The Roots of the Current Election

I’ll admit I didn’t expect Trump to win. As a conservative I thought my worst case scenario was Clinton winning but Trump keeping it extremely close and outperforming Romney. That would allow Trump to stop the GOP from reforming back to its roots. Trump definitely beat that. With his win he’ll almost certainly consolidate power and remake the GOP in his own image. As a practical matter I suspect the conservative movement is dead although honestly it’s been on death’s door for some time. (I sincerely hope it rebounds) That said it’s hard not to agree with a lot of the anger from within the GOP against their own leadership and elites. Yet this is something more.

Even though Trump’s win was unexpected, the forces leading to it were easy to discern for some time. Democrats let one of the most disliked figures of the last 30 years run largely unopposed in the primaries. That a self-described socialist did so well against her should have been a wakeup call to Democratic leaders. However they kept their head in the sand, much like GOP leaders have the last decade. Any self-reflection on how they are disconnected from regular voters seems a bridge too far, much as the GOP did. That a figure like Trump was able to be so close in so many polls is as much a reflection on Clinton and the campaign she ran as anything. That he won suggests something broader than most of the hue and cry has indicated.

There’s a case to be made that Trump isn’t, as most GOP elites hoped, merely a perfect storm of improbable events. I think right up until Trump won most of the GOP elites thought everything would go back to normal after the election, despite the setback of Clinton winning. Instead we have uncharted territory. Unlike nearly any other candidate in post-war history Trump wins without having many advisors of the party that nominated him.[1] From the beginning of Trump’s campaign he ran against elites. It was running against the GOP in ways people thought unthinkable that won him the nomination. Even in the last months of the campaign he was as apt to run against GOP leadership as he was to attack Clinton. (Paul Ryan in particular drew his ire) In the run-up to his victory, it became clear that a major feature of this election is the death of elitism. (Or at least the attempted death – one imagines elites saying in a Monty Pythonish way, “I’m not dead yet!”)

Now politicians have run against Washington elites since time immemorial. William F. Buckley famously said he’d rather be governed by the first 400 names in the phone book than the faculty of Harvard. Even on the left attacks on elites are common, as we saw with Bernie Sanders this cycle. I think though the problem with elites runs deeper than normal political hyperbole suggests.

Most of us are familiar with the work of Thomas Piketty that took the world by storm a few years ago. Piketty saw a looming problem of wealth inequity driven by the returns of capital. Outside of a short period after the two world wars when most wealth had been destroyed, this rising inequity has been a feature of the world. Since Picketty’s book shook up economics there has been a lot of focus on inequity. While a self-designated billionaire like Trump might seem an unusual locus for this tension there are explanations for this. Some point to the huge divide between rural and urban America and the resentment that holds. Again though things may be deeper than they appear.

My brother has done quite a bit of study in the field of demographic structural crises. He pointed out to me the work of Peter Truchin who has several books on the subject. Truchin notes that

Historical analysis shows that long spells of equitable prosperity and internal peace are succeeded by protracted periods of inequity, increasing misery, and political instability.These crisis periods–“Ages of Discord”–have recurred in societies throughout history. Modern Americans may be disconcerted to learn that the US right now has much in common with the Antebellum 1850s and, more surprisingly, with ancien régime France on the eve of the French Revolution.

The key feature in this analysis isn’t just the rise of inequity between elites and the rest of the country but the overproduction of elites. This causes inter-elite rivalry and conflict. This in turn leads to societal stresses, riots, violence and similar upheavals. Truchin saw the data suggesting that there were many worrying trends in our own society. Back in Nature in 2010 he suggested that these trends would intensify around 2020.[2] In an eerily prescient post in 2013 he noted that:

Viewed through the lens of the structural-demographic theory, however, these trends (and a number of others) all pointed to the same conclusion: that the USA was entering a pre-crisis phase of the secular cycle. Our investigations of historical societies showed that rising economic inequality, elite overproduction (in the US taking the form of overproduction of law and business degrees), and increasing political violence are reliable indicators of a crisis to come. Particularly worrying is the recent shift in shooting rampages, from workplace- and school-related rampages to violence against the state and state representatives.

The last time these tensions arose was the late 1960’s. Truchin and many others suspect the conflicts this time will be much worse. Social norms are breaking down. In particular social inequity (which goes much deeper than financial income) is leading to grave anger on all sides.

The actions of Trump’s main constituent may seem irrational. Why would they eagerly vote in a man whose policies are apt to hurt them most of all? Trump can’t bring back the factories. If he does they’ll be automated and require more college educated workers and not the laid off steel workers, textile workers and other blue collar workers. Further trade wars not only won’t help blue collar jobs but will lead to significant price increases at Walmart and other retailers hurting these classes most of all. 

Surprisingly this is the exact kind of dynamic you’d expect in norm enforcement when society breaks down. The fact it is so costly is itself a signal of just how serious the norm breakdown is. One might suspect it’s in the genes and people are inclined to become masochistic if it leads to a return to social stability. If social norms don’t return then what we end up instead is Balkanization or a French Revolution.

Writing just prior to the election he noted that “neither of the candidates has a good program that could even start addressing the deep structural causes of our current troubles.”

[There] are two proxies for current elite overproduction:overproduction of multi-millionaires, and overproduction of politically ambitious holders of advanced degrees, most importantly, law degrees (because a law degree is the best kind of credential to have if you want to become a politician).

…Donald Trump is emblematic of the new crop of politically ambitious newly rich, who aim to translate their economic power into political office. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is emblematic of the Law School route to political office. As the number of multimillionaires and law degree holders per population capita exploded in recent decades, we now have an overly large pool of contenders for a fixed number of political offices (there is only one POTUS, only nine high justices, 100 senators, etc.). Structural-demographic theory posits that as competition for these offices becomes intense, so will intraelite fragmentation and conflict.

As in past conflicts social norms break down. We see that in our candidates where actions that would have immediately disqualified politicians in the past have been ignored. Actions and comments by the public go well beyond what was acceptable in the past. As I write this the very people criticizing Trump supporters for even suggesting he might not accept the election results are in the streets protesting and saying Trump isn’t there president. As the poem goes, the center can not hold.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Turchin’s view of civilizations is correct. I certainly hope it isn’t given the stress point we find ourselves at. But a thought came to mind. If you knew the history of the French Revolution and could go back in time to advise Louis XVI, what would you do? Knowing what you know now if you could go back in time to 2010 could you really change anything?

Rather than ending on that depressing note let me instead quote Turchin from the conclusion to an article he wrote in Aeon a few years ago.

…we are rapidly approaching a historical cusp, at which the US will be particularly vulnerable to violent upheaval. This prediction is not a ‘prophecy’. I don’t believe that disaster is pre-ordained, no matter what we do. On the contrary, if we understand the causes, we have a chance to prevent it from happening. But the first thing we will have to do is reverse the trend of ever-growing inequality.

While conservatives and liberals disagree on how to do this, my sense is that there certainly is a recognition that inequity is a problem to deal with. The question is whether we’ll be able to do so.

[1] A common joke going around is that Republicans are racing to send in their resumes and delete their anti-Trump tweets. It’s interesting to me how many outside of the GOP don’t realize just how deep and wide opposition to Trump was. However this means that Trump has a very small pool of people to appoint from. I suspect that’ll change now that he’s won. Contrary to some I don’t think that’s bad or hypocritical considering the alternative is him picking from his supporters and The Apprentice candidates. I’d like at least a few people with real foreign policy and economic expertise advising him whether I agree with him or not.

[2] Nature is the preeminent science journal so to publish this there is quite significant. That said his theories are not without critics. Laura Spinney also writing in Nature provided quite a set of critiques. While I find the data interesting and suggestive, one should also keep the skeptics’ arguments in mind. That said I’d really recommend his article in Aeon. “History Tells Us Where the Wealth Gap Leads

42 comments for “The Roots of the Current Election

  1. November 10, 2016 at 12:22 am

    I hope the Nationalistic focus with a limited labour supply does lead to lesser inequality. That’s another part of Turchin’s S-D theory that’s key. Commoner over-production lowers real wages. They start to fall behind survival-level income. Thus they become indentured. The shrinking middle class then has to decide between inevitable slide into hock or stepping on other’s necks. The fitness landscape becomes very competitive.

    While it is very rational and probably moral to disagree with “big beautiful walls”, the inevitability of the Malthusian trap is at the heart of Turchin’s work (although ironically enough, he doesn’t seem to see it to much). My hope is that we can escape from a disintegrative phase by lowering inequality and leveraging our low birth rates. Integration tends to happen when workers are in short supply….

    Outside of walls and low birth rates, I just don’t see many other ways out of the trap. The problem, however, is that these “outs” are challenged by the Social Security bubble and our inverted population pyramid. We just don’t have the funds to sustain entitlements.

    Instead of cutting spending, we increase growth via immigration. This sustains the spending, but also exasperates income inequality. (Population) growth is a very reasonable way for Governments to handle things (the probability of them making the hard calls of fiscal responsibility is very low). However, the solution to the immediate problem (growth) feeds back to the major problem (Malthusian traps). So, we’ve got a truly wicked problem…

    You have to 1) have walls, 2) have low birth rates, 3) have fiscal responsibility. That is a pretty unlikely set of congruences for a democracy. It is, however, more likely in an autocracy – which is pretty scary. However, evolutionary competition is a pretty amoral force :)

  2. November 10, 2016 at 12:25 am

    If you knew the history of the French Revolution and could go back in time to advise Louis XVI, what would you do?

    I would get him a hot off the press copy of On the Wealth of Nations and told him to follow it like scripture if he didn’t want his country to revolt.
    Wealth inequality really is the driver of upheaval. Just because a rich person was able to take advantage of a situation, doesn’t mean that they only got their fair share out of the situation. They just like the echo chamber that tells them that.

  3. Mark S
    3
    November 10, 2016 at 1:00 am

    Inequity coupled with high but unmet expectations of economic success among whites, and the idea that somehow immigrants were to blame for this. His bold proposals to build a wall, deport illegal immigrants, and ban Muslims from entry into the US really seemed to propel Trump above other contenders in the Republican party and endear him to his supporters.

  4. Clark Goble
    4
    November 10, 2016 at 1:11 am

    Mark Yes, although as with most of his pronouncements it’s hard to tell how many he actually believes. He tends to come down on three sides of any issue and be vague enough that everyone projects onto him their own expectations. (I think in some ways Obama did that too, although he also had pretty specific policy goals as well)

    Chris There’s a strong argument that the period of lowest inequity was due to four factors. First so much wealth was destroyed, especially in Europe, by WWI & WWII that it cut down on inequality. Second fear of the Soviets and communism in America meant that both England and America made big concessions to labor to make communism less appealing. With the end of the cold war that drive ended. Thirdly there really was a pretty low immigration in the post war era up until the 80’s. Finally Europe was so destroyed that the US had many markets and little competition whereas Europe had a big hole to grow out of.

    How much of that is true isn’t clear. But it seems like none of those factors are coming back. (At best maybe immigration gets reduced somewhat, but that has negative effects as well with the low population growth in the US such that a lot of growth depends upon immigration) The second big factor is that jobs in the future seem to more and more either require high technical skills or very good social skills. Contrary to how some portray it that doesn’t mean college is the solution. (That doesn’t necessarily help social skills) But it does mean that a growing portion of the labor force doesn’t have the skills to compete. The solution by some primarily on the left is wealth transfers. But I don’t think that really gets at the root inequity which is inequity of opportunity. Money alone isn’t the issue. I have my own theories of what would help but I’ll leave that for a different discussion.

    One alternative for immigration though is to change the makeup of immigration more akin to what Canada does with more high skill immigration. The GOP tried that in the naughts but it was blocked by those who wanted comprehensive immigration reform.

    I also think the public would feel better if during financial bailouts if requirements and ‘haircuts’ were made for receiving the bailout. There’s no reason why the government couldn’t have required that starting with the Mexican financial crisis bailout in the 90’s on up to the Great Recession. If financial organizations screwed up the government should require the upper echelon have some accountability and punishment as a requirement to receive the bailout. That would first help reduce the perverse incentives when you’re investing other people’s money but also give the appearance of more justice. Both the left and the right rightly look at how Wall Street gets treated and are very angry. (I think that was a bigger contributor to Clinton’s defeat as well than has been commented upon)

  5. Michael H
    5
    November 10, 2016 at 8:35 am

    Good post, Clark. While we’d probably be at odds over the solution, I think you’ve nailed it in saying that economic inequality lay at the heart of the matter. There is a good case to be made that the economic desperation of Trump’s base has generated much of their racial fears, and that those non-racist, non-misogynist Trump voters felt economically distressed enough enough to overlook the man’s immoralities.

    I just fear that (justifiably) angry Democrats will push the current talk of an electorate guided primarily by racism so much in the coming days/weeks that the national discourse will break down further and thereby preclude any ability to identify and tackle the threat posed by growing inequality.

  6. Mark S
    6
    November 10, 2016 at 8:58 am

    Clark, your post was about why Trump had appeal, not whether or not he actually believed his pronouncements (he may not have, and I certainly hope he didn’t). The reason is not just the economic factors you mention, but also cultural factors of xenophobia. Trump crushed Hillary in counties that had seen the most improvements in unemployment since 2010 (https://twitter.com/bradheath/status/796201122386087936/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw). The economy had been improving by many measures since the Great Recession. There is the issue of the perception of the economy, which many thought was not improving in the way that it should. Many were upset with continued outsourcing and the income gap. But the Democrats were addressing those issues as well. What gave Trump an edge against other Republican contenders and helped him draw out slightly more voters (Hillary appears to have won the popular vote) in a number of key states was the fact that a small yet vocal xenophobic element of the American population were impassioned because of the xenophobic tone of his campaign. That can’t be ignored or overstated.

  7. Mark S
    7
    November 10, 2016 at 9:06 am

    “I just fear that (justifiably) angry Democrats will push the current talk of an electorate guided primarily by racism so much in the coming days/weeks that the national discourse will break down further and thereby preclude any ability to identify and tackle the threat posed by growing inequality.”

    Racism, xenophobia, and economic inequality go hand in hand. I worry that angry Democrats will exaggerate the racism of the Trump voters. Most who voted for him aren’t racists or xenophobes. Trump himself may turn out to be generally good-natured towards ethnic and racial minorities in spite of his rather scary rhetoric during the campaign. But a good number of Trump supporters are, and that needs to be acknowledged. In many ways, we can’t solve economic inequality without working to mitigate the effects of persistent xenophobia and racism. The poorest in the US are racial minorities and they have to work harder than whites to climb out of poverty because persistent endemic racism and xenophobia.

  8. November 10, 2016 at 9:18 am

    (I am a socialist leaning liberal Democrat who happily supported Clinton but would have preferred Sanders, but eschewing further political commentary for the time being . . .) I am intrigued by “structural demographic theory” (thanks for the new search term).
    It does seem right that Trump’s policies are not likely to help and may even hurt the inequality problem. Even though the current problem looks different to me than history being cited as precedent or predictive. See ‘hollowing out the middle’ or the ‘Globalization Elephant Chart’ suggesting that this time it’s not low vs high but middle vs low and high.
    Nevertheless, I come away from your OP, Clark, with the feeling that electing Trump takes off some of the threat of violent upheaval. That it might actually be part of the answer to “would you change anything.” Comment?

  9. Michael H
    9
    November 10, 2016 at 9:38 am

    Mark S, you said: “But a good number of Trump supporters are, and that needs to be acknowledged. In many ways, we can’t solve economic inequality without working to mitigate the effects of persistent xenophobia and racism.”

    Agreed. I’m not quite sure how it could be done, but perhaps a two-front campaign should be waged: Fighting racism/xenophobia to prevent further inequality while frighting inequality to prevent further xenophobia.

    God help us. I’m hoping he will(/is).

  10. Clark Goble
    10
    November 10, 2016 at 9:54 am

    Don’t have time to say much. Have to drive to Seattle today. Mark, it’s really not about why Trump is appealing although I did put one link in that gets at that. Rather it’s about the underlying structural problems that makes the conflict we’ve seen happen. That is overproduction of elites and inequity. Christian, I don’t think Trump takes away the upheaval unless he passes policies that change the underlying problems. Rather his norm breaking is a manifestation of the problem and makes it worse (ditto Clinton).

  11. November 10, 2016 at 10:30 am

    I’ll be in Bellevue today Clark. Perhaps I’ll spot you across Lake Washington.

  12. Clark Goble
    12
    November 10, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Come to the Northwest Chocolate Festival. I’ll be there giving out samples of our chocolate. We’ll also have brownies and hot chocolate made with our chocolate.

  13. Wally
    13
    November 10, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Frankly, Clark, can’t believe you’re a conservative. But aside from that, the real problem in America, which only Bernie Sanders had any answer for, is that economic institutions in America have drifted further and further away from our political ideals. Businesses in America (and elsewhere in the “free” world) are authoritarian structures. As such, they are fundamentally incompatible with our democratic republican form of government. In almost all businesses, there are two classes of workers: those who are paid as much as possible (the owners and and executives, who control capital) and those who are paid as little as possible (the lower- and mid-level employees, who are, in a very real sense, part of capital). When I say “as little as possible,” I mean as little as the labor market will allow. I used to teach production management. It was just a given that labor was a cost to be minimized. Businesses do that through holding wages down, moving production abroad, or, mostly nowadays, through replacing workers with technology.

    The only solution to this conflict is to share capital ownership more broadly, especially through any of a number of worker-ownership possibilities. That is the only way to reverse the accumulation of wealth at the top and preserve jobs at the bottom. Redistribution of wealth through taxation is necessary but inefficient. Redistributing wealth at the source makes a lot more sense. Especially since those who actually produce the wealth for most businesses never get a share of it. They are paid a “market” wage, which suggests that they are merely commodities.

    The reason Bernie Sanders’s message woke up the masses is that he was saying things that have needed to be said for a long time. Next cycle, whoever picks up that message will have much more evidence to back it up.

    Trump, of course, will be totally unable to give the dispossessed what he promised them. Their jobs are gone for good, not to Mexico or China, but to the microprocessor. Trump can’t turn back that clock. He will be exposed for the fraud that he is, but even more important, Paul Ryan and all the conservative ideologues will be exposed too, for they’ve been selling the same supply-side snake oil for years now. When even more wealth gets funneled to the top and even more people on the bottom get tossed aside by the almighty “free” market, the conservatives will finally have to give up their Ayn Rand theories. But what will they replace them with? Should be entertaining to watch, because they have not had an original economic idea for 35 years, since Reagan first bought into voodoo economics.

  14. Michael H
    14
    November 10, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Wally: Should be *horrendously painful* to watch.

  15. Clark Goble
    15
    November 10, 2016 at 11:49 am

    Wally interestingly while Sanders called himself a socialist he didn’t ever bring up (that I recall) taking the means of productions for the workers. I honestly think that’d make things far worse not better. But then I’ve had a family business actually nationalized by full bodied socialists so perhaps I’m biased.

    While I actually agree a big problem with the right is applying old solutions to new problems and assuming they’ll work, it’s kind of funny hearing that from someone advocating marxism which is not exactly a new idea. I’d go a bit farther and say while the GOP has been trying to replay solutions from the 80’s (tax cuts, trickle down theory of production, etc.) Clinton has more or less been playing cards from the 30’s (New Deal) and 60’s (Johnson’s programs). So out of the whole group at least the GOP is the newest. LOL.

    More seriously though while I think conservative principles are sound, the GOP has done a lousy job applying them. That I do agree with. The problem for the GOP is that there’s no indication Trump is remotely conservative. The only thing he’s stated thus far about what he plans to do now he’s president is massive infrastructure spending. Not that I have trouble with good infrastructure spending. Just that thus far we’ve not heard a lot from Trump.

    I am very curious how many Sanders supporters ended up Supporting Trump though. Trump did exceedingly well in many of Sander’s stronger locations. Trump largely won because the GOP he lost were more than made up for by Obama voters voting for Trump.

  16. Michael H
    16
    November 10, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Clark: “While I actually agree a big problem with the right is applying old solutions to new problems and assuming they’ll work, it’s kind of funny hearing that from someone advocating marxism which is not exactly a new idea.”

    It seems to me that your own comments on inequality give more credence to Marx than to the philosophizing fathers of conservatism. I take the thoughts expressed in your OP as further proof that contemporary society needs to seriously revisit some of Marx’s thought. I thought this was an interesting case for the same: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/10/karl-marx-yesterday-and-today. Menand is not afraid to call some of Marx’s proposals unteneble, and neither is Bernie Sanders or any other Social Democrat whose creed is rooted in Marxism when he passes on calling for the means of production to be in the hands of the workers.

  17. Clark Goble
    17
    November 10, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    I’ve noticed that people on the left tend to be ignorant of the varieties of types of conservatism and often don’t realize the different parts of the Republican coalition. Often these parts are in tension with each other. I’d argue that a big problem the Republicans face now is that none of the parts of their coalition can easily find common ground with the other parts. Right now the working class populist part of the coalition is dominant. Arguably they have little common ground with economic conservatives, social conservatives or process oriented conservatives. Which is why Trump had so little support from the GOP.

    To fathers of conservatism I don’t think I just give credence. It has to be earned. I rather am appreciative of say what we might broadly call Burkean conservatism. That is the type of conservatism that thinks there’s a burden of proof political innovation must meet. However of course often new ideas do meet that criteria. While I’m a bit skeptical of how Locke thought about natural law and rights, there are elements of his thought and the Scottish philosophers in general that I am sympathetic to. To your other points though of course Milton Friedman was a big proponent of a negative income tax although I quibble a bit with some of how he proposed it. I’m not terribly sympathetic to the rural romanticism that has been a strong strain of conservatism in both British and American history and that I think is part of Trump’s populism. As you might tell from my pragmatic posts I am quite sympathetic to Peirce’s type of conservatism (which in turn was quite Burkean in many ways). While he wasn’t considered conservative in his lifetime, since then Mill has often been grouped with the conservatives. I’m no libertarian but I do think consequences matter a great deal and am thus sympathetic to many aspects of Mill’s thought. By and large I favor a small government so while I’m not libertarian at all I am a small government Reagan conservative. I especially am distrustful of social engineering. But by and large most of my conservative views come out of a more practical and pragmatic stance than anything. I’m more Hamilton than Jefferson I guess you might say.

  18. Michael H
    18
    November 10, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Fair enough, Clark. Now which conservative principles being neglected by today’s GOP would make a dent in inequality (comment 15)? I’m just having a hard time reconciling your allegiance to economic conservatism to your using Piketty as a cornerstone to your OP.

  19. Michael H
    19
    November 10, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    With Piketty’s tax proposals, it would just feel more appropriate if you could cite an economist not rooted in the left who has also sounded the alarm on growing inequality but who lays out the case for economic conservatism functioning as the remedy. I’m not saying such a study doesn’t exist, but I find it interesting that you chose Piketty.

  20. Clark Goble
    20
    November 10, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    I think a big part of inequity is driven by lack of mobility and economic opportunity. The latter I think is heavily affected by overregulation and licensing especially at the state level. So for instance it takes on average 1700 hours of training to be able to cut hair in most states. That’s twice the training as is typical to become a fire fighter. There are then licensing fees on top of that. I think most economists think these are largely done to limit competition. However they also tend to be the types of businesses that poor people could start to improve their lives. I also think economists note a lot of the problem of marginal de facto costs as someone is getting out of poverty such that they don’t take a better paying job because the effective take home income is less due to benefits. I think normalizing how redistribution is done to avoid those marginal effects would have a big benefit. I think that how disability is done should be rethought to encourage people to be able to get a job or move out of areas that have little opportunity. I think government helping people move would be a better use of money than the way it’s often done.

    Probably not all solution would work, but there’s lots of things we could try. We then need to be able to easily kill programs that aren’t successful whereas the structure of government makes that extremely hard.

    I’d also like to reduce the amount of rent seeking in Wall Street and the financial industry by imposing more costs on the people causing the problems when bailouts are sought. I also think that financial institutions should have higher capital requirements. A huge conservative difference is that rather than micromanaging institutions often depending upon unclear rules enforced by invidual regulators (who often then go work for the institutions they regulate) there should be fairly simple, clear rules that aim to produce good incentives rather than micromanage bad practices.

    With regards to Piketty of course one can appreciate most of his outline of the problem (with some quibbles) without agreeing with his solutions.

  21. Clark Goble
    21
    November 10, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Michael, does Milton Friedman count as a conservative? He had quite a few well known views on inequality. (Again the negative income tax was his idea)

    Again I’m often surprised at the lack of familiarity by people on the left of the range of views on the right. People like Hayek and others have written quite a lot on inequity. The general conservative view is that if you provide sufficient opportunities for all that then you’ll eliminate most inequity (recognizing it’s a complicated thing). The problem in our society right now is that opportunities aren’t the same for everyone due to racism, poor schools, over regulation, the difficulty of mobility and a lot else. I think it’s important for government to try and fix those things so we have equal opportunity and there’s sufficient economic activity that people aren’t being left behind. (Contra some I simply don’t think increased automation necessarily leads to a lost class)

    To the point of why I picked Piketty it was primarily to be provocative. I could have just gave some vague pronouncements on inequity without invoking him. While I’m no economist from what I can see most of what he gets at is right although there appear to be a few errors in his book or at least places of dispute. However even if one doesn’t agree fully with Piketty one can see inequity as a big problem. I think the one place conservatives differ with he and especially the materialism of Marxists is in valuing many other social behaviors beyond capital. So commonly conservatives will put a high value on a home life beyond what appear to be it’s economic benefits. I think the conservative view of inequity is thus much broader than mere capital or wealth and its pronouncements reflect that.

  22. Michael H
    22
    November 10, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    Clark, I would do well to dig deeper into conservatism, painful as it is to do at this moment in history. Yet while you criticize progressives for viewing conservatism as something monolithic, you do no favors by invoking Friedman to make your case for economic conservatism. I’m still not totally clear on your approach, but it just seems that you are advocating a degree of government intervention that Friedman may have found fault with. Could you be making your case for a conservative approach to solving inequality by invoking one conservative strain that is at odds with your own? Making your plate from a buffet of different conservative thinkers is fine (I’m trying to do the same for my own liberal thought), so long as its kosher.

    If I am wrong and you are on the same page as Friedman in terms of the best ways to repair a deeply unequal society, there is much to be said against the efficacy of the neoliberalism the man helped to institutionalize in many countries during his heyday. I recommend Peter Winn’s “Victims of the Chilean Miracle,” which explains how the Chicago School helped birth one the developed world’s most unequal societies. Deregulating hair school curricula is one thing, but things can get scary when deregulating wages and benefits, something Chile’s dictatorship could fully bring to pass but Reagan’s could not (I worry what would have happened had he been given the chance). But I’ll get off it now, as I may be taking the topic away from the roots of Nov. 8. And I know how much we don’t want to get distracted from what just happened at the ballot box ;)

  23. Clark Goble
    23
    November 10, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    Michael I’m not quite clear on your critique. The negative income tax is an idea Friedman himself originated and pushed. Not all conservatives agree with it of course and there are some negative incentives it creates. If you could perhaps be a bit more specific I can respond.

    To my eyes the main problems as I mentioned are regulatory capture by large corporations leading to regulation they can manage but new entrants can’t. This reduces innovation and competition end ends up being a form of free riding. Then a focus on regulation with too much leeway given to individual regulators rather than a small set of regulations that are quite clear if imperfect yet focused on getting incentives right. I’d switch all the current welfare style programs to a negative income tax with increased minimum wage to ensure it doesn’t just become a corporate subsidy. Perhaps pegged primarily to jobs those hardest hit can do combined with a mobility subsidy for moving. I’d also as I said tie bailouts to fines/haircuts for those taking unwarranted risk.

    That’d be a great start but I confess I don’t see anything in there opposed to Friedman although again not all conservatives would agree with it. (But many would)

    The problem with most purported deregulation in Latin America is that there really wasn’t solid rule of law nor markets. So deregulation typically was just an other form of crony capitalism. Sadly far too many in Latin America were given the false dichotomy between crony capitalism or marxism. That said I think Chili overall has done better than most other Latin American countries. (Which admittedly isn’t saying a whole lot) Also I’d say that from my limited understanding Chili didn’t invest in basic infrastructure and services so education for example is quite poor. You won’t find many conservatives opposing basic education spending by government although they may critique how it is spent.

    Again I’d note that conservatives aren’t against regulations. (That’s libertarians) However they’re for good minimal regulations. So I think conservatives are often attacked in a strawman like fashion. I’d agree though that some GOP think cutting is good without worrying about good regulation. That’s why we need more wonkish conservatives. Although just cutting regulation is hard enough that I’ll take what I can get.

  24. Jack
    24
    November 10, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    What about entitlements? Our monstrous welfare system is no longer a mere symptom of inequality. It breeds it. Its influence on the American family, especially in the black community, has been disastrous. IMO, the displacement of fathers has far more catastrophic potential than inequality between folks who are well enough off and a quasi-American aristocracy.

  25. Michael H
    25
    November 10, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    Clark, your second paragraph in #23 makes things clearer to me, and with that I can’t find fault with the things you’re proposing. I’m on board with a negative income tax, and could be fine with more simplified regulation. I agree that experimentation would be a worthwhile endeavor.

    Now, I take qualms with the degree of deregulation that Friedman advocated for. I realize he championed for the negative income tax, but unlike in the U.S. where Reagan’s (Friedman’s) opponents had the ability to put some limits on the executive’s economic agenda, Chile is a fascinating case study of what can happen when the type of intense deregulation he wanted is given carte blanche. Friedman and the Chilean students he trained at Chicago had the full ear of an economically-illiterate Pinochet regime (though the General perhaps knew more about economics than Trump, which scares me), and it resulted in a completely unprotected working class who got burned by lowered salaries, scrapped benefits, and no restrictions on layoffs/downsizing. Now not every ruling class will exploit such a deregulated environment to the degree that Pinochet did, but we can’t bank on good-natured humans always holding the reigns to an economy. Chile’s robust GDP today is a result of the Pinochet era’s deep dive into Friedman’s recommendations, but so its abysmal GINI coefficient. I believe it ranks the lowest among all the OECD countries. Trump may be a pseudo-conservative, but the expendable price he puts on his employees was par for the course in a Chile whose treatment of workers was birthed from a conservative economist.

    The cultural effects of intense deregulation/elimination of worker protections are also important to consider. One wrote that “the widespread defeats suffered by workers during the Pinochet period have led to a decline in class-based consciousness, which has been replaced by individualism and a consumer-driven identity.” The U.S. is arguably experiencing the same type of decline.

    I hope that clarifies things. I have quite specific research interests, so I hope you’ll forgive me harping on another country’s experience. Still I do think parallels can be made, and with that the most benevolent components of Friedman’s thought (my friend in Montreal whose low-earning/new-parent bacon has been saved by negative income taxes) must be considered alongside the most destructive.

  26. Lois
    26
    November 11, 2016 at 9:14 am

    I believe–and it was confirmed by the first patient who walked into our clinic Wednesday morning–that the prediction of a Hillary landslide resulted in people who simply didn’t bother voting or who voted for a third party under the mistaken notion that Trump would be defeated without their vote.

    “Trump, of course, will be totally unable to give the dispossessed what he promised them. Their jobs are gone for good, not to Mexico or China, but to the microprocessor. Trump can’t turn back that clock.”

    I was listening to a panel discussion on CSPAN yesterday and the conservatives on the panel were talkng about regulation as a prime reason jobs have moved offshore. Wrong. The biggest driver of jobs moving out of the U.S. was/is wage rates. If manufacturers can pay a few cents rather than several dollars to get their product made (and the country has invested in infrastructure) they will go to that country. The panelist from Brookings (rightly) pointed out that the few manufacturing jobs which have come back is due to automation–robots.

    My prediction is that Republicans will go back to their same old bag of tricks–trickle-down and deregulation, along with the lie that tax cuts essentially pay for themselves. And they will use the “nuclear option,” getting rid of the filibuster, in order to do it.
    Afterall, Republicans have stated and shown themselves willing to cripple the Judicial branch of govt in order to implement their agenda.

    Trump being elected as president is one of the most disturbing/fightening things to happen in my
    lifetime. He was not at all examined. (while Republicans have conducted a 30 yr “investigation” witch hunt of the Clintons). Not even a single tax return from Trump (except for the one that the
    NYTimes found which revealed a $900 million dollar loss in one year). Those who have worked with Trump have found him not able to comprehend finance. (WHYY, Radio Times, had an interesting interview with David Cay Johnston on Trump’s finances/taxes).

  27. November 11, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Thanks, Clark. And on inequity — that Old Testament and Book of Mormon scourge alive and well today — maybe we’re getting to a point where conservatives and progressives and liberals can all talk to each other again, because we’re identifying the same problem to solve. Maybe. #hopedieslast

  28. john f.
    28
    November 12, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    Trump didn’t outperform Romney, Clark. He got 47.1% and Romney got 47.2%.

  29. Michael H
    29
    November 14, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Clark: Some interesting perspective from this morning’s Times on how the type of intensive financial deregulation that Friedman was key to popularizing is playing a hand in the inequality-fueled demagoguery of modern times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/14/opinion/the-incendiary-appeal-of-demagoguery-in-our-time.html?_r=0.

    Again, while it’s clear that deregulation is almost always a boon to GDP, anyone who suggests that it is our best strategy for combating inequality is on shaky ground. The somewhat cautious deregulation you seem to advocate for in 23 doesn’t sound inherently destructive, but I’m not seeing signs that Trump’s team, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell are so mindful. Their almost religious faith in the benevolence and fairness of the market have them thinking that the more deregulation, the better.

  30. Clark Goble
    30
    November 15, 2016 at 11:24 am

    Sorry for the delay — been out of town.

    Michael, you’re attacking a strawman still. I don’t favor uncritical deregulation. But I definitely think regulations are a huge issue even if not the only one.

    John F, good point in terms of absolute vote primarily due to 3rd parties taking many more votes this year. I was more thinking that in terms of minorities, Trump got a larger share, and in terms of winning Trump obviously did while Romney got beat by 4 points by Obama.

    Lois, there are two issues. One is why particular jobs within a particular business left. Outsourcing and automation are clearly part of that issue. However as industries change typically new jobs are created in new industries. That’s what’s not happening. It’s new businesses when they shift from moderate sized to being larger that’s typically the mover of job creation. Yet business creation has been low and hasn’t recovered the last decade. This isn’t just a Republican worry but has been focused on by liberals as well. So when we had at the beginning of the 20th century a massive shift from agriculture to assembly lines the new businesses were there to hire the people displaced by rising agriculture productivity. That’s just not happening today.

    To the fillibuster, you realize Harry Reid already killed it for judicial appointments, right? And that liberals have wanted it removed for a long time.

  31. Michael H
    31
    November 15, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Clark, I’m scratching my head. I asked you to name a conservative economist in lieu of Piketty who embodies your economic conservatism and you name Friedman before going on to those on the left consistently fail to do their homework. I was simply trying to qualify your stance by pointing to Friedman’s radical views on deregulation that are without a doubt more central to his legacy/impact than his views on the negative income tax.

  32. Michael H
    32
    November 15, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    Sorry, I mean, “before going on to say* that those on the left…”

  33. Clark Goble
    33
    November 16, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    Oh, I misunderstood. If you want someone who thinks *exactly* like myself then I don’t know. Certainly I can think of many who make the critiques I’ve made. Where they place the limits on regulation I can’t say. I’m swamped this week so give me a little more time. (I’ve zero time to do research this week) I can but say that most economists I read and hear seem to recognize the problem of over-regulation (which honestly seems a pretty mainstream view) yet don’t seem to advocate the kind of radical deregulation that libertarians want. (Not to ignore the libertarian economists mind you)

  34. Clark Goble
    34
    November 17, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Richard Thaler is one economist who comes to mind who has somewhat similar views to mine. (Haven’t had time to do much, but he’s an obvious one I should have thought of immediately)

  35. Michael H
    35
    November 17, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Word. I’ll look take a gander. Thanks!

  36. Clark Goble
    36
    November 17, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    I should note that he’s more on the behavioral economics side of things. I’m a bit skeptical of that so our views don’t totally line up. And there are some good critiques of his thought. So it’s not unambiguous that he’s right on the things he writes about. More significantly one might think nudges are better than heavy handed regulation for most things yet simultaneously think a heavier hand is demanded for some things.

    A good common sense rule of thumb, in my mind, is that if you are scared about what Donald Trump might do with some regulatory power that then that should never have been a regulatory power with no checks, balances or due process.

  37. Lurking Mike
    37
    November 18, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    As a mind experiment consider the following. A conservative republican (think Pence) narrowly noses out a liberal democrat (think Kaine) in a few unlikely key states.The first captures the electoral college while the second wins the popular vote. How would this affect our thinking? That perhaps there are two views of what direction to go and we will try one for awhile instead of the other? Image an issues centered campaign without focus on the personal flaws of the candidates (which continue to hog the limelight now and block reasonable thought). Both candidates managed to select VP running mates without much political drag who somewhat reflected the party positions.

    It was my personal wish and prayer that both Trump and Clinton would miraculous loose.(I think a majority of people might not be far from this idealistic hope.They were both so unacceptable). I knew that no matter what, the day after the election, it would be half true and cause for some celebration. But how to make the other half happen?

    I think it would have been nearly impossible to impeach Clinton. We would be stuck with her for better or for worse in my opinion. But Trump? He has alienated most of the republican establishment. He isn’t even nominally conservative. Never have false expectations been higher for a new president. Oh yeh, every republican is participating in the unlikely victory celebrations, thoughtless to the months of mounting concern during the campaign. But soon the partying will be over. Trump is incapable of changing into another Bush, Romney, McCain, Kasich, Ryan, Reagan, Eisenhower, or anyone else look-alike. His know deficiencies (and frankly wickedness) will not lie dormant long and will start to bite us.

    Remember 48 democrat senators would vote to impeach Trump tomorrow. We only need 19-20 republican senators to be given a couple of excuses to come to their senses and Trump will be out. Some of them ran against Trump and were treated badly by him and harbor quiet anger for it behind current insincere smiles.

    Of greater concern is the fact that the system is broken. Neither party, after years of campaigning and billions of dollars, anointed an acceptable candidate. The lap dog media is morally bankrupt and partly but not entirely to blame. After perpetual bias and miscalling the election, who can trust them with anything? Why are we still listening?

    The witless voting public in both parties during the primaries was most culpable for this fiasco. Too many of us lost our freedom to select a decent candidate this time around. How do we prevent another election worse than this one in the future? Trump ain’t the man to do it. Otherwise our republic is doomed.

  38. chris g
    38
    November 18, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    Mike, why do we assume that Republicans voters will be unhappy with Trump’s likely Democratic positions? My suspicion is that people are less wedded to abstract policies than they are to adaptive groups (ones which offer protection, norm abuse detection, and some type of group level benefits). This isn’t something that is uniquely Republican nor Democratic. Rather it’s largely a function of “who has your back”.

    Policy changes really don’t operate at this level. Neither, unfortunately do the consequences of policy. Rather, intent and perceived costly commitments are operative.

    In one light both leaders might be hated, but in another both stood with a very definite subset of the population.

    As balkanization progresses one normally expects such adaptive commitments to increase in strength. Group oriented altruism is selectively disadvantageous when a threshold of people act only for their own self interest. Identity politics and things like uni-dimensional racism, sexism, etc (base on punch-up instersectional metrics) are hyper-corrosive to pluralism. The only question is whether we’ve passed this critical point or not?

    I don’t think this can be answered just by looking at the population as a whole. When you have elite classes that virulently compete with each other, you have trouble. When you get sub-sets not subject to population flow (think SJW or Alt-rights who won’t let someone of the opposite morality be part of their group), you typically have trouble. This is what I would really look at: which groups most enable ideological & moral diversity? (Skin color or gender diversity is, in my opinion, a false flag here).

    The great fear with too much out-group oriented cosmopolitanism was that you would, via good intentions, pass the point where these systems could be pulled back. Similarly, the worry with too much in-group nationalism is that it destroys the pluralism necessary for large heterogeneous nations. Once both groups stopped listening and respecting each other’s essential contributions, things were doomed. Large groups of people operating harmoniously is not a stable state of affairs. This lesson has to get re-learned in painful ways.

    At least, over time, the dynamics seem to show selection for more cooperative individuals: ones that know how to work with those of opposite group orientations.

  39. Clark Goble
    39
    November 18, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    By all accounts Trump is planning to do very popular things his first 100 days. He’s going to fix the problems in the ACA which in practice will mean minor changes but taxes instead of mandates and cosmetic solutions to people with preexisting conditions. He’ll claim he repealed and replaced it but won’t do enough to piss off his voters. So he’ll claim victory. He’ll start up a bunch of infrastructure projects which will give jobs to his core constituency. Again it’ll probably be inefficient but he’ll claim victory. He’ll do some symbolic things to NAFTA and trade with China and claim victory.

    The biggest worry is that he’ll completely please his core constituency and then pick a fight with conservatives like Ryan who want a Tea Party revolution. He’ll say Ryan and company are trying to stop his policies and that he has no choice but join with Democrats like his good friend Schumer (who’s now Senate Minority Leader). He gets enough Ds and Rs to get his bills passed.

    I laugh a bit at how everyone is acting like the sky is falling. The bigger worry is that he won’t be blatantly bad but will be just successful enough that people will turn a blind eye to the inevitable corruption, inefficiency and perhaps civil rights problems.

    I think Trump is planning to be a President like Nixon 2.0. What people forget is that Nixon was very, very popular until the coverup of the Watergate breakin.

    While it’s possible Trump will overreach and do something really stupid, I wouldn’t count on it. Brannon in particular is very forthright about starting a whole new political movement that’s part Jackson, part FDR, and part Reagan. It’ll be repellant to many of the intellectuals on the right and the left (including I’d assume people like myself). But I’m far from convinced it might not, for all its many dangers, be compelling to much of the country.

  40. Chris G
    40
    November 18, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    I always thought Trump, while a gamble, had a decent chance of jumping back to his Democratic leanings to break the system via across the aisle compromise. That was why I wasn’t as worried about his presidency potential as most of my colleagues were.

    Such reforming compromise seems to fit with his larger-than-life ego. It seems as if he would be quite content to undo both political parties in order to be seem as a historic level unifier (or if not a true unifier, a historic level repositioner).

    Of course this is utter dissonance to both his perceived election mantra and the image now ingrained for him by media and opponents. However, I wouldn’t be the least surprised if he takes on, yet again, the task of upsetting one more layer of his stereotyped persona.

    What I find funny is how much wailing is likely to occur from those being assimilated. Will Trump be respected for switching to conventional Democratic positions? Extreme Republicans will be angry. But their organization is in shambles. Extreme Democrats will be angry too – not necessarily about the positions themselves, but from the source from which they come and the threat this poses to their order.

    Thus, my hope at least is that compromise, fuelled by hubris, conquers the extremes on both sides of the divide.

    The next thing I see on the horizon is destruction of the Democratic ruling elite, not via de-energization and loss of political seats, but by breaking rigid party ties. But, I guess we’ll see.

  41. Lurking Mike
    41
    November 19, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    If the last 3 comments are to believed, then why all the concern about Trump in the months before the election? Was Romney talking out of his hat just before the Utah primary? Does Ryan have a split personality disorder? Does it even matter who is elected?

    It seems mighty convenient to have a change of heart right after the unexpected victory. Me thinks we are swallowing a wagon load of wishful thinking. Picking a team on this playground is easy, especially if you have 300 million to choose from. Scoring points and winning the game is an entirely a separate matter. Time will tell. I hope I am wrong.

  42. Anonymous
    42
    November 22, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    I think concern about Trump is valid simply because he’s such an unknown factor. We don’t know what he really thinks (he comes out on three sides of any issue to ensure everyone projects their favorite idea on him). He has no real political history beyond being a fairly normal liberal up to 4-6 years ago. He’s erratic though and appears to be very concerned about personal slights. It’s worth saying then that he’s probably not the kind of dice roll one should roll for President. It’s also worth saying that most likely he won’t be as bad as portrayed though. I think the left is overreacting quite a bit.

    That’s not to say there aren’t real issues with Trump. I find extremely worrisome that he hasn’t called out racist supporters as strongly as he should. (Contrary to some critics he has criticized them – just not as extensively as some of us would wish) I find some of his appointments worrisome. I’m also worried about how well he’ll separate his business interests from his role in government. While I think it’s a bit early for the criticisms there it is something we need to keep an eye on.

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