sure how radical this proposal is/would be outside a limited number of intellectuals and their surrogates, tho.Report

      • reduced wages in local labor markets that house import-competing manufacturing industries

        Isn’t that obvious from basic supply and demand?The argument for free trade has always been that reduced costs help other industries, and the result is a net win.Report

        • Avatar Autolukos says:

          The lines that stand out in Cowen’s excerpt:

          Adjustment in local labor markets is remarkably slow, with wages and labor-force participation rates remaining depressed and unemployment rates remaining elevated for at least a full decade after the China trade shock commences. Exposed workers experience greater job churning and reduced lifetime income. At the national level, employment has fallen in U.S. industries more exposed to import competition, as expected, but offsetting employment gains in other industries have yet to materialize.

          Decline in some industries is certainly expected; this argument on the slow, incomplete adjustment to new conditions is what has been drawing attention, I think.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:


          The argument for free trade has always been that reduced costs help other industries, and the result is a net win.

          Yes, that’s the current theory, and from what I gather their thesis diverges from neoliberal CW orthodoxy in the following way: gains from neoliberal offshoring policies don’t distribute thru the system in a “net win” fashion. That is, they’re suggesting (or implying, at least) that liberalized trade causes (read: contributes to) wage suppression and increased transfer payments (UI benies, etc) which, when measured over the entire domestic economy, result in a trade-derived net-loss. That’s the part that runs counter to current economic neolibral CW.

          I should add that having looked at the paper a bit (I need to go over it again tho lots of it way too technical for me to understand) they don’t appear to explicitly reject neoliberal trade theory – ie., that China trade policy is in aggregate net win – but the implication from the paper is that it isn’t. (I suppose one could read their paper narrowly and defend both the paper and neoliberal trade theory on the grounds that they’re only, or primarily, focused on local labor markets negatively effected by free trade, but that strikes me as hard to do given their conclusions.)Report

    • Avatar James K says:


      Thanks for the link, I’ll have a look when I get the chance. Before that though, I will give the standard disclaimer: you should exercise care when laying one study against the entire weight of a discipline’s literature.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Everything we (for small values of “we”) knew about t____ appears to have been wrong.

      I just had this fantasy of a world in which neoconservatives said this about the Middle East. What a beautiful dream!Report

  4. Avatar b-psycho says:

    There’s nothing “free”, and barely any actual “trade” to “free trade” as globalization has been called in practice.Report

  5. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    Well said Saul. You hit it on the head when you said that free trade produces winners and losers, but what advocates for it fail to grasp is that enough Americans do not benefit from it in a clear obvious way. We may get cheaper goods, which is generally beneficial, but the cultural and social changes made to the US have left many with the sense that we are “losing” to foreign economic powers. Trump, and to a lesser degree Bernie, are riding that 40 year old festering anger.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Do we actually get cheaper products? Or just higher profit margins?Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        As someone who cleaned out a house recently that had stuff wrapped up with newspapers (with ads) from the 80s as well as stuff from the 80s from hardware and discount stores that was still in the original packaging with price tags still on them…

        Yes, cheap stuff is cheaper than ever, mostly on an inflation adjusted basis, but also on nominal basis.

        Quality and durability may be a different matter.

        Edit – some stuff from 1970s era Caldor, too.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        One of my wife’s businesses is a thrift store. She was in Wal-Mart or Target the other day, and they had oodles of new children’s shirts or some such for less than she would traditionally have priced similar used clothing at her thrift store.

        Basically, the thrift store used to have cheaper secondhand clothing than the K-Marts of the day; now, the modern K-Mart equivalents can *easily* undercut the secondhand items with new-item prices, and in bulk.

        Thrift stores can still sell items that are rare or antique or unusual in some way; but when it comes to staples, like basic t-shirts or jeans or shorts or whatever, you can get a brand-new item for so cheap, that it doesn’t even pay to sell a used/secondhand equivalent.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        The real problem is the cheap stuff on the margins (ie. Everything You Buy At Wal-Mart or Target) has gotten cheaper (we really do spend less on clothed and such than we did in the 60’s and 70’s but the big ticket items (education, health care, etc.) so all the “savings” we should’ve gotten from free trade have been swallowed up by higher premiums, college loans, and the like.

        As a result, all working class people see is a situation where they’re the only losers. White collar workers get cheaper goods, foreign workers get better jobs, and CEO’s get bigger profits.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Thanks, @kolohe @glyph and @jesse-ewiak .Report

        • Avatar James K says:


          The thing about those big ticket items (and housing is probably the other one that has gotten more expensive over time) is that they are not really affected by globalisation. This is one of the reasons I think the people who are financially struggling in the US are blaming it on the wrong thing.Report

          • Avatar Don Zeko says:

            What, then, should they blame it on?Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

            The challenge of political leadership is to craft a vision in which everyone can see themselves in success and ownership, where everyone believes themselves to belong to the whole, and thereby grant legitimacy to the whole enterprise.

            For a time, globalization offered that promise, that everyone’s life would improve even if a short period of pain were involved.

            But its been 40 years, and there is no end of pain in sight, and blindingly obvious that not everyone’s interest is being served.

            How can anyone possibly believe in the Great Pumpkin after an entire lifetime of waiting for the magic payoff?

            How can this be sustainable as a society, when the benefits and harms are distributed on what seems like a purely random and capricious manner?

            As you point out, some things can be offshored and some things can’t. So 40 years ago an architect of my level might have earned the same income as the senior manager of a refrigerator factory. Today his job has been offshored while mine has not.

            So I earn a nice white collar first world income, and can stroll through a store looking at refrigerators made by people earning less in a year than I make in a week, and the foreman is long ago reduced to flipping burgers.

            This situation is so absurdly random and bizarrely capricious that anyone can see that there is nothing here that fits the words “merit” and “fairness”.

            When an economist blithely speaks about the reasons for the random cruelty of our economy he might as well be a witch doctor telling us about why the fickle gods of rain and sun have cursed our crops, for all the sense it makes.

            If I were one of the left-behinds, watching my children’s fates spiral down to meet their kindred souls from the 3rd World, I might as well blame the Mexicans too, why the hell not- makes as much sense as anything.

            This situation reminds me of the Vietnam War, where the truth that we were losing was obvious to every grunt but was invisible to the generals and politicians, who believed right until the end that we were winning.

            The first step to any policy is to set high level goals and moral priorities. In this case, if there is a period of pain and adjustment to a global economy, is our goal one where the pain is borne widely and distributed evenly, and do we strive for a situation where every boat is lifted?Report

            • Avatar j r says:

              How can anyone possibly believe in the Great Pumpkin after an entire lifetime of waiting for the magic payoff?

              What exactly is the Great Pumpkin in this analogy?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                The Great Pumpkin is the Great Prosperity that would happen if we cut taxes/regulation/freed our global markets from the stifling hand of government.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                Right, so let’s take a look at a few things that have happened in the past 40 years:

                – About 800 million Chinese people came out of extreme poverty; the largest such movement in the history of the world.
                – A reduction in extreme poverty globally of about 1 billion people.
                – An increase somewhere between 3 and 4 times in the global middle class

                Any way you slice it, the world is much much richer than it was 40 years ago and much of that wealth has found its way into the hands of people who would have only known poverty before the modern era.

                I guess that’s all no big deal, because a white American can no longer get an assembly line job with only a high school diploma that promises him a career of middle class wages and a fully funded pension. But even if you insist on ending your analysis at the border, you’ve still got a problem. What makes you think that the post-war American boom was ever sustainable?

                There are two possibilities here: one is that the median American was wealthier, but something or someone conspired to make her worse off in the last forty years; or two, the median American was never as wealthy as she thought she was. For whatever reason, you’ve decided in advance that it must be the latter. And when you decide your conclusions in advance, you don’t get very good analysis.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                No argument from me, since I am one of those coastal white collar professionals who enjoys 1st World wages and 3rd World prices.

                Go over to Breitbart and make that argument, which is basically, yes your children will live in misery but hey, lol it perhaps they get jobs mowing lawns for some Chinese princeling.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                OK, so I thought maybe that you might have some sort of substantive point to make aside from some general nostalgia and a complaint that Americans deserve better. Now, I see that you don’t.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                What are you hoping to hear?

                I mean really, what explanation for the resentment and inchoate rage of a hundred million Americans would be persuasive to you?

                Are you really trying to tell them their rage is illegitimate so they best STFU?

                Or just that they should be patient as sit a while longer and the Great Prosperity will rise?

                I’m not making a policy proposal. I’m just saying the stuff we’ve been hearing for 40 years is unconvincing. And telling us how great things are in Shenzen doesn’t make the argument better.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                @saul-degraw and @chip-daniels

                What are you hoping to hear?

                I get the being glib and all but the United States is still a democracy and those left behind can and might very well vote.

                I’m not hoping to hear anything. Hope has nothing to do with this. The universe is indifferent to our hope.

                If you guys want to continue to make this a conversation about what Americans supposedly deserve rather than a conversation about the economic realities of the world, be my guest. Just realize that I am not the one being glib.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                I don’t know why the economic realities of the world are important while social realities of human behavior are not.

                Isn’t science supposed to explain observable phenomema? According to the economic theory, Trump’s voters should be happy and content, ecstatic really, with the rise in their absolute wealth.
                And yet, somehow, the data is that they aren’t.
                Even more amazing, repeatedly admonishing them that they should be happy only makes them angrier.

                What political theory can explain this, and suggest a remedy?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Perhaps if our political class (all of them) haven’t spent the past 40+ years spouting a massive mixed message of “Education is the way out of poverty, but you should still be able to have a middle class existence with barely a high school diploma and the fact that all those jobs are leaving and paying less & less is the other parties fault!”

                Seriously, they all saw the writing on the wall decades ago, but telling people hard truths doesn’t get a person elected, and that is what is important, getting elected.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Suppose you were gifted with a magical megaphone by which you could communicate the “hard truth” with steelworkers and autoworkers in 1970.

                What honest message would you say to them?
                How do you think they would have reacted?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                That is a good question. I mean it. I don’t have a good answer.

                I suppose whatever message I gave, I would avoid lying about a future that I knew was unlikely to come to pass. I would tell people that I would do my best to help them keep their jobs, but they should prepare themselves for a future where those jobs are no longer in America. That they should take advantage of any and all government, corporate, and union opportunities to gain additional training and skills. Maybe work toward greater training and relocation assistance. Etc.

                What I wouldn’t do is promise Rainbow Farting Unicorns and then blame everything else when I couldn’t even deliver an old, broken down ass.

                Yeah, I’d make a crap politician.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                “What I wouldn’t do is promise Rainbow Farting Unicorns and then blame everything else when I couldn’t even deliver an old, broken down ass.”

                Oh, @oscar-gordon , you are very much an old, broken down ass.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                In 1979, I took a job at a local factory that made glass bottles.
                It was union, and paid what was then triple minimum wage for the starting positions of unskilled labor, which was picking up boxes and stacking them on pallets.

                Which would work out to about $25 / hour today.

                To stack boxes.

                Even then I could see how bizarre that was, and had an intuitive sense that it was unsustainable. Of course within a decade the factory was gone, and almost all glass bottles now are Chinese or whatever.

                But if I were gifted with the megaphone, I would speak not just to the factory workers then, but to the policy makers.

                Is the structure of global tariffs, regulations, and agreements REALLY an immutable law of nature?
                Aren’t there variable choices and options contained within it, that could have been exercised, but weren’t?

                The position of defenders of this current structure speak very much like clergy, that they are simply enforcing the self-evident truth of the universe, but which is so frail that it needs constant enforcement of vast volumes of regulations to be maintained, else chaos.

                Some things, like containerized cargo and the digital revolution, were unavoidable facts; others, like the provisions of NAFTA and TPP, were choices;

                And even accepting the outcome of the variables of fact and choice, our reactions- weren’t these choices too?

                When factories moved their operations to Mexico, how did America choose to react, how did we choose to treat the displaced workers?

                When the wealth from all the global trade began piling up, how do we choose to allocate it? How do we assign property rights to who gets to keep what, how much, and for how long?

                History didn’t have to turn out this way. The future isn’t written yet either.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                The debate in economics is between the people who see economic laws as innate forces of nature that can not be messed with and people who think that the market is a human construct that can be tempered with to meet human needs.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Would you like to play a game?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Suppose we were to accept that certain economic laws are natural forces of nature, e.g. supply and demand;
                Why do these necessarily rank ahead of the laws of human behavior?
                For instance, no human anywhere enjoys feeling excluded or treated as second class. This law is as universal and immutable as gravity.

                Yet when poor people complain about being treated with contempt by the rich, we consider it a strange aberration, an emotional response not worthy of policy consideration.

                Economics, by the way, is a second hand study of human behavior- When demand goes up, people invariably choose to react by raising prices.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                The debate in economics is between the people who see economic laws as innate forces of nature that can not be messed with and people who think that the market is a human construct that can be tempered with to meet human needs.

                No. That is a much more apt description of political debates, specifically online political debates.

                Economics debates focus on the causes of real-world phenomenon and the most appropriate interventions for increasing benefits and mitigating harm. That’s not to say that economics always has the answers or the right answers. It is to say that real world worm in economics looks like something very different from this comment thread.Report

              • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

                I think that people confuse describing things that are akin to “innate laws of the universe” and claiming that those laws support your particular policy preferences. Studying economics allows you to have a pretty good idea of what will happen if you put a tariff in place, set a price ceiling, etc. It’s up to voters and elected officials to decide whether those outcomes are what they want, but that’s all they get to decide.

                There’s a difference between saying, “I get that my preferred policy will have these negative side effects, but I think it’s worth it,” and, “Stop bringing up side effects! Economics isn’t the boss of me!” You hear that second one a whole lot in politics. To the extent that policies do really involve trade offs, economics is at least sort of the boss of us whether we like it or not.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                but telling people hard truths doesn’t get a person elected, and that is what is important, getting elected.

                McCain famously said those jobs are going, boys, and they ain’t coming back. And we know what happened to him.


              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                My issue with term “hard truths” is that it often seems to mean “This is why you need to suffer and bear the burden while I keep my cushy job that pays six figures or more!”

                This is why entitlement reform and raising the retirement age causes me to roll my eyes. It is very easy to talk about entitlement reform when you are the boss, don’t do physically demanding labor, and bring in six figures or more for writing a twice weekly column. Plus you married the daughter of a billionaire. How brave and bold you are for telling “hard truths.”Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                The problem with Hard Truths isn’t that the speaker of them isn’t affected; it’s that more often than not, the speaker of them waited too long to speak it.

                The titans of American Steel, and Unions, and the politicians they supported all knew American Steel would contract and vanish, and the smart ones began to diversify their fortunes as soon as possible. They knew this hard truth early on, as does any business leader worth a damn. Their sin was waiting until the rope was getting tight to tell the rank & file that the floor had just dropped out from under them & that they upward tugging they were feeling was not a safety line.

                I’d go so far as to say that many of those leaders actively lied about the future, so as to avoid a labor panic before they had secured their fortunes/political futures.

                As @chip-daniels says, there are realities, and their are choices, and sometimes those are easy to differentiate (Reality: A rock the size of NYC is heading for earth; Choice: Divert it, destroy it, do nothing & die), and sometimes they are intentionally obfuscated so that leaders can control the available choices to ones they find advantageous. This is a danger of representative democracy.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                I’ve no idea where this will land in the racism subthread, but it’s as good a place as any to share this paragraph I just found recently in a Chris Hedges book from 2010 (the era pre-Trump)

                “Our destitute working class now understands that the cloying feel-your-pain language of the liberal class is a lie. The liberal class is not attempting to prevent wages from sinking, unemployment from mounting, foreclosures from ripping apart communities, or jobs from being exported. The gap between the stark reality and the happy illusions being peddled by smarmy television personalities, fatuous academic and financial experts, oily bureaucrats and politicians, is becoming too wide to ignore. Those cast aside are often willing to listen to anyone, no matter how buffoonish or ignorant, who promises that the parasites and courtiers who serve the corporate state will disappear. Right-wing rage is becoming synonymous with right-wing populism.”

                Not a comment on y’all, but I just hear a LOT of liberal friends in the states say things that sound like “They’d vote for us if they were just better people”. Usually the middle class in a country is the force of stability and democratic liberalism- which is why you don’t want to hollow them out.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                You mean all those Facebook Meme’s about how the poor white guy in the picture is crazy/stupid because he votes for the GOP while they gut his Union and promote offshoring?Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                I just keep getting these posts about “Why are they voting against their interests with Trump??!” And I think as opposed to voting against their interests with Clinton?Report

              • Or voting against their interests with Cruz, Rubio, or Jeb!.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                If I can’t trust you to protect my economic interests, I bet I can trust that guy to protect my social interests.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I forget who said it or what the exact wording was, but the idea that “Anger isn’t a plan” rings true.

                What I find interesting is that most of the angry people (largely blur collar white men) oppose the sorts of legislation that just might help them. Things like an increased minimum wage, greater regulation, an improved safety net, better schools, and stronger unions. Why? It seems to me they’ve been convinced that those things help OTHER people, not them.

                And MAYBE they’re right about not being helped by those things, but they rarely offer a counter-proposal beyond “I’m angry!” and “Dey tirk ar jabs!”

                I think many of them fancy that they would be Donald Trump if not for THOSE people… For various definitions of “THOSE people.” The reality is an unskilled or limited skill laborer living in a very expensive country (on a global scale) is always going to be more frump than Trump.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                But that’s the great GOP con in a nutshell.

                I mean, heck — LBJ said it “”If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

                This isn’t new.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Wasn’t LBJ a Democrat?

                I don’t want to make this necessarily an R vs D thing. It seems to be rooted in something much more human that people in power will exploit any way they can.

                The question remains: What do we do about this?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                I don’t see any good outcome that doesn’t begin with an a positive vision of something better, something inclusive where everyone can see themselves as a success.
                The idea of community solidarity is essentially a small c conservative idea, of obedience to group norms. Right now we just have vast swaths of America that are being excluded from the tribe.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Well, from the Democratic perspective, there’s probably a bit of “What’s this we stuff, Kemosabe?”.

                The GOP laid down with dogs for 40 years, now they’ve got really obvious fleas. Ironically, we were JUST being told racism was dead too.

                But there’s not much TO do. Look, a good chunk of Americans — concentrated but not exclusive to the South — are racist. There are a lot of xenophobes, ranging from temporarily due to strained economic situations to permanently so.

                And one party has really catered to them. Groomed them.

                It’s a fact. A part of America we have to live with. Racism isn’t dead, it didn’t die in 1964, and pretending it did is just fooling yourself.

                What am I gonna do? *shrug*. What I’ve always done. Oppose racists and xenophobes. Vote against it, call it out, and in general live my life in such a way as to make it clear I find racism fundamentally unacceptable. Social disapproval and ballot box disapproval is all there is.

                It’s a free society, after all.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                I’m calling BS on “Look, a good chunk of Americans — concentrated but not exclusive to the South — are racist.”

                I’ve lived in the mid atlantic for 30 years and it’s just as racist as South Carolina, for example. In fact, it’s more hostile in it’s racism than in SC, and that’s from living in a progressive/liberal state. Folks around here are just better at hiding it, and expressing their opinions “with their own kind”.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Concentrated racism is real, alright. Some of it is concentrated in the MidAtlantic.

                You ever meet anyone who would consider it their right to rape someone of a different race? Who actively does that on a normal basis?

                There’s racism, and then there’s “my god, what is WRONG with America” racism.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Chris Rock had a monologue about other, nicer, racisms just the other day at the movie thing.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Yeah, but you didn’t see him mention the Jewish History Award, now did you?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Good catch. I always suspected Chris Rock hated Jews and only talked about anti-Jewish bigotry in his act to appear PC.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                *snort* you’re totally missing my critique and who I’m critiquing, and I suppose that ought to constitute a further critique of you.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Oh! Well that clears everything up.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Your welcome.
                My count is 9 out of… is that 88? And a good chunk of that 88 don’t actually count, as they happened before the event in question.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Totally with ya. 9 from 88 is 79, so there’s a real history here which is so obvious-yet-repulsive we can’t actually bring ourselves to say what it is in polite company. Yrgghh.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                My point is that the assumption that is concentrated in the south is BS. It’s everywhere, not just in the south. It may be “concentrated” in certain specific pockets within larger geographic areas, for example, in Austin Tx but not Texas in general, but it’s everywhere.

                And I’ve met my fair share of racist, but I’ve never met anyone that specific in details. Again, the racism I’ve seen has been more on the D/L.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:


                Neither have I but I do keep my ears out. Native Americans have a pretty rough time of it.Report

              • Avatar El Muneco says:

                I think that there’s an evolving social norm, particularly in Blue country, that “isms” are unacceptable in public discourse. This, on the face of it, should make getting along (and getting by) easier, but it has a couple of knock-on effects:

                – People who hold “isms” in Blue country don’t actually change their thoughts, so even if they’re all smiles in public, they are not changing their opinions, which they do express when the lodge is tyled.
                – People who don’t hold “isms” (and aren’t targeted by “isms”) in Blue country don’t necessarily realize this, so they think we’re much further along in actually eliminating “isms” than we are.
                – People who are targeted by “isms” in Blue country aren’t stupid, and see both of the above, leading to cynicism and anger (if not the fear and rage engendered in Red country)
                – People who hold “isms” in Red country, when they encounter the evolving social norm, are targeted as bad people in ways that their Blue co-believers aren’t. Thus the railing against “political correctness”.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                I find it more prevalent and more institutionalized in places where Jim Crow held sway.

                I think the “more institutionalized” bit is really the kicker. Your own casual racism is one thing (believe what you want!) it’s when it gets embedded into society, law, and culture to the extent that it enforces your racism onto everyone that it becomes really problematic. (Slavery being the extreme example of this, with Jim Crow as a more cultural/social version).Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                I disagree that it’s more prevalent. As I said, I think in my area is much more concealed by certain groups. The higher up the food chain, the more discrete folks are in making sure you’re “one of them” before they spout off.

                This has not been the case when I was in the South. I’ve been introduced to someone and in that same meeting, they have made racist comments.

                Curiously, the racism I’ve seen where I live is more hostile vs the ones in the south that I’ve seen as being more paternalistic and condescending. Your mileage may vary. Note, technically I live in the South below the Mason Dixon Line.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                You’d think that the more enlightened parts of the country would have more integrated schools, were that the case.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I wonder if there is a pattern in which states seem to be trying to make it harder for some people to vote.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Yeah, that completely makes red-lining okay.

                “But, hey! We let them vote!”Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                If that was point you got me. Sadly it wasn’t. Are you fine with trying to stop people of color from voting? If no then you shouldn’t have any problem with pointing out where it is happening. That doesn’t make any thing else okay. Just wondering if there was a pattern there? What is so wrong about that? There is plenty of racism to go around.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I think the idea is that racism is more pronounced in the south, and that view gains credence by the degree to which you think Nixon’s Southern Strategy and Reagan’s Repeat explicitly appealed to the racism of southerners to gain an electoral edge.

                Well, not explicitly, of course. Dog whistled. A sound which apparently only liberals can hear. And dogs.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                People get delighted to point out that the racism held by those other people is actually a lot worse than “our” racism. The difference in kind is held up as evidence for a difference of degree.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Well, lots of southern states have also implemented very restrictive voter ID laws and such, as well. It’s not like the case is based on just a single data point.

                But I will say that, ala Chris Rock, there are different types of racism, and it’s probably correct to say that “lynch the bastard” racism is worse than “you’re not Kappa material” racism. So I think (if you reversed the order of things up there) that difference of degree can slip into difference in kind pretty easily.

                Other than that, I’m not sure what your point is. That descriptions of racism attributed to “other people” are necessarily hypocritical?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It’s more that white people yelling at other white people about the evils of different flavors of racism seems to be a lot more about jockeying for position than anything related to Black (or Hispanic (or Asian)) people at all.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Well, discussions about racism amongst white people are intractable because no one (NO ONE!)* thinks they’re a racist.

                *Except, to his everlasting credit, one commenter here who shall remain nameless.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Is anti-anti-rascism that big of hill to argue on. Am i missing an anti, should it be anti-anti-anti-rascism?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Racism, like everything else, evolves.

                If you liked the post-Enlightenment, you’re going to *LOVE* the post-post-Enlightenment.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I’m anti post enlightenment. I’ll see about being anti post post enlightenment when the phrase post enlightenment makes sense. I’m assuming post E is about never talking about racism. Can i talk about antisemitism since i have a lot jews in my wife family and on my moms side. Or is there an anti anti semitsm?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Talk about whatever you like.

                Just don’t be surprised when you find yourself in the mood to start sarcastically asking permission to talk about how racist those people are for not responding appropriately to being told how racist a third group is.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                Everything you wrote is true and it is very good. I said in my essay that I could not deny that the Chinese, Bangladeshis, and others have much higher standards of living because of globalization.

                Yet the United States is still a military superpower. There is obviously a market for Trump and/or demagogues like him among those whose standards of living have declined because of globalization. I worry about what a person like Trump could do as Commander-in-Chief.

                I get the being glib and all but the United States is still a democracy and those left behind can and might very well vote. Isn’t it a bit glib to not care about those left-behind if they can go and elect a guy like Trump in return?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                if Trump has done one good thing, it is that even the likes of Peggy Noonan are mouthing the words “left behinds”.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Well, they work more than before. The last article I read was about Chinese factory workers hitting a new average of 400 hours a month. If you want to consider that a higher standard of living, you’re free to.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                You are sort of saying, but not directly, that the American Working Class might need to get used to a lower standard of living. That might very well be true. That being said, do you expect them to take this fact in a silent or subservient way or do you think they will react and fight. Maybe not wisely but react and fight none-the-less.Report

          • Avatar Road Scholar says:

            This is precisely where mainstream economists have a tremendous blind spot. I have outlined the mechanism several times over the past couple years on these very pages.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Several years ago there was a gas station commercial that featured a modern guy getting freaked out about 1950s era gas station attendants wanting to do things for him like put the gas in his car, wash his windows, and change the oil. It was a minor hit as far as commercial goes because people were nostalgic for that level of service or wanted that level of service. Matt Yglesias wrote a piece arguing that the commercial is erroneous to want full service gas stations because the rise of self-service gas station means and increase in wealth since it is no longer economical to pay people to provide that level of service because people have better options.

    Matt Yglesias and many other people miss the point when it comes to economics. Factually, the world is a wealthier place but most people in the developed world felt more financial security during the post-war boom than they do now. You could have career long employment for the most part. Unions were strong enough to provide protection. You didn’t feel like you were going to get into trouble or jeopardize your career if you took a vacation. Health insurance didn’t seem like a major hassle to deal with. There is an emotional component to prosperity and security that existed back than for more people than now.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      “Factually, the world is a wealthier place but most people in the developed world felt more financial security during the post-war boom than they do now.”

      Genuine question: Was this really true for “most people”? Or “most white people”? “Most white males”?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        White women married to white men and their children most likely felt financially secure to but your point is taken. That was still many more people feeling financially secure in an emotional sense than now.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      Factually, the world is a wealthier place but most people in the developed world felt more financial security during the post-war boom than they do now.

      Yeah, as @kazzy says, this perspective belies a certain position within that post-war boom. A union job was great, if you could get it, but access to those jobs was pretty tightly controlled and doled out based on things like ethnicity or membership within certain social circels. And we all know about post-war housing policy and who that benefited. Heck, there was still a great deal of legitimate rural poverty in 1960s America, as in wood and tin shack, no electricity, barefoot kids playing in the mud poverty.

      Even those white women married to middle class white men were only as financially secure as their willingness or ability to say in that marriage. That’s a pretty big caveat, no?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        This is where I think some of Lee and Saul’s very non-liberal leanings emerge. I mean, waxing nostalgia for the good ol’ days of the 40s/50s???Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          When did I express nostalgia? I was describing. I said that nothing lasts forever and there was no right to have ways of life last forever. But I can also see why a large part of the population feels screwed and left behind.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            I know, let’s just blow up the rest of the world!
            Then we won’t be LEFT BEHIND!

            How many nuclear wars do we need in the middle east before the rapture comes, anyway?Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Fair counter, Saul. You were not nostalgic here. But at other times and in other places you have expressed a genuine sense of loss about what was ended to achieve real social progress, much of which was white, male, Christian privilege.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              Considering you know I am
              Not Christian, you might want to think really long and slow and hard about accusing me of advocating for White Christian male privilegeReport

              • Avatar Kim says:

                What’s your opinion about the Jewish Film Award at the Oscars last night?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I should have been clearer in specifying that I was referring to three distinct but often intersecting types of privilege, two of which you do enjoy.

                That said, what the fuck, dude… are we in the school yard? Is that your idea of a threat? Fuck off, dude.Report

      • Avatar James K says:


        That’s the tricky part. It’s easy to make a segment of the population better off if you’re prepared to screw over the rest of the population. Making everyone better off is significantly harder.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar says:

          Indeed. Now ponder your statement in conjunction with the meteoric rise in the fortunes of those at the very top of the pyramid while the working/middle class has stagnated at best or precipitously declined at worst.Report

          • Avatar James K says:


            My point is that globalisation has little if anything to do with that.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              That’s the theory, isn’t it?

              Two questions:

              1. What would constitute countervailing evidence to the theory at this point? Is it even possible to find empirical evidence so support Road’s contention that globalization has led to the meteoric rise in the fortunes of those at the very top of the pyramid while the working/middle class has stagnated at best or precipitously declined at worst? (That’s an especially relevant question given the paper Jaybird linked to, seems to me.)

              2. If globalization isn’t the cause of wage stagnation for the middle and lower classes and the accumulation of wildly disproportionate wealth and income gains for those at the top, and yet those states seem persistent and (wrt wages anymore) endemic, is radical redistribution the answer to income and wealth disparities? Or is the theory that all this stuff if “self correcting” and folks just need to be (intergerationally) patient?Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Well, I’m just spitballing here, but here’s an example of countervailing evidence: If the increase in wealth of the meteorically rising faction of people at the top was comparable to the lost gains of the middle and lower populations on the pyramid that’d suggest that the elite are simply making off with it.

                Now, currently, the numbers don’t add up. The top 1% are doing fabulously well, but not even remotely well enough to equate for the lost wealth. We all know where it’s going. A portion of it is being dissipated over everyone as general improvements (the neoliberals perennial lower prices for stuff) and a portion of it is going over seas and improving the lot of the developing world. And yeah a fraction is definitely being taken by the 1% on both sides of the ocean, just not the majority of it or even close to most of it.

                Which is a pity, really, because if the wealthy were just taking all of it then in theory you could just take it back or stop them taking any more.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Thanks North.

                If I’m reading that correctly, you’re saying that neoliberal trade has been, in aggregate for the US economy, net-negative, yes? (“The top 1% are doing fabulously well, but not even remotely well enough to equate for the lost wealth.”)

                Doesn’t that claim, if true – a claim that you’re offering as a description or statement of fact – constitute countervailing evidence all on its own? The theory – correct me if I’m wrong! – is that liberalized free trade increases the total wealth of each trade partner, so ipsofacto, it increases wealth in our domestic economy.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I wouldn’t go as far as you’re gong Stillwater because in the interest of simplification we, and especially I have been glossing over a crap ton of things. For instance globalization and free trade has created a crap ton of jobs right here in the US and not just Mcjobs either. From manufacturing to farming up to engineering, software and financials services and everything in between got jobs created. I’m of the opinion that for the country as a whole? Globalization is a net positive for the country, but for the specific narrow slice of America we’re talking about here? I can easily see it being a negative.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I’m of the opinion that for the country as a whole? Globalization is a net positive

                Just as the theory requires! (Heh. Just kidding.)

                {{If so, then there should be lots of surplus “wealth” to increase transfer payments to the losers in the globalization game, yes? I mean, that surplus isn’t driving up domestic wages or anything…}} 🙂Report

              • Avatar North says:

                If I ever gave the impression that I’m opposed to safety nets or transfer payments it’s the wrong impression. As long as we get value for what we pay for and we take incentives and effects into account I’m all for transfer payments and safety nets both. I am not a libertarian.Report

              • Avatar El Muneco says:

                I linked a chart in a recent comment thread. I don’t know if anyone can say what the cause is, but the top 1% is doing very well, the region down to about the lower US middle class and, worldwide, everyone up to about the high end of US minimum wage, are doing at least marginally better than in 1980 (some of the poorer segment much better, although not surpassing the relative gains of the 1%). And everyone in between – the developed world’s working class and the developing world’s middle class – are paying for it.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Can we talk about the end of globalization? Or at least the dramatic restructuring of our energy profiles such that it’s no longer nearly as profitable to “make” things one place and “assemble” them someplace else?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        The ideas that the post-war boom was only prosperous if you had access to a union job simplifies it. There was also an increased in non-unionized white collar work and an increased call for engineers, scientists, technicians, doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors, and other professionals. Even if you were working a non-unionized blue collar job, conditions were still a lot better than anything you knew previously because you actually had regular wage work when previously you might have been as close as you can get to a peasant in the United States or doing irregular wage work. Only around a quarter to a third of the workforce was unionized but times were still prosperous. And yes white people did better than people of color and men more than women but African-American wages were rising and more career opportunities were opening up for women.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          But we’re not comparing that era to past eras. We’re comparing that era to the current era. Times today are, on the whole, better than they were in the past. In absolute terms, you’d be hard pressed to find a definable group that is worse off than they were 70 years ago. In relative terms, yes, some are worse off. But much of what they lost was largely ill-gotten — on a societal level — to begin with.Report

        • Avatar j r says:

          The ideas that the post-war boom was only prosperous if you had access to a union job simplifies it.

          That is a simplification. Good thing that’s not what I wrote.

          Here’s what you wrote though:

          It’s an even bigger problem for libertarians because many of them come off as unable to understand this.

          What does this mean? I understand that people like having these ideological pissing contests disguised as policy conversations, but let’s stop pretending that they mean anything. The question of what liberals or libertarian or conservatives “seem to” understand or how they “come off” is completely orthogonal to the very real set of economic, social and cultural trends that define the real world.

          The idea that we ought to be making policy decisions based on nostalgia or its equivalents is so far beyond absurd that I have hard time understanding why anyone thinks it’s a good idea. And when you get people to actually take a position, more often than not, they admit as much, but then go right back to having the political conversation based on nostalgia.Report

    • Avatar James K says:


      Granting your premises, what is the best policy response? I liken it to people who demand the government be tougher on crime, even as crime falls. The problem is the mismatch between people’s perceptions and the reality, so what is the best thing to do? Pander to the misconception or challenge it? I mean I know what politicians are going to do, but is it reasonable that they do so?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        My point is that the issue seems to not be a mismatch between perception and reality. I think these things can be asymmetric. I am not convinced by the absolute wealth argument of economic growth. I think that there very well can be large swaths of the American public who have not experienced recovery since various recessions. I can see how the benefits of free trade can seem more apparent to white-collar workers over blue-collar workers. There have been some attempts at outsourcing white-collar work but those attempts largely seem to fail.

        I said in my article that there are no easy answers but that doesn’t mean I don’t think that people’s anger is unjustified. I think you are kind of proving Lund’s point. Academics and wonks have just been trained to keep anger out of their worldview and they are not the ones whose fortunes have been reversed anyway. They largely don’t live near any area of economic decline. Matt Y can gloss about how great “free trade” is because he is a Dalton-Harvard educated opinion journalist. Do you think he would have the same attitude if he grew up in a household where is grandad and dad had good union jobs but he worked for much less money and no benefits?

        Despite what Kazzy said above, I am not nostalgic for the 1940s or 50s. But I can recognize how people who feel and might very well be screwed over are going to react. The “cheaper Iphones” argument does not work. People obviously care about the kinds of work they do and for whatever reason, many people feel that working in tough fields like welding and manufacturing is much more psychologically rewarding than a service economy job.Report

        • Avatar James K says:


          I get people are angry, my point is not that their anger is unjustified but rather that their anger is misdirected. It’s not just iPhones and computers that are cheaper – cars, TVs, clothes and any number of other mainstream consumer goods are all cheaper because of globalisation. Trade hasn’t made food much cheaper, but that because so many countries (including, but certainly not limited to the US) remain intransigent on the topic of liberalising agricultural trade.

          Are there people who have genuinely lost out from freer trade? Almost certainly, and some of them will even have low incomes (the biggest losers from free trade are wealthy people who have a lot of money invested in equipment that can only be used in import-competing industries). But it is human nature to blame outgroups for our misfortunes, and the costs of trade liberalisation are more visible than the benefits. That means far more people think they have lost from freer trade than have actually lost out from freer trade. The things that are more expensive are things that aren’t affected by trade liberalisation very much – healthcare, education and housing. Is it unreasonable for me to suggest that people direct some anger at the issues with those industries instead of indulging in xenophobia?

          As is so often the case in debates between liberals and libertarians, you are interpreting a disagreement over diagnosis as a lack of compassion.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            This points back to Sauls claim that job training doesn’t work well. Politicians & pundits harp on free trade because it’s akin to blaming nature; no one faults them for failing to prevent an earthquake, but they are avoiding the discussion of what they failed to do afterwards.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            For an equivalent quality washing machine, it’s DEFINITELY not cheaper (because so few people can afford a $2000 washing machine, and the American companies don’t even make them). We have cheaper goods that are designed to break after minimal use, and wreck the rest of the house in the process (see water leaks growing mold in the basement). Now, with clothing, that may not matter as much — see fashion saying “new clothes every year”, so what if they fall apart with a year of average wear…?Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

            “(the biggest losers from free trade are wealthy people who have a lot of money invested in equipment that can only be used in import-competing industries).”

            The problem with this @james-k is frankly, I don’t think there’s that many people who qualifies under this. What actually happens, like I said above, is that to blue collar people, they’re the only people screwed in this deal. Fifty years ago, the typewriter factory or whatever went out of business, but the owner of the factory took a loss as well. Far too often, as we saw with Bain Capital and the like, laying off American workers to offshore the work only means the owners get more wealthy because they’ve diversified so they’re not only invested in “equipment that can only be used in import-competing industries)”

            Which, bully for them, but it’s not great optics for anybody trying to defend free trade to a tool ‘n’ dye worker in Wisconsin.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I never said that there was a good policy response to the above situation.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      At the risk of getting pragmatic, those old cars leaked and/or burnt oil in, by modern standards, absurd quantities. Those gas station attendants weren’t there to change your oil–at least not parked next to the pump. They were checking to see if you needed your oil topped off. In other words, they were there to sell you additional stuff while filling your tank. I have no real data behind this, but I suspect that oil was a high margin item compared to gasoline, what with stiff price competition on the latter. There would be no point in their checking your oil nowadays.Report

  7. Avatar Barry says:

    “There has also been much ink spilled on whether the Republicans or the Democratic Party is responsible for the rise of Trump. However, the real source of the rise of Trump is probably anger. As Jed Lund notes,”

    I will add just a little more:

    1) Most of what Trump is selling is a 198-proof version of what the GOP was selling.

    2) He’s winning the GOP nomination, not the Democratic nomination.

    3) The politicians/officials/apparatchniks kissing his ring seem to be overwhelmingly GOP.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I don’t disagree. I have nothing but contempt for the GOP figures wailing about Trump. This is their bed and they can lie in it.Report

  8. Avatar j r says:

    What strikes me about the arguments from free-traders is simply their inability to admit that globalization might have negative consequences; that there can be losers. Nothing lasts forever. There is no right for a way of life to continue, but free trade advocates seem gobsmacked that people are not going to accept their arguments without a fight — especially those who held the manufacturing jobs that went overseas.

    I don’t know, Saul. This seems very typical of one of your posts in that it is powered, to some extent, by a desire to grossly oversimplify other people’s arguments and overall point of view. I made a comment on another post about the mistake of assuming that politics is a leading indicator, when it is almost always at a lag. Politics is mostly reactive. Politics is men and women in unstylish clothing standing next to an issue and pretending to have way more efficacy than they actually do. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of globalization and free trade.

    A few months ago I moved to Asia. And one of the first things to strike me when I got here is how much better some things work than others, but also how much less of a customer service ethic at work here. Here, there is a process for things. And for the most part that process works really well, but when that process doesn’t get you what you want there often aren’t many alternatives. In the United States, if something isn’t working for you, there is a good chance that someone will come up to you, tell you his or her name, and assume some level of personal responsibility for getting you what you want. That almost never happens where I live now.

    All of this has made me realize a few things about how different cultures work differently. And it’s no surprise to me why China has done so well at manufacturing. There are a lot of Americans who just don’t have all that much experience with the world outside of America. And a lot of those folks have been fed a steady diet of how great America is and how we do everything better than everyone else. So, when those people see other countries doing things competitively, more competitively than the United States, lots of those people start to believe that the fix is in. That, more than anything else, explains Donald Trump and populism in general.

    All of this is a just a long winded way of saying that most of us who support free trade, and globalization in general, do so because we understand the inevitability of it all. We could absolutely be doing more to prepare for the future and to be more competitive, but you don’t get there by being protectionist. You don’t get more competitive by limiting competition. The world simply does not work that way.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      I can add something here as well.

      I worked for a company a few years ago that imported certain technology from France, yes France. Our end customer wanted this particular product because the technology was VASTLY better than what the US had developed. The technology was “elegant” as well. Well designed, well functioning, etc. Even the poor FX rate didn’t impact the decision. Europe and Asia have got some good tech products most in the US don’t even know about.Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal says:

      What noticeable differences in the local velocity of money and quantum of financialization do you see in Asia as compared to the US? What do small business profit margins look like?Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Can’t say that I know the answer to either of those questions. And I’m not exactly sure what you mean by the quantum of finanicialization. I don’t really work on Asian economies, so my observations are from living here.

        I have noticed that there is a lot of small business turnover in the city that I live, probably because rents are high and rising. Also, people get on the property ladder early and aren’t shy about taking leverage and flipping. My guess is that this has something to do with the lack of a comprehensive social security scheme.Report

  9. Avatar Kolohe says:

    If free trade is so problematic, why don’t we get rid of the commerce clause and allow states to raise tariffs and regulate goods and services coming from outside the state?Report

  10. Avatar North says:

    Good article, quintessentially Saul and fine for that- I think you’ve felt about the outlines of the problem pretty well.

    There’s no arguing that globalization has hit some groups harder than others and their resentment is easy enough to understand. That remains a genie that can’t be shoved back into the bottle and it’s anyone’s argument if it’s a genie that ever could have been kept in the bottle in the first place. The mid 1900’s we’re talking about were a curious time: a third of the world’s industry bulldozed flat by war; a third of the world’s industry locked into the stasis of command economics and the last third going flat out providing for the rest at a natural advantage. As the first two phenomena passed, and I’d question the humanity of anyone who doesn’t celebrate the fading of the scars of war or the loosening of the iron fist of ignorance and oppression, the third naturally also fades. Could the tissue of government trade policy have preserved the latter? I doubt it, the cost would have been terrific and no doubt in blood as well as treasure.

    It certainly also bears noting that we’re laboring in the shadow of a historic recession of our own. Globalized economies are effected by global conditions and global conditions are fragile: The European Union is grappling (or rather failing to grapple) with the quixotic economic contradictions of their own union. In the far east the edifice of our new modern industrialized China, their low hanging fruit now consumed, is beginning to creak and groan as the times demand evolution and liberalization from a government ill designed to do either. In the Middle East the Islamic peoples appear to be headed into the maw of their own religious equivalent of the hundred years war only fought with modern weapons. Will it take a century of bloodletting before the religious absolutists of their various sects kill, discredit and exhaust themselves to the point where the great compromises of the enlightenment can take hold? It could. And the waves of disruption and refugees from that conflagration roll ever outwards shaking structures already grappling with problems of their own. Then over top of that you have the questions of ecology: AGW globally and China’s very habitability more national/locally. Suffice to say the headwinds are stiff and when economics sputter it’s always the least advantaged who suffer the most.

    Into this grim environment we have our respective uprisings twins (though emphatically fraternal rather than identical) on the left and the right. On the right the uprising is strong: the rights own base ideologies and the contradictions of the GOP’s chosen tactics and strategies have fed a rage that lends their disaffected numbers and passion. On the left the uprising is passionate but weaker: the technocratic left’s establishment has been uncertain and unsatisfying but they are neither as utterly indifferent or as blatantly disingenuous as the establishment on the right has been. Thus on the right Trump’s disruptions and threat waxes while on the left the more principled and measured campaign of Sander’s is losing steam.

    Are there answers? Not easy ones and not great ones. The technocratic left says “We’re wrestling with some big global problems, we have to give it time and we’ll try and help you out if we can but we can’t turn the clock back.” Not exactly a ringing battlecry to rally the troops I admit. The right, meanwhile, is roiling in near disarray, the traditional centrist right cry of “You’re tough enough to figure it out yourself and we’re just going to cut your taxes and get out of your way.” Is simply not selling. Their traditional God, Gays and Guns distraction has run out of moxie, panting on the sidelines it has little strength to lend to aid the establishment or distract the base.

    So we have Trump peddling immigration restrictionism and a whole lot of empty Pablum. By itself that’s pretty thin beer but when you add in the last couple decades of the establishment right’s training their base to believe that bluster and passion is all that is needed to achieve policy victory then suddenly Trumps towering bluster and bravado gains unnatural potency particularly when measured against the naked disingenuous fecklessness of the rights’ traditional elite. The foundations are cracking on the right and the tower is swaying. I still think that the weakened grip of the establishment will win out again but I both not as certain as I once as and am entirely unsympathetic to their richly earned plight.

    So we have Bernie who answers these policy problems with calls for revolution and gestures at the more social democratic market economies of the industrial west. The revolution, however, has failed to show (it didn’t even RSVP) and the social democracies of the industrial west are struggling with the same problems we are. Clinton is, as the Clintons ever have, responded with trimming; tacking as leftward within the technocratic lane as she can. This isn’t going to satisfy or even come close to satisfying those who have been hurt by globalization and who’re feeling the Bern but it displays enough empathy to reach out to the marginal undecided’s. The center of gravity in the Democratic Party sits closer to the middle than its twin center of gravity does for the right. The Democratic establishment hasn’t taken the same shortcuts or contradictory positions that the GOP establishment has and the establishment left has significant recent victories on their record as opposed to the historic fiasco’s that ooze across the paper for the establishment right. Insufficient, unsatisfying, the leftward uprising says and not without merit, but that simply doesn’t stoke the same fury that failure and defeat stokes on the right.

    And so the whole thing lurches drunkenly forward and the economists and technocrats hang on with white knuckles. The hope had always been that the boons of globalization and free trade would outweigh the costs. In the roaring 90’s and the early aughts they did but natural short sightedness and some cataclysmically bad decisions (made by the right but with the craven acquiescence of the establishment left) ate up the surpluses that should have been socked away for the lean times we’re wrestling with now. Can the industrial left hold their populist impulses at bay long enough for the tide to come back in and sooth the disaffected? I hope so but I don’t know it can. I hope that the uprising on the right shatters the policy traffic jam that has paralyzed our options for palliative action since 2010. Clinton doesn’t offer solutions that will dispel our problems in the near term but she does offer band aids to ease the pain. Maybe band aids will suffice; they look better to me than any of the other options on tap.

    All eyes turn to the GOP primary right now. What happens next? We will see, I suppose, we will see.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Ahh, ignorance is bliss.
      Burning the candle at both ends never ends well.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      The problem with the technocratic side is that they often try to play a long game and democratic politics does not always allow for a long game. Can you imagine a politician getting elected by saying “Life is going to be rough for the next 30 years but things will be booming after that!!”Report

      • Avatar North says:

        It’s true, it’s easier to peddle policies that’ll make life worse in the long run and only appear better in the short. Such is politics. It’s the same iron law that hammers environmentalists.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      (slow clap)

      Someone was eating his Loquacious Wheaties this morning.Report

  11. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Another aspect of this question is automation. As I understand the numbers, far more US manufacturing jobs have disappeared because of automation than because of offshoring. This isn’t just a US problem; Foxconn, the largest contract electronics assembly company in the world (Taiwanese, but with over a million employees in China), is actively bringing automation into its lines (estimating replacement of 30% of its workforce over five years). They make the usual statements about human workers moving up the food chain into higher-value work — in practice, those jobs are likely to require significantly different skills and more education.

    Automation isn’t just about the difference in direct labor costs. Indirect costs are also important. For many repetitive assembly jobs, machines are just better at it than people. That changes the strategy for testing, reduces rejection and return rates, etc. Trump’s tariffs may well bring manufacturing back into the US. It’s much less clear that it will bring back most of the manufacturing jobs. From years back in some of my own experience, the level of education and skill set needed to do manual pick-and-place of integrated circuits and other components on a printed circuit board is very different than the education and skill set needed to design, calibrate, or trouble-shoot a pick-and-place machine.

    From one perspective, the biggest enemy of manufacturing jobs isn’t management or politicians — it’s engineers and programmers.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Hell, people ignore the fact that tarrifs don’t happen in a vacuum. When our trading partners level their retaliatory tarrifs jobs will vanish in the US in abandon. It does not look likely that a trade war would result in more net good jobs in the US than there are now.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        Indeed. I know there’s at least one real economist here, and I think more people who know more theory than I do. I have a different question for them (bear with me, I’ll get to it at some point here) Ricardo, as I recall, implicitly assumed that countries would trade goods and services. In his day, there were pretty hard limits on the amount of debt and credit that could be extended. For the last 40 or more years, the US has generally run a quite large trade imbalance, with many of the dollars that left for foreign-produced goods and services coming back to purchase public and private debt instruments (or fixed assets like real estate). I understand the accounting identities that make this so. As a hypothetical, what would be the result of requiring in some fashion that trade be more strictly confined to goods and services?

        Large disruptions in the short term for sure. But what about the longer term?Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I believe there are more than a few economists here, including some with advanced degrees, though one of those is a New Zealander and therefore doesn’t count since the economy spins in the opposite direction down there.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          My knee jerk impression (I am not an economist) is that you’d just add a distortion layer. You’d end up with a series of forms of financial instruments that paid a discount on US dollars used to buy US goods. Also you’d have an utter enforcement nightmare, the ones public policy makers pale thinking of: standard government wage earners/ladder climbers disinterestedly pursing enforcement while million dollar paid private analysis passionately seek to circumvent enforcement.Report

        • Avatar James K says:


          It depends on what the capital entering the country is being invested wisely, the US is benefiting from that capital entering the country. Without access to foreign capital markets, the cost of borrowing in the US would be much higher – and higher interests rates have a contractionary effect on an economy. Also bear in the mind the Federal Government is a foreign borrower so removing access to foreign capital means lower spending, higher taxes or higher deficits.

          If the capital is not being invested wisely, that’s a problem, but it would also be a problem if the malinvested capital were sourced domestically. If some market failure is leading to bad investment decisions that is best handled directly rather than messing about with international capital flows.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      Automation doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in higher-education jobs, though. Maybe what it means is that instead of ten artisan machinists, you’ve got one guy who dumps pellets into a hopper and one guy who pulls finished parts out of the bin (and the two of them work together to unjam the machine when the extruder clogs).Report

      • Avatar North says:

        And one more who repairs the machine when it busts or debugs the code when it squawks.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “repair when it busts”–see above re: “unjam the extruder”.

          If it breaks beyond those two guys’ fixing, buy a new one. They’ll be cheaper to replace than they will to fix (and faster, too).

          “debug the code” there is no more “code” that goes into this than there is code that goes into an injection-molding machine today.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            Annnnd, no.

            Robots/manufacturing machines are a capital investment, and will be for a long time to come. They are not disposable toasters or waffle irons.

            And they all involve considerable software/code. Much, much more than an injection molding machine. The software development that goes into any CNC device is impressive, as is the on-site programming that needs to be done and maintained.

            That said, using robots means there will need to be operational & maintenance staff for them. Not as many people as a human production line, but people nonetheless, and they will have to be trained, and skilled. There is no magic path back to a middle class lifestyle that is absent some manner of formal education. And before the “free college for all” arguments start, perhaps we should be looking at the public education curriculum and seeing if we can’t change things there somehow.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              My robot has a 5 year warranty… because it’s that unlikely to break in that timeperiod.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                What’s the routine maintenance schedule, that requires a reasonably skilled worker from time-to-time, needed to keep that warranty in force?Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                About every five years or so (that’s why the warranty is so cheap, the parts are good). [I like the sterilize feature! But that’s not skilled labor]

                Got the robot when my husband looked at the service notes for the American products, and the recommendation was to buy two water pumps if one failed, because you’d just as likely have the second fail too (so buy a third, and between the two of them, one ought to function).Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Is that a robot, or a machine?Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Miele calls it a robot. A machine uses only gears and stuff, a robot is programmable and uses circuits, and is a lot more flexible about washing clothing.

                It’s not like Miele’s dryers, mind, which really will stop when you’ve finished drying the clothes (using a hygrometer, natch).

                Robot, yes, intelligent, nyet.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                And the intermediate sort of things like the writing clockwork doll. The end user could change what the doll wrote by changing the stack of cams inside (the doll’s back opened up for access).Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal says:

      “My less than theoretical practices with industrial robots/automations, is that when we get to the trade table they want to sell me what they are producing, but when I offer up my bag of goods, those steel eyed monsters have no use for them, therefore we don’t trade.”Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      From one perspective, the biggest enemy of manufacturing jobs isn’t management or politicians — it’s engineers and programmers.

      Would you SHUT UP!

      Last thing I need are a bunch of bleeding hearts blaming me for their lost jobs. Keep the fire on the political feet, leave us technologists out of it!


      • Avatar Kim says:

        ‘snot my fault they made cat admin.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        You busy little bees, happily destroying our economy and way of life… 🙂Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Not bees. Dragons.
          (This is a jocular reference)Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          But playing with these things is just so COOL!

          Seriously though, when it comes to automation, robots/machines do the repetitive &/or dangerous tasks that are very hard on human bodies. As I’ve said before, the problem isn’t the loss of those jobs, it’s that we suck at retraining (or otherwise caring for) the displaced workers.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            *cracks whip* Don’t work less Oscar! Work HARDER! The sooner the robots can do almost everything the sooner we can just say “fish these half measures, generous GBI for everyone!”Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Hmmm. You’re talking about redistribution, yes? Why is it you’re not voting for Bernie again? 🙂Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Because if you try going hardcore widespread redistribution before you have an economy that can handle it you get either hyperinflation or depression or both followed by a collapse and liberalism getting discredited for a generation or three. Then you also risk getting 1940’s social policy as a bonus booby prize as well.
                Both as a policy wonk, as a person fond of modern liberalisms hard earned reputation for having more than nodding acquaintance with economic and fiscal reality and as a minority that said booby prize could potentially squash I don’t feel the Bern.

                Also, as a cultural anglophile anytime someone starts invoking “les revolution” as an answer to policy and political questions I start looking for the exits.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                At what point do we know that the economy can handle hard core redistribution? Like, what are the indicators that would signal we’ve finally arrived? In what ways would our economy need to “improve” before that type of redistribution makes economic sense?

                (The reason I ask is because by my reckoning, there is no state at which that type of redistribution makes economic sense since the claim that there is would be inconsistent with the theory that drives the current neoliberal, free-trade bus.)Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Well I’m not an economist so I’m far from an expert but off the top of my head there’re some things we should be able to spot. The big one would be enormous intractable unemployment; you’d see double digit unemployment and absolutely no jobs for these people to do. If things go on too long you’d presumably also see enormous wealth disparities and (more speculatively) a great deal of deflationary pressure as skyrocketing efficiency chased around after fewer and fewer dollars.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                My only issue with that is my fear is we’ll miss the curve when to start the UBI or whatever because the people largely being affected will be the UnPeople in today’s society, whether they may be minorities, rural whites, or whomever. I mean, we already have people going nuts over the increased use of disability payments in Appalachia when in reality, this is the only way for people to survive there a lot of the time, especially when the cost of moving to a larger city with no social connections and a lack of capital to sell off to move is so large, both financially and emotionally.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Stanislaw Lem had a short story where a society achieved post-scaricity economics but refused to go into redistribution mode because of sacred private property rights.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I can understand the fear. It’s hard coded into just about every interesting futurist dystopia story. I’m more optimistic myself.
                -We are a democratic nation and the “unpeople” masses could vote. Sure we’ve seen ennui and the like on the right or left before but this would be a whole new category of need for people. The rich are rich, sure, but their money can only buy so much. The Trump uprising has illustrated, starkly, how weak raw money is against populist indignation and the populist pressures in a GBI ready economy/country would make the current Trumpmentum pressures look like nothing.
                -We have, quixotically, a lot of built in compensating mechanisms; an economy strong enough to support a GBI would offer our political critters a lot of easy choices. Tax revenue would be abundant and people would be asking for help. The pressures to cut off things like easier access to disability payments and the like would be less because financially things wouldn’t be as tight.
                -Also we’ve seen that people adjust in ways we can’t imagine. All the novels and stories about hopeless overpopulation for instance posited unimpeded endless breeding. Now days they look pretty silly as we’ve discovered that educated women in a relatively egalitarian and equitable society naturally elect for replacement or more often sub-replacement levels of children. Fix the rights and the education issues and overpopulation vanishes like a specter.Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain says:

              You don’t need a whip. One of the unbelievable things in Atlas Shrugged, which suggests that Rand had never actually known a serious engineer, is the notion that John Galt would give up being an engineer. I’ve never known a great engineer but what “give up engineering” was a punishment, not a reward of any sort, and if you forced it on them, they would go crazy in six months.

              I’ve got some of the bug. I may be more interested in other things these days, but I’m going to go to my grave with a list of small hardware/software widgets that I haven’t got around to building yet…Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Agreed, I know some of the type. God(ess?) I wish I had been born with a passion for one of those fields. Life would be so much easier.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Even engineers I know who have moved on to management/business still have shops/computers at home they tinker in. It’s the only way they can be in management.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                ” I’ve never known a great engineer but what “give up engineering” was a punishment, not a reward of any sort, and if you forced it on them, they would go crazy in six months.”

                There’s engineering, and then there’s engineering for someone.

                There’s plenty of engineers out there who decided that they’d have more enjoyment and less trouble if they joined a model-railroading club.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Indeed. I occasionally say that retirement means that I get to work on my R&D projects (for assorted values of both R and D), but funding gets somewhat trickier :^)Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                The fun part is finding the economically profitable projects, and then organizing a team to solve them. When a friend of mine does charity, he tends to do it globally. [of course, he can’t be bothered to actually run a business, so, it’s more or less “here, specs, here, business plan. you go make money, and don’t bother me.”]Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              Honestly, robots can do A LOT. The only reason they don’t yet is A) the expense (remember, capital investment), B) adaptability algorithms/AI Learning is still just not quite there.

              So humans are still needed to handle those times when the situation falls outside of the normative parameters. But those parameters get wider every day.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        I’m just the systems analyst (and occasional technology forecaster) callin’ ’em as I sees ’em. Software people are the worst, of course — busily building tools that put themselves out of work.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          The worst thing is when the software gets loose, and you realize you don’t know where it exists, in real life. You can still communicate with it (gotta love the internet!), but … is it in your fridge? your thermostat? Eddie’s supercomputer?Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Don’t worry, Oscar. Thanks to Reddit, STEM degree holders are already seen as holier than thou believers in the idea they’re just better people than lowly liberal arts degrees holders. 🙂Report

  12. Avatar j r says:

    This discussion is really going way off into the abstract, which is great. Abstract conversations are lots of fun, but I’m not seeing much that gets to the heart of the matter.

    If not globalization, then what? What is the magic formula that preserves American competitiveness and ensures all Americans a comfortable middle class existence in perpetuity, even as the rest of the world gets more competitive and more interconnected?

    Maybe that’s too abstract as well, so let’s really make this concrete. Can anyone offer up anset of policies that would have kept the American car manufacturing industry more competitive in the face of Japanese competition that would not have required some concessions by the unions (along with better management) or that started a ruinous trade war?

    You can rail against reality all you want, but in the absence of workable alternatives, the right thing to do almost always requires us to adapt to the new world instead of lamenting the old.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      I think about my friends & peer group, and one thing that we all have in common (besides a college education) is an understanding that our skillsets have to be flexible and diverse enough that we can adapt to changing times. You don’t need a college degree to have a flexible skillset, but you do need a mindset that lets you develop and employ that flexibility.

      This is the evil of reminiscing about the old days when a person could get a job and work at the plant all their days. People believe it because it’s actually kind of easy. Get the job, learn the job, maybe learn other jobs at the plant during your life, but in the end, all you are qualified to do is work at that plant, because no other skillsets were cultivated.

      I’ve mentioned this before, but Big Aero has/had some pretty generous education benefits that were extended to everyone. Not a lot of plant workers took advantage of them, even though management was almost always willing to be flexible with class schedules, etc. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s because they figure they got job security, so why bother. This is the failing we are dealing with, the fact that people just settled in, and people who should have known better (union leaders, management, politicians, etc.) were happy to let them do it.

      Funny thing, when I was in the military, even though I was getting some pretty high end technical training on marine turbines, engineering, and small craft maintenance, everyone up & down my chain of command constantly reminded everyone to get civilian training as well, because being a turbine tech in the Navy did not qualify me to work on civilian turbines, or ships, or boats. It made it easier for me to learn the material, but I still had to take the training and get the certs. It started in basic, when they told everyone to sign up for the GI Bill & apply for the scholarship fund. It wasn’t required, but they straight out told us we would be “the stupidest motherfuckers in North Chicago”, if we gave up $14K in tuition money just so we could have an extra $50 in our paycheck for the first year (and if you’ve ever been to North Chicago, you’ll know that is a very low bar). The Navy even helped with tuition if you took classes while on active duty. Our berthing spaces were full of flyers for local schools (online wasn’t a thing yet), college classes were constantly being held on base, and the Navy would fly civilian professors out to ships underway so deployed sailors and marines could take college classes onboard ship. Just a constant drumbeat of “learn more”. You had to be truly lazy to leave the service with just your military training.

      Imagine if that was ubiquitous, instead of just in the military.Report

      • Avatar Francis says:

        As to ubiquity, spend a little time at your nearest criminal courthouse, juvenile division.

        There are plenty of bright kids there who have been dealt truly awful hands. Abusive or absent parents, English as a second language or not at all, mental health issues, in communities plagued by gangs and with a shrinking job base.

        Millions of Americans simply cannot be engineers. They lack the skills, motivation, background education. Trump is appealing to millions of people because he is speaking directly to people who do not appear to have the ability to compete in the modern environment. If neither party platform provides a home for this electorate, someone else will. Trump may fail, but the anger and frustration that he has tapped into will not be going away soon.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          I specifically said you don’t need a college degree, you just need to understand that your skills have to diverse & flexible, & to take advantage of opportunities to make that happen.

          Being dealt an awful hand will mess with that, and we should make an effort to mitigate those effects as best we can, but that is a separate, albeit related issue.Report

  13. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    If the Soviet bloc had only had another hundred years, we would have seen how well Communism would have worked! Besides, that was never the true Communism.

    And, besides, Communism was a historical inevitability. The people who put themselves on the wrong side of it, sewed the seeds of their own destruction.Report

  14. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Here’s something I find funny about the Bangladesh example and, once you notice it, you’ll maybe find it funny too…

    The people who advocate for globalization and liberalized trade and investment regimes (basically, the global economic reality at this point) will often point to some country and say “Why do you care more about American workers than workers in (say) Bangladesh who are finally being lifted out of poverty and enjoying the standard of living that you got back in the 50s? Are you a nationalist?”

    Putting aside the question of why we should expect Americans to care more about workers in Singapore, the real punchline comes when you realize that those advocates, generally, aren’t hugely informed about standards of living or working conditions in whatever country they’re discussing. They really only know about GDP. This is why the country in question changes from year to year. It’s like three card monte. Because, by now, if this was how globalization worked, Mexico would be a worker’s paradise. Americans would be sneaking across the border to live there. Oh, but that’s “political corruption” in the case of Mexico. Okay, well then China would be a worker’s paradise. Oh, no, but that’s a communist state. Okay, well then India? Bangladesh? Somewhere?!?!

    And, hey, there is a small very wealthy minority in those developing countries that has become newly rich. And maybe after a few decades of strikes like the ones that almost shut down manufacturing in Bangladesh last year, things will get better. Or, maybe capital will just move. One of the big assumptions of Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage theory is that capital and labor will respect national borders, which at this point we must know was a mistake.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      The people I know who advocate for global trade are the ones who employ orphans working in glass shops. They’re well aware of the burns.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      FWIW NPR’s Planet Money did interview a woman who moved from a rural Bengladeshi village to get a job at a factory. The factory worker did say her salary allowed her to send her sister to school and her bonus covered meat purchases for a year.

      I can’t deny that this is a raise in living standards.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Well, mazel tov. I’m just going by the CIA fact book, which said their two big issues to fix in manufacturing are people getting killed on the job and a series of strikes last year. But strikes are what made North American labor what it once was, so why not?Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      There’s more wrong here than I have the time or inclination to address, but this article has a chart of how incomes at each percentile in the global distribution changed from 1988-2008, which should at least disabuse you of the notion that gains from globalization have gone exclusively to a handful of rich people.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      One of the big assumptions of Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage theory is that capital and labor will respect national borders, which at this point we must know was a mistake.

      Maybe we shouldn’t have conflated “patriotism” and “nationalism” with “racism” and “bigotry” among the class most likely to own factories.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      One of the big assumptions of Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage theory is that capital and labor will respect national borders, which at this point we must know was a mistake.

      Captialism cannot fail, it can only be failed. If the problem with the analytic system is that it falsely assumes that capital will stay within national boundaries, the solution is obviously trans-national, unfettered, and global capitalism such that there is nowhere to escape from its magnificently indifferent systemic wealth-creating power.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        Until we build the Space Elevator, then the borders constraining capital become much more expansive.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          SOON….*maniacal laugh*

          At least the materials are possible, even if we can’t manufacture them yet. Although I do wonder if they’ve even got a glimmer of a solution for the problem of “Elevator under construction is wide enough to make getting hit by minuscule bit of space junk really likely, but not so wide that it can handle the hit”.

          And while it doesn’t handle earth or orbit, the EmDrive is still annoying NASA by persistently generation reactionless thrust. Happily for science, NASA is poking at it with a stick under the theory their experiment was flawed (their second run corrected several such, and the bloody thing STILL produced thrust) and last I checked, were moving towards a third test.

          The second one involved some fun instrumentation problems because they did it in a vacuum in a very, very, very cold environment. At this rate, I’m surprised no one said “screw it” and strapped one to a radio beacon and tossed it off ISS to see if it goes anywhere.

          Doesn’t help that one of the people behind one of the variants starts babbling about warp bubbles. It’s ion-drive kind of propulsion (slow but steady), not magic. Although possibly very quantum. (The best explanation I’ve heard as a mechanism involves virtual particles that exist just long enough, Which makes it a reaction drive, except the particles used for thrust are practically imaginary).Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            Short of a major effort to de-orbit all the junk in that path, I’m not sure what we can do, except build ribbons and align them parallel to the common orbits so as to minimize impacts. Once the whole thing is built, minor impacts will be of little concern as the cars can be built to perform repairs while in transit.

            The EmDrive is something I try to check in on every now and again, although I suspect you have a better ear to that rumor mill than I do. Good to know it still has people intrigued, I was initially afraid it would wind up being a perpetual motion machine.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              It’s a problem with the first ribbon. Once you have a space elevator, all other space elevators are quite easy. (And unlike the cataclysmic “fall” of the space elevator in one of KSR Mars books, a collapsing space elevator is a..non event. I mean the owners would be distraught at the cost of replacing it, bit the biggest problem to safety is the falling cars, not the ribbon).

              Yeah, the EMDrive is weird as heck. I’ve only heard shop talk about the technical difficulties they had measuring thrust that small under conditions that harsh (vacuum and cold as possible). The regular tools aren’t designed for vacuum, and the vacuum tools weren’t designed for that precision.

              The basic “reactionless drive” test is pretty easy. You hang the suspicious drive from a rope, flip it on, and see if the rope is no longer perfectly vertical. (Well, there’s a bit more to it, but effectively you measure changes in the angle). Now, there’s a lot of things that can potentially cause it to move. For instance, they had to work quite hard to make sure it wasn’t leveraging the Earth’s magnetic field in some way they didn’t know about. (I’m not sure how they accounted for that, except reading a rather testy engineer write a “We’re not stupid, we accounted for that” response to some comment somewhere).

              And there’s stuff like Voyager, which had that fun mysterious propulsion thing for years before they sorted out what was causing it.

              NASA would absolutely LOVE to believe this thing is legit. There would be drunken aerospace engineers, scientists, and possibly mass orgies in labs. That’s one reason they’re pretty sure it’s not legit. Too good to be true, you know? (More even than violating Newton….then again, IIRC, early rocket designs had some people claiming Newton said it didn’t work.)Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                That’s what I meant about orienting the first ribbon to the orbit. It might be wide, but if it’s wide in the right direction, we can hopefully reduce the danger until additional ribbons can be strung, and yeah, once you have a station, you can start dropping elevators until people get sick of it.

                My money is on a quantum effect we either don’t know about, or just can’t detect very well.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Micrometeorites are also a problem. There’s a stage where it’s just too vulnerable — later, it can take strikes of stuff under the detection threshold fine — crawlers will automatically reweave it and patch it as they move up it.

                On the EMDrive, virtual particle’s are real enough (for a given meaning of real), and you can increase their generation. And if they’re real for their brief existence, what’s stopping you from using them to impart thrust like real particles in an ion drive? As long as the thrust < energy used, you're not really raping thermodynamics.

                You just need to keep them in existence long enough to make them work for you. OTOH, I somehow suspect this would take a lot more work and knowledge than what we've got.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Re: Pilot ribbon – it’ll all boil down to how fast can the ribbon be deployed to earth. If it can be done quickly, the risk of impacts is acceptable (space is big, the initial ribbon will be small, probability of impact is small no matter what). If it will take a long time, then the time spent passing through the debris field will leave it all too vulnerable.

                Once the first connection is made, crawlers can start laying out more ribbon which should, in very short order, improve the survivability against micrometeorites and difficult to track debris.Report

    • Avatar El Muneco says:

      “Or, maybe capital will just move. One of the big assumptions of Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage theory is that capital and labor will respect national borders, which at this point we must know was a mistake.”

      I suspect that this was a blind spot that is coming home to roost. One of the linchpins of the “bootstrap” theory was that the rising tide of wages would create a middle class, which would become entrenched, providing stability and norms, providing a ratchet effect.

      What we’re seeing instead is that the capital flees – just before this is about to happen – to a place with even lower living standards. The middle class is ephemeral, and the ratchet never develops, allowing the gains to slip away.

      While a whole lot of very poor people were better off – it beats subsistence agriculture on marginal land – we aren’t seeing the transformative effects we were promised.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      Economics has advanced a little bit since Ricardo and this so-called blind spot is actually quite well known.

      It’s called the middle income trap:

  15. Avatar aaron david says:

    Theroux is right, absolutely correct.

    And further, that is why the D’s have lost the center of the country and are the broken party, as Chris put it the other day. They lost this because they thought the proper levers to pull would be to increase social spending for the working class, when that class really wants jobs. Then they decided they could call them racist every time they turned around. And what does that spell?

    R’s have been just as bad on a national level, what with going along with immigration and not listening to the base. A base that had been D’s for years, that had been tossed aside for a new love, equality.

    See, the working class hates the under class, because they are too close. They know too many people who took that route, that opted for a life on some form of the dole.

    The managment class have lost track of one of the largest groups of voters, the one they had been disenfranchising for decades, the one they were just above and are scared of joining if things go wrong, the working class. Where you don’t get to spend all day reading online, or wearing nice clothes, or being air conditioned. They have also failed to realize that they are the elite now, the top ranges of the class. Not the super wealthy, but those who control the reins of power. The Gores and Clintons, Cruzes and Rubios.

    Sanders and Trump are making inroads with this group. Because they are angry. They have been left out. Before someone says “but Trump is wealthy!” remember, class isn’t about wealth. Trump wears his class like he wears his hair. Unfashionably.Report