Attention Must Be Paid: The Electoral Lessons of the Working Class

Dennis Sanders

Dennis is the pastor of a small Protestant congregation outside St. Paul, MN and also a part-time communications consultant. A native of Michigan, you can check out his writings over on Medium and subscribe to his Substack newsletter on religion and politics called Polite Company.  Dennis lives in Minneapolis with his husband Daniel.

Related Post Roulette

155 Responses

  1. Brandon Berg says:

    many friends in Washington asked why we would ever do that. Jokes about guns, banjo music, in-breeding, people without teeth and so forth often followed.

    I don’t think this is about class. The same people who like to fling their own feces at “rednecks” love poor Hispanic immigrants and will bend over backwards to excuse bad behavior by poor urban black people.

    This isn’t about class—it’s about teams. They hate rural whites because rural whites are on the red team, and they’re on the blue team. The insults may be class-flavored, but the true motivation is tribalistic, and they hate rich Republicans just as much, if not more.Report

    • Damon in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      It’s both I think. Frankly, the elite’s got what they deserved…and they may get more if things don’t change. Will they? Of course not. Biden “won”. They’ll go back to their standard operating program and ignore the past few years as a bump in the road. Things will fester more…..and then we’ll see when it comes to a head again.

      The elite left is just as racist and intolerant as they protests the right to be. I live in the midst of these people and I’ve seen it for 30 years….Report

  2. LTL FTC says:

    Really, really interesting article and analysis. For years, analysts tried to square the circle of how moneyed interests could get the yokels to vote for Republicans. The pat answer, the one that assigns no responsibility for losing a natural left-leaning vote, was racism and sexism. It was a moral problem. They’re not mistaken, just reprehensible.

    Now it’s Democrats who have to square the circle: win with educated comfortable liberals who want more than anything to be seen on the right side of history while holding on to at least some working class people with actual material interest in policy and no interest in spelling “Latino” with an X. The latter stay with Democrats largely because they are of races and ethnic groups that usually vote as blocs in national elections. Those blocs, more varied in opinion than the rich white liberals, gave us Biden over the obvious and loud choice of the media that serves those rich white liberals. How long will Our Horrid Complicity In Ongoing Atrocities Against BIPOC remain mandatory dinner party material in Brooklyn and Ann Arbor with Joe Biden, the guy old, white, and problematic enough to even *have* a record on busing, is President?Report

  3. Dennis, of the many excellent posts you’ve written that I’ve read, this one, in my opinion, is the best.

    A prediction: You are probably going to get some pushback from the usual suspects on this site, and that pushback will illustrate and prove the validity of the point you’re making.

    But I should also confess something. I’ve been pretty strongly pro-free trade over the years, as well as union-skeptical. I’m still trying to sort out where I stand on those issues. But I know that my priors–as well as my good fortune to be affluent and to have a very good job–places me at least partially in the camp of the elites you talk about.Report

  4. DensityDuck says:

    But the White Working Class is full of racist homophobes. Why should we offer them anything?Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    This was an excellent essay.

    Have political elites learned how they helped make Trump possible?

    No. I don’t think people have learned a damn thing.


    I got into an argument on the twitters about the whole Free Trade thing (again). How the person had to abandon the Republicans because the Republicans abandoned Free Trade (which is, let me point out, something that improves the livelihoods of everybody! On average!)

    I am pleased that Donald Trump was both stupid and lazy enough to not be reelected and to provide a cautionary example against Trumpism.

    But Rorty hasn’t stopped being right.Report

  6. Dennis, I always enjoy your pieces but I think this is the best one I’ve ever read. Thank you for writing it.Report

  7. y10nerd says:

    So, I’ve read a lot of these types of posts – but I still don’t quite get what’s supposed to happen. Okay, let’s pay attention to the white working classes (and that’s really what we mean here – people will use the red turn by South Texas proof that this is the case for Latino working classes, but there’s not a lot of evidence there outside of South Texas and South Florida – and even in those cases, the poor working classes of color still voted predominantly for the Democrats).

    What I’m about to do sounds flip, but that’s because I’m annoyed at the framing of the problem not the problem itself. I’ve actually spent quite a bit a time in ed school saying we don’t talk about rural white education and that has sometimes not been taken well – but I do believe every kid across the country deserves a great education.

    What is it that we can actually do for them? There’s this thing about free trade and China. Fine. Let’s end all trade with China tomorrow and Mexico for good measure (let’s ignore the mother of all economic contractions that will soon follow worldwide and most likely will lead to an economic depression – but in this scenario, we will assume that will not happen) – now what? New factories will probably not be built in the Midwest, though the South will certainly benefit. Many of the new factories will have tons of robots (there are some estimates that up to 80% of the decline in hard hat jobs in factories were actually due to automation).

    Promote unionization? Great! That’s something the left likes to do. But when white workers in the South were offered the chance to unionize, they turned it down. So it strikes me as this is unlikely to happen either. Not a lot of shared solidarity there.

    What does it mean to pay attention them culturally? That also seems to be a lot of this. We’ve seen some pretty clear resentments towards the college-educated set here – though again, it doesn’t seem like they interact with them that much. Cancel culture might be real, but other than hearing that some people might say they are racist, it’s not like your average ‘Rust belt’ person is having a lot of one on one interaction with the woke. Still, maybe there’s a lot more we can do culturally here – more TV shows and movies about the virtues of the white working classes?

    Okay, so what else can we do? Artificially move industries to less economically efficient areas? I’m actually not opposed to this – so let’s do it. Oh wait, we need the government for this almost certainly. And the industries that are going to move in are not going to be the ones we thought of as a part of that class in the past.

    I’m not saying nothing can be done – these would all be ideas that to some extent would work. But I don’t know if that actually solves the problem. Because at least from this first-gen mexican-american who grew up in a colonia, the problem seems to be that the issues of the white working class as currently constituted in the US cannot be solved to their liking, because the world that allowed them to prosper is dead. We aren’t expanding to the West to give them more land for their homestead. The whole world hasn’t been blown to smithereens so American industry and workers dominate. A diverse country means that entertainment, culture is determined by a thousand different sources.

    Am I wrong here about what attention we can provide and what specific policies we propose? Is there something that we can earnestly offer and that is specific that will make this better that we currently aren’t offering?

    Because I’m sadly left with the conclusion throughout this last decade is that what they want the most is to stop history. And that ain’t never going to happen.Report

    • CJColucci in reply to y10nerd says:

      The position of the working class has been deteriorating in the ways you and Dennis describe, for over 40 years. Much of this has been inevitable, and neither party can do much about it. The days when almost anyone could, without special skills, get a stable, good-paying job with generous benefits at the factory, or the mine, or the oil patch, and have a secure middle-class life are gone, and anyone who says different, like Donald Trump, is a liar and a con man. Some things can be done to mitigate the damage and position workers toward the opportunities that are available, but that past isn’t coming back, no matter whom we elect. The political problem is that the (white) working class is voting for people who don’t want to do what can be done and against people who do. I yield to no one in my disdain for the Democrats’ inept marketing on these issues, but I am unconvinced that better marketing — which ought to be done, if for no better reason than professional pride — will move the needle much. What will?Report

      • Swami in reply to CJColucci says:

        Are you sure? When adjusted for marriage and family size, are the working class REALLY worse off than 40 years ago?

        I don’t want to be a conman or liar, but I am skeptical.Report

        • JoeSal in reply to Swami says:

          So what you’re saying is there aren’t boats filled with american economic refugees flooding that bastion of social economic goodness known as Cuba?

          … dare you!Report

        • Dark Matter in reply to Swami says:

          No, they most certainly are better off in absolute terms.

          However I think they’ve lost stature and have lowered in relative terms. We have created LOTS AND LOTS of great new jobs that are better than factory work. We have also let women and minorities join the work force.

          We also have the progressive movement focused on equality of outcomes (as opposed to opportunity), which in practice means telling poor white workers than they don’t get “affirmative action” because other whites are doing so great.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Dark Matter says:

            They are much better than factory work, but they require more than a high school diploma. Employers have zero incentive to engage in OJT, as it’s too easy for that cost to walk out the door to the competition, especially in places like CA*.

            Perhaps one thing government could do is subsidize OJT for trades/careers where it can work.

            This is what y10nerd is missing. Those jobs are still there, but automation has plucked the low hanging fruit that low skill young people could do straight out of HS. High schools either can’t or won’t offer the kind of education that paves the way for modern industrial entry level work, so it has to come from a tech school, or from the employer.

            *PS Not intended to support Non-competes.Report

          • Swami in reply to Dark Matter says:

            Interesting. So your take is that they are better off, but that they don’t feel as well off as they think they should. Perhaps Republicans should consider campaigning more against reverse racism.Report

            • Dark Matter in reply to Swami says:

              So your take is that they are better off, but that they don’t feel as well off as they think they should.

              A ton of how we judge things is relational, not absolute.

              Scale society down to a middle school cross country team and in 1950 they were the #3 runner on a team of 10 and in 2020 they were #7. While it’s true that everyone, including them, is doing much better and is much faster, they have still slipped 4 places and feel slower.

              Perhaps Republicans should consider campaigning more against reverse racism.

              I think Affirmative Action is past it’s ethical expiration date unless it’s used to help class and not race. Obama’s children shouldn’t count as “disadvantaged” compared to the children of some poor whites.

              More largely, it’s worth noting that in 1950 only half the country had high school degrees and now it’s something like 85% (I’m reading from a graph). Over the long haul the people we’re talking about won’t exist. The larger trends are actually really good. Even things like robots and AI should result in massive increases in productivity and thus increased pay.Report

  8. LeeEsq says:

    One thing that isn’t really focused much on is Trump as the Reality TV President. An issue with politics is that there are always people that treat it as a game and a form of entertainment. It really doesn’t matter what type of political system you have. Italy was kind of famous for this in the past by sending some joke candidates to Parliament. Part of Trump’s appeal is that he is a genuine celebrity and an entertainer. There are a lot of people who feel comfortable enough in their lives to send somebody like this to the White House because they find it funny even though Trump is very dangerous.Report

    • Susara Blommetjie in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I think this point deserves a lot of attention. It’s as if there is a flippancy regarding American democracy; no awareness of how fragile it is and how easily it can be lost.Report

  9. Chip Daniels says:

    This is a very good essay. This debate, Race vs Class- is also being played out across the left side of the aisle.

    One of the weaknesses of the Race faction is that the working class IS suffering, in all the ways that Dennis describes and there isn’t a clear and obvious policy program of the Democrats to cure their ills.

    One of the weaknesses of the Class argument is that it is only the WHITE working class that apparently felt the need to vote Republican. The Black and Hispanic working class still votes Democratic.

    Maybe we just need to refine the definition of what “Class” means in the American context. Historically class was defined by money; people were sorted into different classes according to how much land they owned and how much money they had. All the other markers like accent, cultural preferences and the like were just following indicators; Your accent didn’t make you lower class, but was a signifier of it.

    In the modern American version, money is irrelevant to class; A person’s place and status is determined by a range of markers including money, education, consumer and cultural preferences.

    The typical Trump voter is comfortably middle class, but maybe has a high school education and is an evangelical so they are considered – and consider themselves- working class.
    A typical Biden voter might be a middle aged Black woman who has a college degree and works as a community college professor so she is considered one of the “elites” that Republicans rail against.Report

    • y10nerd in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      I would fix this by saying the typical Biden voter might be a middle aged Black woman who has an associates degree and works at a community college or hospital – but almost certainly not a professor.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      I think the answer of the Race faction is that the working class people who worked in mines, factories, and fields need to kind of get over themselves and and embrace the new working class professions in health care and other service jobs. I have many doubts on how practical this is or whether policy and politics can turn these jobs into as good things as a unionized manual labor job during the thirty glorious years of the post-War period. Many people seem to find more meaning in doing stuff with their hands than in the services. Saying this is because of toxic masculinity alone seems to be missing a lot of stuff.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

        kind of get over themselves

        I think that if there’s anybody who would do a good job of communicating this, it’d be knowledge workers in the Bay Area.

        Could we get musicians together to make a song about it?Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I think its more like, we all need to get over our old ideas of what is meant by “working class”.

        Everyone here has seen the statistics about how there are more people employed by Arby’s than in coal mines, yet when anyone says “working class” we all just immediately envision a guy with a hard hat.

        Even less, how many people employed as software coders think of themselves as “working class”? Or the people working at Amazon centers or Uber drivers or healthcare technicians?

        Even in my field of construction, the “working class” spans everyone from drywallers who are predominantly unskilled immigrants earning about the federal poverty wage, up to skilled unionized electricians who easily earn six figures.
        But they are all lumped into the same “class” not by their finances, but by their cultural affiliations.

        The architects and engineers and designers span everyone from the summer interns who often work for barely minimum wage, all the way up to the principals of the firms earning mid six figures.
        But they are all lumped into the “Professional class” not by their income but by their cultural affiliations.Report

    • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      The Black and Hispanic working class still votes Democratic.

      In Florida, Trump got something like 48% of Hispanics.
      For Blacks, the older blacks voted for Biden in margins similar to Clinton’s, but for young blacks (18 to 44), Trump went from 10% in 2016 to 21% in 2020 according to UCLA Nationscape’s polling (which means it might be low).

      I’ve no clue what segment of the Black vote went for Trump (rich, poor, working poor, or something else) but if it mirrors the White vote then you might simply be wrong.

  10. superdestroyer says:

    First, high union wages can only exist where the unionized employer has no competitor (see public sector unions) or the employer can pass on the costs to the consumer. In a global economy, those two situations are header to achieve. It also helps in labor is a smaller percentage of total costs such as Boeing versus McDonalds. The only way to have high union wages for some Americans is to raise the prices paid by all Americans.

    Also, tariffs and protectionism would just produce either companies that exist solely to take advantage of tarrifs such as steal or companies that can ignore the U.S. market and pass on higher costs to consumer (Apple).

    Political leaders do not have good answer because there are no good answer. In trying to help blue collar wokrers, the U.S could fall back into the age where the school janitors were paid more than the school teachers.Report

    • Don’t forget to add the quality of labor to whatever calculations are done. There are a ton of cases where the robot is actually more expensive than the human it replaces, but the return rate due to defects goes down by 90%. Foxconn is replacing humans everywhere because the defect rate goes down so much. Humans simply can’t reliably do the welding required for a contemporary unibody car frame at all — they would all be defective.Report

  11. Doctor Jay says:

    Well said, sir.

    I want to make note of a dynamic that goes on in our politics that adds to this divide. Often you will see politicians – chief among them, but hardly the only one, Donald Trump – be deliberately hurtful toward professionals, intellectuals, (also Californians in particular). They do this in a political context where they “speak for” their supporters.

    The stuff is hurtful, and provokes an angry response, which of course, those supporters take as meant for them not trump. This is a pattern you can observe in many places over time.

    I’ve seen the scorn poured on West Virginia first hand, while taking a rafting trip years ago. To some in my group, what they saw in the country side was “Oh, the poverty!”. To me it just looked familiar, and not especially impoverished. Rural folks just do things a bit differently. I hope to never participate in these contests. But the crap thrown does hurt.Report

    • Philip H in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      Yep – we feds suffer from this weekly.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      I know poverty has something of an objective definition, but ‘poverty’ also has a very subjective definition that is less, “unable to afford food, clothing, shelter”, and more, “unwilling to spend money on the things that signal part of my tribe”.

      So the house/property that looks run down because the owner isn’t interested in keeping the landscaping pert or the paint fresh hides the $20K worth of tools in the garage in the back.Report

  12. James K says:

    About 4 years ago, I wrote a post trying to outline what I thought were the key questions in understanding why pro-nationalist voters were feeling the economy was bad for them. The thing I come back to more than anything in that post is the issue of geography – the economy can be strong in most of the country, but dying in some regions, and that’s going to create a lot of angry people in those regions.

    Some of this is worldwide, rural town are dying because the number of resource extraction jobs required is declining, and that’s the only kind of job that flourishes in rural areas. But the Rust Belt looks different to me – there are cities that used to thrive and now are moribund, and we need to figure out why that is. Sure, they lost their key industries, but why haven’t other industries flocked to the abundance of labour a rustbelt city provides? Cheap real estate an lots of available labour present opportunities for an up-and-coming business.

    Understanding that is the key to designing a policy solution will actually help, because increasing trade barriers won’t. All it will do is increase the price of goods, thereby making thin pay packets have to stretch even further. In some cases, like rural towns it may be necessary top help people move (this won’t be easy, but there may be no alternative), but revitalising the depressed areas that can be revitalised is going to take more careful thinking than the populists can supply.

    I don’t know if that will be enough to satisfy disaffected workers, but it’s the best thing I can think of to actually help things.Report

    • superdestroyer in reply to James K says:

      The legacy systems are more expensive to deal with than finding empty space. Why spend the money, time, and resources to clean up a former industrial site in Detroit when one can build on empty space in Texas? Also, in a global economy, Detroit or Buffalo no longer offer any advantages and northern cities are hurt more by the needs and requirements of just-in-time manufacturingReport

    • LeeEsq in reply to James K says:

      At least for the hi-tech industry, the answer seems to be that California is the only state in the United States with really effective non-compete system even to this day. Sure other states might be lower tax than California but companies can induce highly skilled employees to work for them from other companies without fear of them or their employee being sued and unable to work in that field for five years. Meanwhile, in other states Jimmy Johns will sue an employee for going to work in another fast food joint and not use their sandwich making skills they learned at Jimmy Johns.

      Another issue is that the Tech industry depends a lot on a skilled educated work force that is immigrant heavy. They aren’t going to want to relocate to a place where Evangelicals have a lot of pull over education or where society is seen as hostile to non-whites.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The left-wing press really wants the non-enforcement of non-compete clauses to be the Bay Area’s secret sauce, but in my experience as a tech worker in another tech hub, non-compete clauses are narrowly tailored to prevent leaking of trade secrets and not a huge deal in practice. You definitely don’t get locked out the industry for five years or even five days when quitting your job; a software developer leaving one company on Friday and joining another on Monday is a totally normal occurrence, and I know of at least one person who went directly from working on a database system at one company to working on a database system at another company. The high taxes and War on Housing in the Bay Area are a much bigger deal for me than non-compete clauses in Seattle or Austin. And non-compete clauses haven’t stopped either of those cities from becoming major tech hubs.

        I think that the Bay Area is the largest tech hub mostly for historical reasons related to the proximity to Stanford and Berkeley.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Yeah, the gentlemens’ agreements to not poach each other’s best dudes among management was (and, I’d wager, remains) a bigger deal than the non-compete clause thing.Report

        • InMD in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Brandon’s take is the right one and I say that as someone who both writes these clauses and navigates them when prospective employees have them. My experience is that they keep people from going across the street to the company that builds a competing application. It’s rare that they keep people from going to technology companies that serve different industries or do something different in the same industry. Trying to do that would be tough to enforce in many places, not just CA.Report

        • Marchmaine in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          I’ll also add as someone who travels the Bible Belt solving Tech Problems that “they” absolutely will relocate to places where “evangelicals have a lot of pull over education” RTP in North Carolina is a representative example from my experience.

          …and that non-competes have been dead for at least 20-years, except as noted for a tiny subset of people who have intimate knowledge of the IP – and even there it’s narrowly focused on direct competitors… and generally does not include people who ‘merely’ code. And even then, we hire people from direct competitors all the time outside of California.

          Further… while we’re headquartered in Silicon Valley… all of our development happens in tech hubs outside of CA. It’s not until you get to the SVP/GM level that I’m calling someone in CA… VPs of Development, Product Managers, and R&D aren’t in CA anymore. Our single biggest tech hub is, in fact, in India. SV is a destination now, not an entry point. There’s still a lot of money sloshing around in SV, but the downward trajectory of “Tech Work” is already in full swing. It’s the same problem that stalks all the other issues of wages mentioned in this thread… labor arbitrage and productivity gains captured by equity.Report

          • InMD in reply to Marchmaine says:

            The real threat of the non-compete for the average tech worker isn’t that a judge is going to enforce it. It’s the possibility that the company might make the employee have to hire a lawyer to fight it. What employees don’t always understand is that it cuts both ways. A tech behemoth up to its eyeballs in cash may use that power against marginal workers vindictively but your small start-up to mid-size firm usually can’t. At the end of the day most will only do it over the handful of people who made the secret sauce.Report

    • JoeSal in reply to James K says:

      Part of my comment from 4 years ago:
      1. Thoroughfares to the cheapest labor markets and automation (locally or not) are flooding local markets with goods that undermine the ability of the local production/exchange to compete through individuals labor.

      2. Local production in developed nations can’t compete do to the ‘liberal democratic’ notion that minimum wages should be set relatively high in developed countries.

      So the effect is that production of tangible products becomes futile in developed nations. Demand is still present with each individual but the ability to engage in production disappears locally. There was some notion that the jobs would just shift to some quantum of sustainable service industries but I question the success of that.

      Economists appear to grasp the idea of subjective value pretty well, what suprises me is they don’t appear to be able to open up that area of thought beyond a very narrow spectrum.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to James K says:

      That was a good post.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to James K says:

      It seems to create a lot of angry people outside of those regions as well. I suspect a lot of that has to do with the various ways both sides romanticize the farm or factory town.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to James K says:

      Sometimes the rural economy is doing well but the people still feel threatened.

      Northeast Colorado, prior to the coronavirus, had been booming for several years on the basis of oil and gas production enabled by fracking. There was (and is) a lot of animosity between that part of the state and the Front Range urban corridor over that industry. The Front Range suburbs — which have the votes — want the fracking noise kept at a modest distance and want the state’s methane leak standards enforced rigorously*. The rural areas don’t, and think the Front Range is out to ruin the good thing that’s been happening for them.

      * Methane and other volatile leakage are ozone precursors. Mesoscale wind patterns mean that on a fair number of days each year all of the methane and volatiles get swept up and concentrated along the Front Range foothills. The rural areas don’t ever reach the EPA’s limit, even though that’s where the leaks are. The Front Range does, and get threatened with having to implement expensive corrections.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to James K says:

      Sure, they lost their key industries, but why haven’t other industries flocked to the abundance of labour a rustbelt city provides? Cheap real estate an lots of available labour present opportunities for an up-and-coming business.

      What industries, though? To be economically viable, a city needs to produce one or more exportable products and services so that they can buy imports. Industries that require unskilled labor can find it cheaper elsewhere. Industries that require skilled labor will find a limited supply in the Rust Belt. What skills can be found in the Rust Belt that can’t be found for less money in Asia? Native-level English skills and an American accent, mostly. So you get call centers and social media context moderation. But other than that, what is there? In an advanced economy, you have to either work in a high-value-added industry, or live close enough to people who do to sell unexportable goods and services to them.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        But there are now high valued industries that can’t be done better and cheaper by people in India. Heck, welders are smarter than Democrat elites, and Indians certainly are, and have a far better grasp of technical and legal issues, due to their more recent British grounding. They’re also vastly better at writing quality code than American elite-college graduates, and work for less than a tenth the price.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to George Turner says:

          Maybe some of this is just cattiness, but in general I haven’t heard good things about code produced in India. It’s not that all Indians are bad at programming, but rather that most of the good ones get picked up by companies in wealthier countries and.emigrate. I think that people in wealthy countries get a somewhat inflated view of the competence of Indians and other Asians in general due to interacting with a sample biased strongly towards the cognitive elite.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            Being a software developer who works with a lot of folks from India and Asia, this is QFT.Report

            • Marchmaine in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              Quantity is a Quality of its own.

              I’m on the business side and my experience of our new releases is that they are not as bullet-proof as they used to be… but boy do the problems get fixed fast… once we identify them.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Marchmaine says:

                Our release cycle is 3 times a year (Feb, June, Oct). Bugs get fixed in a damn hurry.

                For us, we have one office in India, the rest are in Europe and the US. All of our dev is in house, mainly because we are specialty engineering software. Quality control has to be tight.Report

            • George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              Back when Akio Morita of Sony first came to the US to try and get some stores to buy his companies transistor radio, the Americans laughed at him and said that the Japanese produce the little umbrellas that go in cocktails. The Americans didn’t think the Japanese had the competence to build electronics. And they probably were right, at that moment.

              The same happened when Nissan thought they could build cars and trucks that were almost good enough to even sell in America, which everyone thought was absurd because Japanese simply didn’t have the skills, infrastructure, and mindset to build quality vehicles. Ford had an option to buy a majority stake in a company called Honda, and the board laughed at the idea of building little Asian mini-bikes.

              What may be true right now probably won’t be true in ten years, or certainly twenty.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to George Turner says:

                Again, I work with these people, competence is not the issue. We recruit heavily from those areas. It’s quality control when dealing with an outsourced development house. At some point, those outfits will figure out how to get their QC shite together and we’ll see things shift again.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                India has a cultural problem that the US used to have. I’ll relate a story told to me by the son of one of India’s ambassadors to Russia. The son had tried several businesses in India and learned some things the hard way.

                One is that some level of theft is expected. He tried running a propane tank delivery business, and almost every day someone would steal one of the propane tanks off the back off the delivery cart. What was actually happening was the delivery guy was selling some of them on the side. That was considered normal behavior, like getting a tip. But the losses were so big that he had to fold the business.

                The other is a combination of two things.

                When you want a suit in India, you go to a taylor, just as you might’ve done in London or New York in the 1800’s. You explain what you want to the taylor, maybe show him pictures of some Western suit, and come back in two weeks.

                What you get isn’t going to match what you wanted. It’s going to be what the taylor thought a suit should look like. You will try to argue your point, and the taylor will explain that you know nothing about suits, and that he is an expert and that his family has been making suits for six generations.

                In India, the customer isn’t right, the customer is ignorant compared to the vast knowledge and expertise of the vendor. Arguing just lets the customer confirm the vendor’s beliefs in the ignorance of customers. So don’t buy suits, or much of anything else, in India.

                So I explained to him that the US also had this problem, and it caused massive headaches with government rifle production. A part from one gun couldn’t fit on another gun, because all the parts made by different gunsmiths were different, and they were all perfect, according to the gunsmiths who were experts at making guns.

                The way the Springfield arsenal solved that cultural issue was to introduce a gage system, with go and no-go gages. “Your part may be perfect, but it doesn’t pass the gage tests, so I am not going to pay you anything for it.” And all the parts became standardized, and the “expert craftsman” learned to work to spec. That rippled out through society, and now we don’t even think about it.

                The problem with Indian QC is the mindset. They’ll have to change it like we did.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to George Turner says:

                I will say that whatever that attitude may be, when they work for us directly, they lose that attitude in a big damn hurry.Report

      • I live in one of the non-coastal superstar areas, where the urban “problem” for the last 30 years has been nearly unmanageable growth. For a few years I had the opportunity to poke at the governor’s office of economic development, which deals with a lot of companies looking to relocate or expand. What they told me is similar to what you say, that the attraction is not a single type of labor, but the availability of a wide range of workers all in one place. The term “educated” gets thrown around a lot; they used it in the sense that the work force has available everything from unskilled high-school graduates to PhDs in all kinds of disciplines.Report

    • Dark Matter in reply to James K says:

      why haven’t other industries flocked to the abundance of labour a rustbelt city provides? Cheap real estate an lots of available labour present opportunities for an up-and-coming business.

      One of the really nasty issues is if a city starts to decline then it takes good leadership to turn it around. That’s a hard job and probably requires politically painful choices. On the other hand even bad leadership can keep a booming city booming.

      Since the riots, Detroit has not been overly blessed with good leadership. That translates into reality as high taxes, Gov corruption and incompetence, gov support for strong unions, racial strife, and so on. We’ve also had governors who have clearly not had “job creation” and/or economic growth in their top 10 priorities.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Dark Matter says:

        Back… oh, 2013? 2014? I visited my cousin out in Michigan and we went for a drive around the Jackson County area. I made a joke about Detroit (as one does) and he got defensive and explained that, yeah, way back when I lived there, it kinda had problems but it had really turned around and he went there with his buds to play at the casinos and see a show from time to time.

        Looking around the real estate pages from googling “Detroit real estate”, there are some real nice houses available for good prices (and some real nice houses available for California prices too).

        It only took… 50 years?Report

  13. greginak says:

    This is good Dennis and i agree with a lot of it. However, that had to be coming right, this seems a bit divorced from many of the actual policies proposed by R’s and D’s. Now of course we know nobody really cares about actual policy, only sort of joking here. D’s pushed and spent effort to try to get more people health care which worked in a limited fashion and were punished for it. But getting more people health care is popular so the lie cannon had to be set at maximum for years even to the point where trump felt he needed to repeatedly lie about it. But who got health care for more working class people and who bull shitted about it.

    Doing something to improve health care was showing attention to the working class. Lying about it was pissing on them. While i agree with much of this essay there is disconnect between results and words that is filled in by polarized team politics. D’s don’t respect the working class has some truth to it and is also just a thing people assume to be true based on their own biases and what people have repeated. Same with R’s respecting the working class. Upper class R’s feel the same way as other upper class people in general about the working class. They might cosplay as working class which i guess some people buy but seems pretty damn insulting to me.Report

  14. Pinky says:

    In the US, race and class are at most proxies for culture.

    Race and class are artificial constructs. The longer you look at them, the more you realize they’re defined by how people think about themselves and others, not by any real traits. (The closest you can come is the connection between class and education.) In many societies, distinctions between classes and racial groups are imposed through titles, the pencil test, or whatever. In the US, with no enforcement means, race and class just dissipate into culture.

    At heart, the things we call race and class issues in the US are cultural. An economic analysis, or a series of policy prescriptions addressing economics, can only mitigate the tensions. And mitigating tensions is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. The first three of the last four years have seen a strong economic recovery, which in my opinion was driven by lack of fear of some crazy new government programs. The stability gave businesses the confidence to risk expansion.

    I shouldn’t say that economics can only mitigate things, though, for one reason. Economic opportunity can be a springboard for getting out of a cultural rut. There are ways to “change” one’s culture in the modern world. Some of them are tough. Night school, moving out of a depressed area, or just shifting one’s thinking, they’re all difficult. Getting a better job can also be a bridge. It gets you more money and broader experience, and shakes up your life in a good way. So prosperity can be a nudge, but it’s no guarantee.

    What we’re left with is differences in perspectives, in our beliefs and visions. We should be talking about them.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Pinky says:

      was driven by lack of fear of some crazy new government programs

      Say, arbitrarily imposed tariffs?Report

      • JoeSal in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        “Have political elites learned how they helped make Trump possible?

        No. I don’t think people have learned a damn thing.”Report

        • George Turner in reply to JoeSal says:

          The Republican and Democratic elites made Trump possible, and a big share of it goes to Mitch McConnell’s “fake fight” strategy of opposing Obama. “In return for letting me pontificate about how much I’m against what you’re doing, I’ll rubber stamp it!” The GOP rank-and-file was ready to bolt.

          What we had were lots of politicians and pundits who could talk-the-talk, but very few who would actually fight. It was like having Generals Meade, McClellan, and a host of others who were great at talking logistics or Napoleonic tactics around a punchbowl at a DC cocktail party, but worthless at actually winning any victories. The Republican debates brought this home, where the only one with a spine was Trump. He was crude, crass, and bombastic, but just like Grant, he would fight and didn’t give a hoot what the nattering Washington press and politicians said about him. The Confederate generals and Union generals all knew each other, and all played politics in the same genteel aristocratic circles, except Grant, who drank a lot and worked in a hardware store.

          And Trump pointed to the array of politicians in Washington, and their enablers in the media, and said “These are the real enemy.” It resonated. The people on the top spend their time rigging everything so they stay on top, and can’t be questioned. Now it’s so bad that we’ve got Chinese levels of censorship. And that’s why Trump still leads a massed army and a mass movement. Heck, 25% of the people showing up at his mega-rallies were Democrats, and about 25% were Independents. A whole lot of them are fed up too.Report

          • Philip H in reply to George Turner says:

            The people on the top spend their time rigging everything so they stay on top, and can’t be questioned.

            I agree with this – and yet all those riggers got sent back to DC by their constituents . . . . including McConnell.Report

      • Pinky in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I think the tariffs were a big risk, and a short-term burden, although possibly the changes in our trade deals will net an overall benefit in the long term. But yeah, I think business and consumer confidence were big drivers of the economy in 2017-2019.Report

        • InMD in reply to Pinky says:

          There’s a point at which there has to be a more nuanced view of the subject. One thing we can deduce from Trump is that a little bit of throwing our weight around on trade did not cause the sky to fall as our zombie-Reaganite/neo-liberal establishment would have everyone believe. I think it’s fair to say at the very least that we’ve been selling access to our consumer market very short.

          There’s no reason we should be doing that with a hostile government like China. Every give should have plenty of take. We can and should be nicer to the Europeans, Japanese, Koreans, Canadians, Aussies, etc. but again shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what we need in exchange. Our benevolence shouldn’t be taken for granted in the name of some foolish ideal of world leadership. Would that someone smarter than the orange man could figure out how to actually get that in the agenda in a more coherent, sustainable way.Report

          • Pinky in reply to InMD says:

            We probably disagree a lot on this. I was and am more of a free-trader than your average Reaganite. I’d say that nearly every trade agreement is an economic boon. I also believe in moral leadership. A human rights record like China’s can’t be ignored.Report

            • InMD in reply to Pinky says:

              I’m not against trade in principle but I don’t see it as a good in itself or every such agreement to be a net positive. Obviously we need trade but there’s a cost benefit analysis that has to be done that includes more than cheaper goods and shareholder dividends.

              It also doesn’t do us any good to put so much downward pressure on wages that it creates political instability. At the very least any trade deal needs to control for that (or domestic policy needs to account for the losses). Instead they’re always sold as a win-win panacea but it isn’t panning out that way for a lot of people.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to InMD says:

                This, and also that a trade agreement is like any other agreement, where it can be a good deal for both parties or a bad one, depending on the terms negotiated.

                A “free trade” agreement is actually a few thousand pages of new regulations, restrictions, and requirements that all the parties are obligated to commit to.Report

              • InMD in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Half the time I don’t believe that the people in our government negotiating these things understand the world they’re living in. Listen to the cringey things Congressmen say when trying to talk about technology.

                Underpinning all of this ignorance is some serious complacency about white collar work. Look what we’re proving right now with covid. All these big office buildings are anachronisms. Plenty of white collar work can be done in some free trade zone in India in a secure building for half the price of an American who took on 40k of debt for a degree and the privilege of the rat race.

                Yet people believe that this all stops with factory workers in the rust belt. Really it’s just beginning. We can either be clear eyed about that and adapt or try to keep coasting on past success until the road runs out.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to InMD says:

                It’s been my opinion that AI will be to cognitive labor in the 21st century what steam/electromotive power was to muscle labor was in the 19th/ 20th centuries.

                Not that AI will replace them in toto, just consume the high value components of the labor, leaving behind the lower skilled portions.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                I agree with this. And it changes how I hear stuff like “learn to code”.

                That’s GPT-3.

                GPT-2 was first announced in February 2019.

                A paper on GPT-1 was published in preprint on OpenAI’s website on June 11, 2018.

                I’m guessing GPT-4 is going to be somewhere around “Star Boot Camp Graduate”.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

                In 1989 I was doing document reviews as part of a college internship for a law firm.

                In 2009 I was selling adjacent tech to e-Discovery software that automates document reviews.

                In 2019 my industry is working to eliminate the need for expensive Sales Professionals to manage complex software projects… and have very nearly succeeded.

                My job will not exist in 2029.Report

              • Swami in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Raising the unemployment rate for people who actually want to work from 4% to what 4.5%?Report

              • Slade the Leveller in reply to Swami says:

                That’s a lot of people.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Not that AI will replace them in toto, just consume the high value components of the labor, leaving behind the lower skilled portions.

                When spreadsheets were rolled out and became common, Accountants didn’t disappear, they just got more productive.

                My company builds smart stuff which does the same thing for doctors. I’ve used AI first hand and it’s an absurdly intelligent tool.

                A ton of history and really well established economic theory says this sort of thing will increase average pay. And that’s “theory” as in “Theory”.

                The way to bet is AI and the robot revolution will be absurdly good for mankind.Report

              • Philip H in reply to InMD says:

                Indeed it is just the beginning. As long as national economic policy by both parties favors corporate profits over everything we will continue to see this dynamic.Report

              • Pinky in reply to InMD says:

                The people who negotiate deals, write legislation, et cetera aren’t the congressmen. It’s a valid concern that the negotiators don’t understand the industries, though.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Pinky says:

                Elected officials have the final say, and they are the ones who prioritize the terms and demands.

                E.g. if conforming to US workplace safety and environmental standards is a deal breaker, but wages are not…Report

              • InMD in reply to Pinky says:

                I get that, my point was just that I’m not sure the negotiators are any more clued in. Even if they are they’re pursuing policy goals set by some combination of Congress and the president, maybe via an agency head.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Pinky says:


                The people who negotiate deals, write legislation, et cetera aren’t the congressmen. It’s a valid concern that the negotiators don’t understand the industries, though.

                This is very true. The vast majority of Congressional staffers in Members offices are 30 or under and nearly all political science or law graduates. every once in a while you get a public administration grad. Senior members sometimes have senior staff in their 40’s who understand some stuff better, but they are congressional process people. A few really good members bring in Federal subject matter experts on one or two year details to shore up their staff.

                Most members take what industry gives them, polishes it up and hope it comes out ok.Report

              • George Turner in reply to InMD says:

                I often have argued with hard-core free-trade big-L Libertarians, who just don’t understand rust belt concerns at all. If you have an image in your head of a Monte Burns Republicans, I can confirm that they do in fact exist.

                What the one’s I’ve argued with have what I would describe as a “dogma”. Free trade ALWAYS benefits both parties, without exception. So step one in punching through this dogma is to cite some easy counter examples. Free trade in sex slaves, crack, and fentanyl benefits both parties? Really? So they amend their statement to “free legal trade.” Oh, so if we legalized sex slaves, crack, and fentanyl we’d…. benefit, because it was legal?

                It’s an uphill battle to get to a point where the argument is “So, we sell China all our steel mills, car, aircraft, and computer factories, and intellectual property, and then we sell them corn, rice, and potatoes so we can buy all the manufactured goods that we had been producing – before we sold our ‘means of production’ to a hostile power. Now I’m sure the owners and major stockholder retiring to the French Riviera benefitted, but I don’t actually see a benefit for anyone else, except of course for the Chinese. Maybe we could sell them some crack, sex slaves, and fentanyl to reduce the trade imbalance.

                How is that different from losing a war and having the victors cart off the country’s industrial base?

                So far as I know, free trade theory assumes that each country has a comparative advantage. It doesn’t consider where comparative advantage itself can be boxed up, monetized, and shipped overseas just like a truckload of watermelons or a refrigerator.Report

              • Swami in reply to George Turner says:

                You are mixing a lot of disparate categories into one comment.

                One category, slaves, aren’t free. So you are misrepresenting the argument there (Libertarians and I would both agree with you).

                Drugs is a great counter to consensual trades, but seems off point (I would agree with you here too though).

                On topic, I would agree that everyone doesn’t gain in free trade. In general, long term, more people gain better with free trade than the alternatives. The results aren’t necessarily Pareto optimal, but they tend to be optimal from a Kaldor Hicks perspective (the beneficiaries could in principal compensate the losers and everyone could come out ahead).

                Some jobs were lost to foreigners who could do it more efficiently. Many, many more were lost due to technological advance. Others due to changing tastes and demographics. Others due to Unions overplaying their hand and pricing themselves out of the market. Still more to regulations strangling businesses

                I guess my response in general is that change is a bit@#, but still better than the alternative. Certainly there are things that can be done and have been done to assist those on the losing side of the deal, but I would disagree this includes extensive trade barriers.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to George Turner says:

                Free trade assumes comparative advantage and that both parties are negotiating with similar motivations.

                If China is negotiating for the best deal for their economy as a whole, and the US is negotiating for the best deal for the political donor class…Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to George Turner says:

                free trade theory assumes that each country has a comparative advantage.

                Yes. But “comparative advantage” doesn’t mean “advantage”.

                If a country sucks at everything, it can still have a “comparative advantage” over another country.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Yes, I was focusing on, oh, how we might be better at building airliners than than growing rice, etc. But if we sell Boeing to China, then we’d become horrible at building airliners and would fall back to growing rice.

                If a country sells off all the things it’s good at, then it’s left only doing all the things that it wasn’t very good at, in comparison.

                And you can do things like that to targeted countries. The Swiss excel at fine work, like watches and instruments. If we bought their watch companies, we could have them train US workers to do their jobs, then fire all the Swiss. The experienced Swiss would still have a huge set of skills, but those might go unused, and no new Swiss apprentices would be learning how to make watches. After a few decades, Switzerland wouldn’t have any more inherent skill at it than Peru. They’d have sold off their core competency and would end up posting yodeling videos on Youtube.

                Must of the rust belt was feeling like that. Their factories were being offshored and they were told to make yodeling videos.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to George Turner says:

                Their factories were being offshored

                “Offshored” in this case translates into “made by Japanese motors working in the Southern States”.

                The number of auto jobs went down, but not by much. The Rust belt took it on the chin because the new auto jobs were created in other states where the companies didn’t need to deal with a hostile union.

                There’s a non-trivial argument the union had a lot to do with making management stupid and opening the door for their Southern competitors.

                Now the steel workers competitors were more efficient foundries that need many fewer workers. They can be build here or overseas, but it doesn’t really matter.

                Big picture the economy is so big and so complex that trying to micromanage Free Trade is impossible. In reality what would happen is politicians would protect politically important groups at the expense of consumers.

                Making people as a whole poorer to protect a few cherry picked jobs isn’t desirable.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Dark Matter says:


              • Dark Matter in reply to Jaybird says:

                The Rust Belt should have had a HUGE competitive advantage for luring Japanese Auto into their states. They had the existing workforce, the existing legal structure, existing sub-manufacturers, and so forth and so on.

                Instead the Japanese created hundreds of thousands (or millions) of jobs in states that had nothing to do with American Auto.

                When you think about it, that’s really damning.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Dark Matter says:

                IIRC, the cost to upgrade existing foundries with the new tech exceeded the cost to just build a new foundry, but the regulatory burden of building a new foundry was more than anyone was willing to meet when massively cheaper options overseas existed.

                That is one of the things FTAs often try to do is enforce cost burdens on other countries by making them adhere to our environmental or workforce regulations.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                A good capitalist can price all those costs into the cost of their product. A good capitalist can also take advantage of the tax code to amortize those costs in such a way that they become almost vanishingly small. and a good capitalist knows that those cost are because of the regulations which gives them the economic certainty they claim to crave.

                What those costs also do is drop their profits a few percent, and the American Good Capitalist has for about 40 years adopted a fiduciary view that they MUST maximize profits quarter over quarter. Thus even though they know they have regulatory cost certainty they still try to drive down labor costs because, frankly its all they can control. They first do this by moving to woefully misnamed “Right To Work” states and then, when that fails to eck out enough profit, they move over seas.

                Free Trade Agreements enable that process because they remove taxation and other penalty barriers to the move. If a corporation takes no big hit for going to Vietnam because there’s a free trade agreement that enables it, they will do so if it helps them preserve the short term profit curve they desire. They will also do it the the tax hit or the excise hits in non-free trade countries is less then the profit to be gained. Ditto automation domestically.

                If you want pure capitalism you have to accept this, and then deal with the growing income inequality m-which drives a whole raft of societal costs up.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Philip H says:

                A good capitalist can price all those costs into the cost of their product.

                They do.

                That’s why they engage in the Morality-Shoring of jobs.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Philip H says:

                The good capitalists didn’t move their facilities overseas. Those facilities already existed. The US facilities just shuttered as steel could be had from overseas for cheaper.

                As Mike notes downthread, it’s not that we stopped making steel, we just make different, high-end metals. The thing to note about what Mike says is that A) modern foundries require less labor on the foundry floor; automation is more accurate and much safer, and B) the workers that are needed are not folks straight out of high school learning OJT. QC is going to demand education, and as I’ve noted above, and in other threads, companies have little incentive to take on the burden of educating employees OJT.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Philip H says:

                What those costs also do is drop their profits a few percent,

                Regulatory burden is only a few percent?

                I think that’s seriously naive. Regulatory burden let’s large companies survive because medium sized companies can’t afford to pay it.

                That implies it’s a flat fee for various products. Let’s just try to find some numbers….

                ….the average U.S. company pays $9,991 per employee per year to comply with federal regulations. The average manufacturer in the United States pays nearly double that amount—$19,564 per employee per year. Small manufacturers, or those with fewer than 50 employees, incur regulatory costs of $34,671 per employee per year. This is more than three times the cost borne by the average U.S. company.


              • Philip H in reply to Dark Matter says:

                You should do a better job of arguing your case:

                The Small Business Association has just canceled the Crains’ latest study mid-stream, citing “data limitations,” following a congressional inquiry into how and why these authors were given a new contract after searching criticism of their 2010 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. But caution comes belatedly. Their reports have propelled legislation and their estimate remains conventional wisdom.


                Although many observers often express the belief that regulation is costly to the firms subject to it, through both its operational burdens and compliance risks, research has not made much progress in measuring those costs. For example, although there is substantial evidence that President Trump’s first two years in office have resulted in a reduction in the flow of new regulation and some deregulation, precise measures of these changes remain elusive. The administration claims that deregulation has been an important contributor to the acceleration of growth in the years since Trump’s election, but there is no hard evidence to quantify whether that is true, or if so, how much of that growth should be attributed to deregulation. Furthermore, it is unclear whether whatever gains have come from less regulation are a consequence of lower operational costs or reduced compliance risks. The distinction is important because, to the extent compliance risk is costly, important implications for regulatory reform may follow—for example, the need to restore the importance of formal rulemaking in the regulatory process.


              • Dark Matter in reply to Philip H says:

                Your links are claiming the measurements are wrong. There is a vast difference between claiming our measurements of gravity has flaws and claiming gravity doesn’t exist.

                I’ve worked for heavily regulated companies. Their compliance departments are large, powerful, and inflict large amounts of work on everyone else. The companies tend to be very large and buy small and middle-sized companies who have discovered if they want to survive, they need to either build their own compliance department or sell themselves to someone who already has one.

                If you want to claim that regulation doesn’t have SERIOUS overhead costs that are best handled by very large scale, then you need to explain why that phenomenon exists.Report

              • What the US mostly quit doing was bulk production of basic steel. Specialty mills seem to be doing fine. Down the road from me is one that’s in the process of adding a second furnace. They can produce 300 different alloys. In addition to selling those to manufacturers, they also produce specialty pipe and high-strength train rail. As I understand things, the Q&A staff is bigger than the staff that run the furnace.

                More interesting is the adjacent facility that produces the towers for wind turbines and employs more people than the steel making operation. The steel for the towers isn’t produced locally, as you might think. The steel company ships it in from a different mill they own outside Portland that specializes in high-quality plate production.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

                And as I mentioned up above, that specialty material production is not something that companies are willing to train in-house.

                We, as a society, need to stop pretending that a good job can be had right out of high school. And maybe that means we need public community college(AA, AS, Tech degree), or public university (BA, BS).Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Pinky says:

          Also, easy money and trillion-dollar deficits.Report

          • North in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            They’re only easy money or deficits when Democratic Presidents are in office Mike. When Republicans are in office they’re sensible monetary policy and economic stimulus.Report

            • Pinky in reply to North says:

              I don’t believe that, and I don’t know any Republicans who believe that. So if it’s supposed to be your take on hypocritical Republicans, it failed.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Pinky says:

                Trump blew up the deficit with his 2017 tax cut. Republicans cheered.

                Obama shrank the deficit inspite of the Great Recession and Bush tax cuts and still got repeatedly publicly scolded for it repeatedly by McConnell and Co.

                Bush created the Great Recession, and ran us into the Iraq war on the national credit card.

                Clinton left a budget surplus.

                Seems to me North got it right.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Philip H says:

                Obama didn’t really shrink the deficit because of anything special he did. Reductions in countercyclical stimulus spending combined with rising tax revenues from the recovery and six years of a Republican Congress that wasn’t sending him any big new spending programs to sign into law, led to a declining deficit. It was a pretty similar story with Clinton. This idea that the President has godlike control over and sole responsibility for everything that happens to the economy has no basis in reality.

                Neither Democrats nor Republicans are fiscally responsible, but a Democratic President and Republican Congress together often end up being fiscally responsible in spite of themselves.Report

              • North in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                I would agree that in the order of fiscal responsibility split government definitely takes the crown.

                Specifically from most to least fiscally responsible:
                #1- Democratic President with Republican control of part or all of Congress
                #2- Republican President with Republican control of part or all of Congress
                #3- Complete Democratic Control
                #4- Complete Republican Control.Report

              • North in reply to Pinky says:

                Actions speak louder than words Pinky. Both parties are, obviously, not good on deficit matters but it seems pretty inarguable, after decades of succeeding Democratic and Republican administrations, that Republicans are worse on the subject of ballooning deficits and debt. Add in that the Republicans are the party who claim deficit reduction as a first principle and it adds up to a simple verdict: Republicans have absolutely zero, no less than zero- negative, credibility on the subject of the deficit and when they bring the subject up the only rational response is contemptuous laughter.Report

              • Pinky in reply to Pinky says:

                You misunderstand me. I’m saying that, if you want to follow demand-side thinking, you can accept Mike’s analysis. If you want to follow supply-side thinking, you’d probably accept mine. North is seeing hypocrisy because he’s applying his framework to others.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Pinky says:

                Supply side thinking has failed. We have 40 years of data that says so.Report

              • JoeSal in reply to Philip H says:

                Government thinking has failed we have 20,000 years of data that says so.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal says:

                What in the world is “government thinking”, as applied to 20,000 years of human civilization, everything from the pre-Columbian people of North America to the Roman Empire to the cultures of the Indian subcontinent and Asia?

                I swear, Marx’s final, most decisive victory is that he managed to get everyone thinking on his own terms, that all of human civilization is the battle over markets.Report

              • Pinky in reply to Philip H says:

                That’s not true. Both supply and demand are definitional to economics. You can say that in a current era, the tax rates may be too low for a tax cut to have a supply-side benefit, which is what I assume you’re saying. But you can’t say that supply is meaningless. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding.

                Producers will increase production based on the expectation that it’ll increase profits. If tax rates are high, then a lowering of them will lead companies to expect higher profits. If a currency is unstable, then stability will make them more confident. In the face of increasing regulation and uncertainty about the same (say, if health care reform appears to be shifting burdens toward employers, or there’s talk of a $15 minimum wage), companies will hold off on making decisions until the political environment calms down. The economy performed better in 2017-2019 than it had under Obama’s portion of the recovery.Report

              • North in reply to Pinky says:

                Sure it did, but that was with a geyser of deficit spending/tax cutting that was never an option under Obama when the GOP was in its “deficits and weimar era hyperinflation will doom us all” mode. Frankly, considering how much more money he was able to shove into the economy it’s astonishing how small the gap in economic performance improvement was under Trump vs Obama.

                And it still doesn’t explain or excuse the GOP/Conservatives blazing hypocrisy on monetary policy and deficit spending. We probably haven’t been on the side of the Laffer Curve that supply siders dream about since Kennedy.

                Though, now that I think about it, I suppose supply siders could blame Trump’s trade wars for wrecking the results they predicted. There’s always an excuse handy for supply side economics.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Pinky says:

                If supply-side thinking is “GOP deficits don’t matter”, then sure.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                We keep trying to stuff supply side solutions into demand side problems. for 4 decades. Time for a new approach.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Philip H says:

                Time for a new approach.

                And that approach is?

                I can’t think of anything that hasn’t been extensively tried and found to be worse.Report

              • Phil;ip H in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Well let’s see – pay living wages. Single payer healthcare (which has the advantage of supporting all sorts of business startups and job changers). Job training for industries that are actually growing. Meaningful tax penalties for offshoring. No more tax cuts – especially for businessess that have offshored.
                Universal basic income . . . .Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Phil;ip H says:

                pay living wages

                Defined this. Are we going to be giving my teenage children a living wage?

                Single payer healthcare (which has the advantage of supporting all sorts of business startups and job changers).

                Either this is break-the-dollar expensive because we’re expanding the current system, or we need to have our brave politicians destroy millions of well-paying jobs that currently exist inside the system.

                Job training for industries that are actually growing.

                Google: “Learn to code for free”. This already exists.

                Or if you mean the gov should do this, the Federal Gov has 47 job training programs spread across 15 different agencies.

                Meaningful tax penalties for offshoring. No more tax cuts – especially for businessess that have offshored.

                This is a really bad idea. The typical job lasts for something like 2-3 years. Anything that gets in the way of future job creation is a serious problem. Telling companies they’ll be punished if they create a job and then destroy it is telling them they should not create that job at all.

                Universal basic income . . . .

                Unclear if this would work in the real world at scale and with a budget. I can make very strong arguments that it would/wouldn’t work, humans are complex. I would very much like to see a lot of experiments with it at a city level.

                Having said that, in terms of cost, A $8k a year UBI would be $2.7 Trillion a year. That’s the equal of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Veteran Benefits, Income Security, and “Other” (probably pensions) COMBINED.

                The plans I’ve seen to pay for it basically have everyone above $20k or so pay for their own UBI. The reality probably won’t match the advertising.Report

              • North in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Worse than supply side economics? Frankly short of outright communist economics I don’t think there’s much that has been found to be more useless than supply side economics for actually doing any of the things that economics are supposed to do. Now as a political fig leaf for endlessly cutting taxes on the wealthy and duping right wing voters, supply side economics had some political use, though I’m of the opinion that after the Obama years it’s pretty much useless for that purpose as well since no one outside the right gives it any credence (nor should they) nor, per the Trump years, do the actual voting masses within the right seem particularly bedazzled by supply side economics anymore either.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to North says:

                Worse than supply side economics?

                My reading on what was being suggested was “worse than the economic system as it is, specifically including free trade”.

                If we’re going to talk about supply side economics, I’d say it worked well with Reagan. His tax cuts increased the deficit in absolute terms but adjusted for GDP it remained flat and we got monster growth.

                Now having lowered tax rates without exploding the deficit once, I don’t see what benefit the Laffer curve brings to the table. Reagan overshot and had to increase taxes to keep the deficit in line.Report

              • North in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Ah, well wrong thread for that debate then. I think one can argue about Reagans cuts, personally I simply wasn’t there, but I can agree that supply side hasn’t had any explanatory use since the 80’s.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                What you’re arguing for here is what is called “vulgar Keynesianism” meaning that the government pumps a lot of borrowed money into the economy to stimulate both demand and supply.

                Its called “vulgar” because it lacks the other half of Kenyes, which is that when the prosperity appears, you tax enough of it to pay down the debt you created in the first place.

                Nobody ever likes that part.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                What you’re arguing for here is what is called “vulgar Keynesianism” meaning that the government pumps a lot of borrowed money into the economy to stimulate both demand and supply.

                “Vulagar Keynesianism” is paying someone to dig a hole and then paying someone else to fill it in. That’s not a great way to describe encouraging the most productive members of society to use their money productively by lowering their taxes and lowering investment taxes.

                when the prosperity appears, you tax enough of it to pay down the debt you created in the first place. Nobody ever likes that part.

                We have yet to figure out how to tax people enough to match the social spending we want to do. It’s a serious problem.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Supply side theory, like Keynesianism, doesn’t make any distinction about what people use the money for.

                Less taxes= A check from the government.

                What you’re arguing for here is a sort of Calvinist economics, where giving a thousand dollars to a rich person is more economically beneficial because he will spend it better.

                Which is kind of silly, because if you took that same thousand and gave it to a poor person, she would run out and buy something from the rich person and it would end up in the same place.

                That…kind of how money works.

                You add a dollar to this part of the economy and it circulates endlessly to touch every other part.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Supply-side economics isn’t really about money. It’s about real productive capacity. If you take a bunch of money away from people with high marginal propensity to save and give it to people with high marginal propensity to consume, then this results in real resources being diverted away from investments in increasing productive capacity and towards production of consumption goods. The result is more consumption now, but less investment, and therefore less consumption in the future.

                Keynesianism is mostly about nominal aggregate demand, i.e. how much money is being spent, regardless of how. Supply-side theory is about what how the money is spent. Specifically, supply-siders are concerned that government policy excessively privileges spending on present consumption over spending on investment.

                “Well, the money gets spent over and over, so it doesn’t matter anyway” totally misses the point. It’s not about the money. It’s about how real resources are used. Real resources can only be spent once. Even durable resources like land can only be used for one purpose at any given time.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                What mechanism does supply side use, to control how the money is spent?

                Isn’t the only mechanism just “cut taxes” and thereby leaving more money in people’s pockets?Report

              • Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                That’s how a Keynesian would describe the impact of a tax rate reduction. That’s what I don’t understand about your comments. You describe supply side thinking like a Keynesian, you describe originalism like a progressive, you can’t explain Republican thinking without talking about whiteness. But you say you were a Reaganite. It’s like, if you said you were from Mexico, but you spoke Spanish with a thick Bronx accent. I’d have to think you never lived there (or moved away at a very early age, before you could internalize the language). An NR reader wouldn’t describe tax cuts as putting more money in people’s pockets.

                I mean, if you asked me what BLM was about, I might say “looting Walmart” if I was in a bad mood. But I could put down a couple of sentences about the importance of counter-narratives in CRT if it came up. That doesn’t mean I think they’re right, but I know the words.

                As always, I go back to Haidt when he said that the right understands the left better than the left understands the right. In your case though, if you really were exposed to conservative thinking, you should be able to at least describe it.Report

              • KenB in reply to Pinky says:

                But you say you were a Reaganite

                I’ve often wondered about this bit of Chip’s history too — nothing he says sounds even vaguely like any Republicans I knew in the 80s. Hopefully it’s not just a rhetorical gambit — maybe the beliefs he held were just planted in sandy soil. [Sorry Chip for talking about you as if you wouldn’t be reading this yourself — it’s an oddity of blog conversations]

                My wife is a longtime Democrat, but she identified as a Republican when she was in college; but this was only because her parents were Republicans and she wasn’t very interested in politics. When a friend explained to her the basics of what Republicans and Democrats believed, she quickly realized she should actually be a Democrat, and she changed her registration right away. Talking to her now, you’d never have a hint that she was ever an R. But I gather that Chip’s story isn’t much like this.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to KenB says:

                I am and always have been “dispositionally conservative”- preferring order and stability and viewing the world of my youth, the Establishment as a basically fair and just world.

                Reagan appealed to me as a teenager, since his vision of America was both hopeful and sunny and wrapped in the warm cozy blanket of an imagined mythic Golden Age when everything in America worked- you know, cowboys rode tall in the saddle and American GIs were greeted as liberators.

                The basics of conservative thought that I gleaned from watching Firing Line and reading National Review seemed so sensible that I wondered how anyone could even argue-
                Government should balance spending and revenue, that was just common sense!

                And to be honest- much of that still appeals to me. I still love order and stability, and there is a lot of the American project and history that we should rightfully be proud of.

                And yes, governments SHOULD balance revenue and spending.

                But see, what I have learned over the years is that when something seems so obvious that no one could possibly argue against it, that’s a sign that probably few are.

                The dreaded Keynesianism that Buckley argued against never urged wild irresponsible spending; On the contrary, it quite sensibly encouraged paying deficits back.

                But more than anyone, it was President Reagan who destroyed my love affair with candidate Reagan.
                Dick Cheney was right- Reagan proved that [politically] deficits don’t matter, they really don’t, and with Republicans especially.

                After 8 years of waiting like Charlie Brown for the Great Pumpkin of a balanced budget, by the mid- Bush term I had to admit that none of it was ever meant seriously- Reagan indulged in wild irresponsible spending every bit as much as FDR, and the booming economy simply proved that the conservative arguments were false.

                Deficit spending really does make the economy thrive, at least for a while.

                No one becomes a more fierce critic than an apostate.

                Oh, and now?

                I see the New Deal, Social Security, and the Great Society as the tired and true, time tested traditions which must be respected and upheld.

                You will notice that I keep saying the modern conservatives are the revolutionaries, insurrectionists bent on overthrowing the established order.Report

              • kenB in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Interesting, thanks. So my impression is that you weren’t and aren’t a details guy or a theory guy — you’re drawn most of all to narratives. When you were young you were drawn to the story of conservativism, but then you lost confidence in the storytellers after they didn’t follow their own narrative. So you switched allegiance to the liberal Democratic narrative, since they didn’t so obviously ignore their advertised principles and they also tell an appealing story.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Pinky says:

                How would a “non-Keynesian” describe tax rate reduction, if not having the effect of putting more money in people’s pockets?Report

              • Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Remember all that Kemp, Hazlitt, early Bartlett, (economic) Gilder, and others you read and listened to in your conservative days? Would any of them have described tax cuts as government putting money in people’s pockets? It would have been government taking less out of people’s pockets. But more to the point, it was never about tax rates, but marginal tax rates; never what government takes from the dollars you earned, but from the next dollar you might earn. That’s where the incentives are.

                If you never were conservative, or you just liked Reagan’s hat when you were a kid and read a few of the barbs in NR’s The Week, that’s fine. I’m happy to explain conservative thought to someone who’s never been exposed to it. A noob doesn’t cause any confusion.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Pinky says:

                I wrote in Jack Kemp for President in 92. He represented what i dreamed conservatism could be, compassionate and actively devoted to making everyone better off.

                Bruce Bartlett is one of the most fierce critics of Reaganomics; “Show me the inflection of the Laffer Curve” is his sneering comment.

                Look lower tax rates are fine, but without spending cuts and the discipline to adjust the two, it is just the Double Santa Clause theory, AKA, “giving away free stuff”.

                No conservative in 40 years has put together a credible vision of how a conservative national budget would work.

                Because as Milton Friedman observed, “To spend is to tax” and Republicans love to spend.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                It’s really just a question of who is being taxed to support spending on what?Report

              • Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                That’s why I said early Bartlett. But it says something that the one thing you got right about conservatism is one of its critics.Report

              • Pinky in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Thanks for making this comment. Supply side economics involves a lot more things than tax cuts, and I don’t think people are getting that message.

                I’d also add that we have unbelievably high effective marginal tax rates on the poor in the US, potentially over 100%. Everyone should be able to see how that chokes off incentive.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Pinky says:

                It’s not a tax, it’s a *FEE*.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Pinky says:

                I’d also add that we have unbelievably high effective marginal tax rates on the poor in the US, potentially over 100%. Everyone should be able to see how that chokes off incentive.

                Yes, that. We phase out benefits as people earn more money or are better off. In practice this means functional behavior like marriage and/or sacrificing to earn more money is strongly discouraged at low income levels.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Less taxes= A check from the government.

                Hardly. If you want to have less of something, tax it. If you want lots less, tax is hard. The reverse is also true, if you want to encourage something, tax it lightly or not at all.

                So lowering the tax rates on investing and on high income jobs encourages those things. So, for example, my relative the highly paid dentist might be willing to work an extra day per week. This adds to the economy.

                It also makes “investing” in tax shelters purely to avoid the tax man less profitable which means that money exists to be taxed and invested.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                If you owe a debt which is forgiven, that is considered by any accounting logic to be income.

                Not having to pay something = getting free money.

                If the government runs a deficit by allowing investment income to be taxed less, that may be a good thing. It may produce some sort of benefit.

                But from the standpoint of balancing the revenue and spending it doesn’t matter at all. The government could just as easily have harvested the tax and cut a refund check and the books would still be the same.

                Like all ideas, using the tax code to target and prod people to new or different behavior has merit, within bounds and subject to limitations.

                But…so does issuing checks such as subsidies or income assistance. It also prods certain behaviors and has outcomes that ripple outward throughout the economy.

                Even the name “Supply side” gives us a hint- If this side is the “Supply” side, what do we call the other side?
                The Demand side of course, and supply and demand are yoked together. Stimulating one results in a reaction from the other and vice versa.

                Even the arguments of the supply siders themselves acknowledge this.
                The idea is that a lower tax on a factory for example results in the factory buying new equipment…which means passing that money on to the employees of the equipment supplier…who then run out to buy consumer goods such as that created by the factory…and so on and so on in a huge circle.

                But the thing about a cycle is that you could just add money to almost any step in this cycle- the factory owner, the employees, the consumers, or the suppliers.

                Supply side is quite literally just a mirror image of demand side theory.
                It differs from Keynsianism in that it assumes the resulting burst of economic activity will itself produce enough revenue.

                But this is lacking in any historical evidence.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                The government could just as easily have harvested the tax and cut a refund check and the books would still be the same.

                From an accounting standpoint? Yes. However in the real-world those two things are extremely different with different outcomes, both ethically and economically.

                Me putting a gun to your head and taking your wallet and then later giving it back is different than me not.

                The idea that the gov owns every dollar everyone owns goes nasty places.Report

              • Hardly anyone ever mentions it, but Social Security was in real trouble when Reagan took office. Real as in “the trust fund runs out in five years and benefits get cut by 90%” sort of trouble. He and Congress put together the Greenspan Commission that redesigned it, then he worked with Congress to get it passed. Huge tax hike to fund it. Tens of millions of retired workers have had, or are having, a retirement because of it.

                (Full disclosure: My wife and I are two of those retirees.)Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Michael Cain says:

                Real as in “the trust fund runs out in five years and benefits get cut by 90%” sort of trouble.

                That sounds implausible. The tax increase was from 10.16% in 1980 to 12.4% in 1990, with the taxable earnings cap increasing by about 20% in excess of inflation. That’s a fairly substantial tax increase, but not enough to avert a 90% benefit cut.Report

    • Philip H in reply to Pinky says:

      The first three of the last four years have seen a strong economic recovery

      As were the last 6 years of the prior 8. But Obama did nothing for the economy an dit was all Trump and before that Republicans.Report

  15. Philip H says:

    Trump is President for a reason. (No, the answer is not Russia.) He is the Commander in Chief because both political parties had nothing to offer to the electorate especially among the lower middle and working classes. They were upset and started to look for someone, anyone to listen to them.

    You and i agreed on that idea four years ago. We agree now. it remains one of my biggest worries about a Biden Administration in as much as he went all in for the corporation-centered neoliberal economic policies of the Obama Administration. I don’t expect Biden to lie about what industries will or won’t come back in the next four years – but I also don’t expect him to really have any policy touch points with Scranton as it exists today. Democrats started moving away from labor concerns as policy when they decided to chase the big money Republicans were getting. They have not moved back.Report

  16. Rufus F. says:

    In DC, I saw a lot of young Congressional pages who’d been through the private school-Ivy League university-Washington DC pipeline. Most of them were fairly sheltered.

    In general, the American Democratic Party seems to pay lip service to the Black working class, while taking their votes for granted, and throwing occasional shade at the white working class. And the Republicans? Why, they’re exactly the opposite!

    But, for people in politics, the “working class” is those guys fixing the road when they’re stuck in traffic. Background noise.Report

  17. Chip Daniels says:

    This is an interesting comment from Dan Nexon:

    Regardless of which side you take in the Great Fascism Debate or the Great Socialism Debate, don’t you think it’s a bit of a tell that the anglophone world hasn’t innovated a successful new ideological -ism since “environmentalism” (and that might not really count)?

    This sort of encapsulates what I mentioned earlier, that there isn’t currently a coherent political idea that can galvanize people and bring them faith in a better future.

    Both parties are still struggling over century-old theories which are increasingly irrelevant to the contemporary condition.Report

  1. February 24, 2021

    […] own, one who is obsessed with not only their own freedom but the same freedom for others. Of being sensitive to class and occupations, and not making the mistake of using either as weapons of division, and how doing so means the one […]Report