Friday, August 18, 2017

Millennials, the GOP and Charlottesville

Donald Trump's appalling reaction to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville seems sure to have political reverberations for a long time. Ron Brownstein flags what could be the most important--and most negative--effect on the GOP: the consolidation of Millennial voter sentiment against the Republican party. Here's the basic argument:
Trump’s election “may be one of the most costly presidential victories in history for a political party, because [it is leaving] a crimson stain on the party,” said Peter Wehner, the former director of strategic planning in the George W. Bush White House. “I don’t think it … will be easy to get away from.”
Through Trump’s first months, the danger of him branding the GOP as intolerant has steadily smoldered, as he’s rolled out polarizing policies on undocumented and legal immigration, crime and policing, affirmative action, and voting rights. He’s also moved to reverse protections for transgender Americans in schools and the military.
But Trump’s belligerent response to the unrest in Virginia has detonated this slowly burning fuse. His pointed refusal to unambiguously condemn the white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups who gathered there may crystallize, in a way no policy debate could, the picture of him as racially and culturally biased, particularly among younger voters. “The truth is, I bet that Millennials have not paid that much attention to the policy stuff he’s done,” said Andrew Baumann, a Democratic pollster who has extensively surveyed the generation. “But I think Charlottesville is a whole different thing. This is a watershed moment.”
Brownstein goes on to say:
Even before Charlottesville, Trump faced gale-force skepticism from the Millennial generation. In an early August Quinnipiac poll, only one-fourth of them nationwide approved of his job performance, while two-thirds disapproved (fully 59 percent strongly). Just one-fourth said he shared their values; almost two-thirds said he wasn’t honest and didn’t care about average Americans.
Because Trump retains some irreducible support among younger whites, particularly those without college degrees, Baumann said the Charlottesville firestorm would likely do more to harden, rather than expand, that Millennial resistance. “I think he’s really cemented these views of Millennials, and I have a hard time believing there is much he can do to reverse that,” Baumann said…..
[B]y 2020, the highly diverse Millennials will clearly pass the predominantly white baby boomers as the largest generation of eligible voters. That Millennial advantage will widen over the next decade, and it will be reinforced when the first post-Millennials—the generation born after 2000 that’s even more racially diverse—file into the voting booth.
In a measure of the growing headwinds the party could face, Kristen Soltis Anderson, a prominent Republican pollster who has written a book on Millennials, told me this week that the absence of effective resistance from party leaders or voters to Trump’s posture has left her increasingly pessimistic the GOP can set a direction that will appeal to young people like her.
“Given a lot of the data I’ve seen since the start of the Trump presidency, I wouldn’t blame a young person who is just becoming interested in politics who thinks the GOP … is comfortable with white supremacists,” she told me in an email. “Not just because of perceptions of what Trump believes, but because of the accurate perception that a majority of Republican voters stand with him, even on his most controversial views.” 
This is a Republican pollster talking, generally viewed as one of their leading experts on the Millennial generation! There is no more potent demographic force than generational replacement and Trump's actions may be ensuring that the negative impact of this force on the GOP--already likely to be considerable--is maximized. This, in the end, could be the most important political fallout from the Charlottesville events.

Obscure Music Friday: The 13th Floor Elevators

What? You've never heard of the premier Texas psychedelic garage rock band, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators? This must be remedied right away. Have a listen to their 1967 masterpiece, Easter Everywhere. Pay close attention to the lyrics (if you dare!) My suspicion is these lads were high on something more than life.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Where Does Populism Come From?

The origins of contemporary populism, both in the US and elsewhere, have been the subject of endless debate. That debate is not likely to end any time soon, given the continued salience of populist impulses to our politics. Certainly the recent events in Charlottesville have many worried that populism comes from the darkest of places in the human soul.

But that would confuse the distorted psyches of small numbers of neo-Nazis and white supremacists with the truly mass phenomenon of contemporary populism. Understanding the latter requires a more nuanced and less panicky analysis. 

As one source for such an analysis, I recommend the recent work of economist Dani Rodrik. Rodrik takes a big picture, historical approach to the subject that tries to give both powerful economic and potent cultural forces their due.

A good place to start is "The rise of populism shouldn't have surprised anyone", an interview by Ana Swanson with Rodrik in The Washington Post. Here's Rodrik on the deep causes of populism vs. associated political narratives:
I make a distinction between the deep causes of populism, and the political narratives around which they get wrapped. The deep causes of populism are economic and structural, generally speaking. There might be residues of racism and ethno-nationalism in the United States and other European countries, but I don’t think that’s what’s really driving populism. What’s driving it is the economic insecurities, the rising inequality, and the economic and social divisions that have been created, not just by globalization, but by the kind of policies we have pursued in the last few decades.
But the manner in which populism gets packaged is different. You can package it around a right-wing, ethno-nationalistic, racialist narrative, or you can package it around a left-wing social and economic exclusion narrative. What’s happening on a day-to-day basis might make it easier for right-wing than left-wing organizations. Refugees are in the news, and if there is the constant threat of Islamic terrorism, that is going to provide fuel for right-wing populists. It’s much more salient and gives them a way of organizing this broad-based discontent.
There is also a really excellent interview by John Judis with Rodrik on Talking Points Memo. Here is Rodrik on what it might take to defuse populism:
There is a kind of rebalancing we need to do in the world economy....One [area] is moving from benefiting capital to benefiting labor. I think our current system disproportionately benefits capital and our mobile professional class, and labor disproportionately has to bear the cost. And there are all sets of implications as to who sits at the bargaining table when treaties are negotiated and signed, who bears the risk of financial crises, who has to bear tax increases, and who gets subsidies. There are all kinds of distributional costs that are created because of this bias toward capital. We can talk about what that means in specific terms.
The second area of rebalancing is from an excessive focus on global governance to a focus on national governance. Our intellectual and policy elites believe that our global problems originate for a lack of global agreements and that we need more global agreements. But most of our economic problems originate from the problems in local and national governance. If national economies were run properly, they could generate full employment, they could generate satisfactory social bargains and good distributive outcomes; and they could generate an open and healthy world economy as well. (emphasis added)
This is an important issue with the cosmopolitan and progressive left because we tend to be embarrassed when we talk about the national interest. I think we should understand that the national interest is actually complementary to the global interest, and that the problem now is not that we are insufficiently globally minded, but that we are insufficiently inclined to pursue the national interest in any broad, inclusive sense. It might seem a little bit paradoxical but it’s a fact.
Rodrik develops his thoughts on populism at length in an important academic paper, "Populism and the Economics of Globalization", available on his website. One of his central arguments is that, while the rise of populism may have been predictable, the forms which populism takes are less so and depend on a complex interplay between the demand and supply sides of this phenomenon:
The populist backlash may have been predictable, but the specific form it took was less so. Populism comes in different versions. Here I will distinguish between left-wing and right-wing variants of populism, which differ with respect to the societal cleavages that populist politicians highlight and render salient. The U.S. progressive movement and most Latin American populism took a left-wing form. Donald Trump and European populism today represent, with some instructive exceptions, the right-wing variant. A second question I address below is what accounts for the emergence of right-wing versus left-wing variants of opposition to globalization.
I…suggest that these different reactions are related to the forms in which globalization shocks make themselves felt in society. It is easier for populist politicians to mobilize along ethno-national/cultural cleavages when the globalization shock becomes salient in the form of immigration and refugees. That is largely the story of advanced countries in Europe. On the other hand, it is easier to mobilize along income/social class lines when the globalization shock takes the form mainly of trade, finance, and foreign investment. That in turn is the case with southern Europe and Latin America. The United States, where arguably both types of shocks have become highly salient recently, has produced populists of both stripes (Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump).
I argue that it is important to distinguish between the demand and supply sides of the rise in populism. The economic anxiety and distributional struggles exacerbated by globalization generate a base for populism, but do not necessarily determine its political orientation. The relative salience of available cleavages and the narratives provided by populist leaders are what provides direction and content to the grievances. Overlooking this distinction can obscure the respective roles of economic and cultural factors in driving populist politics.
This all seems quite sensible to me, though I am under no illusions that Rodrik's intervention is likely to end this contentious debate. But if you do find Rodrik's analysis intriguing I urge you to follow the links in the article and read his arguments in full. Also, you might want to check out this very good discussion between Rodrik and two smart European social democrats on the the podcast, Anger Management. Particularly good on the challenges all of this presents for left parties, both here and in Europe.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

It Was the Obama-Trump Voters in the Library with the Candlestick!

There has been an odd sort of meme developing lately where the argument is being made that Obama-Trump voters actually weren't important in 2016 and, relatedly, that those who voted for Trump, regardless of who they voted for before, are not accessible to Democrats, no matter what appeal the party uses.

I think both of these propositions are dead wrong and I have argued against them before. So I was very pleased to see a detailed article by Nate Cohn in the New York Times today that refutes these propositions and gets the Obama-Trump voters about right. 

Cohn begins with this crisp summary which is entirely correct:
The story of the 2016 presidential election is simple. Donald J. Trump made huge gains among white voters without a college degree. His gains were large enough to cancel out considerable losses among well-educated white voters and a decade of demographic shifts.
There are questions and details still up for debate: whether Democrats can win back these voters, and how to think about and frame the decline in black turnout. But postelection surveys, pre-election surveys, voter file data and the actual results all support the main story: The voters who switched from President Obama to Mr. Trump were decisive.
He notes the following about white noncollege Obama voters in 2016:
Just 74 percent of white Obama voters with a high school diploma or less backed Mrs. Clinton in the [Democracy Fund Voter Study Group survey].
Similarly, the Cooperative Congressional Election Study [C.C.E.S.] found that Mrs. Clinton won just 78 percent of white Obama voters without a bachelor’s degree. The figure was even lower in the key Rust Belt battlegrounds.
And on persuadability, Cohn provides the following illuminating data:
 The C.C.E.S. found that 26 percent of Obama-Trump voters identified as Democrats in their postelection study, while 35 percent were Republicans and 37 percent were independents. Including those independents who lean toward a party, Republicans led by a wider margin of 45 percent to 30 percent. Even so, that’s a significant share who continue to identify with the Democratic Party despite voting for Mr. Trump.
Democrats were probably still winning a lot of these voters in 2016. The results speak for themselves to some extent. Jason Kander lost his Senate race in Missouri by just three percentage points, even as Mrs. Clinton lost by 20 points. Even Democrats who didn’t run ahead of Mrs. Clinton over all — like Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin or Katie McGinty in Pennsylvania — nonetheless ran far ahead of Mrs. Clinton in traditionally Democratic, white working-class areas. 
Mrs. Duckworth’s performance is probably the most telling. She won Illinois’s 12th Congressional District — a downstate, working-class district now held by Republican Mike Bost — by nine points. Mr. Trump won it by 12 points. 
Mr. Bost might seem like a fairly safe Republican for re-election, if you judge the partisanship of his district strictly by his party’s performance in the last presidential election. He certainly would be safe if Democrats wrote off Obama-Trump voters. But the willingness of these voters to support a Democrat for federal office against an incumbent Republican in a fairly decent year for Republicans suggests that at least these Obama-Trump voters remain in play, and Mr. Bost is more vulnerable than it might initially seem. 
More generally, there is reason to think these voters are likelier to vote for a Democrat against a more traditional Republican who hasn’t developed a message to match Mr. Trump’s appeal to white working-class Democrats. These voters, for instance, tend to support abortion rights and same-sex marriage. They support a higher minimum wage. 
All considered, it does seem likely that at least a portion of the Obama-Trump vote can be lured back to the Democrats — especially against traditional Republican candidates who emphasize small government, free markets and social conservatism. 
Whether that means it should be the crux of the Democrats’ path to power is another question. But it will most likely be a part of it, and will probably need to be for Democrats to secure parts of the Rust Belt that continue to play an outsize role in American elections.
So don't let anyone tell you that Obama-Trump voters were not important or that Democrats should give up on them. They were and Democrats shouldn't. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

No, Trump and the GOP Are Not Immune from the Rules of Politics

I was having drinks with a friend last night and we got to talking about the political situation, as we are wont to do. Like most liberals I know, he'd been tracking the precipitous fall in Trump's approval ratings and speculating that this could really help the Democrats in 2018 and beyond. But also like most liberals I know, he caught himself after a bit and allowed as how, after 2016, he really has no confidence that what seems like it should hurt the GOP actually will. We just live in a different universe now and the old rules don't apply. 

I get why people think that. But do we really live in such a different universe today? Harry Enten has a very useful article up on 538 today, buttressed by considerable data, that argues the general rules still apply and we'd be silly to think anything different. Enten argues:
The available evidence…suggests many of the old rules do still apply. Caution…is more than warranted, especially given Trump’s history of surprising analysts and pundits. Partisan polarization has increased, and there is plenty of time for Trump’s approval rating to improve. But caution is one thing; ignoring history and evidence…is another. And the idea that “the normal rules of politics don’t apply to Trump” strikes me as the latter — at least according to the data before us. Early signs suggest that Trump’s low approval rating is having exactly the negative effect on down-ballot Republicans that history would predict.

Midterm elections are often thought of as referendums on the sitting president. When there’s been an unpopular Democrat in the White House, voters have swung toward Republicans in congressional races. With a struggling Republican president, voters swing Democratic. You can see this by looking at the effect a president’s approval rating has on the national House vote. Specifically, we can look at how much the national House margin would be expected to shift from the previous presidential election based upon the president’s approval rating right before the midterm election.

In 2004, for example, Republicans won the national House vote by 3 percentage points. But two years later, in 2006, with President George W. Bush’s approval rating at 38 percent, Republicans lost the House vote by 8 points — a 11-point swing from 2004.
It’s far from perfect, but in midterm elections since 1946, there’s a clear relationship between the president’s approval rating and the swing in the House vote.
Trump’s current approval rating is 38 percent. Historically, we would expect a president that unpopular to cause his party to lose around 11 points off its previous House margin. Republicans won the national House vote by 1 percentage point in 2016, so this suggests they would lose it by 10 points if the midterm elections were held today.
Other data support his argument:
[T]he generic congressional ballot, a common poll question that asks respondents whether they will vote for the Democrat or Republican in their congressional district. Democrats right now hold a 46 percent to 37 percent lead, according to the FiveThirtyEight aggregate. That’s a bigger lead than Democrats had at any point in 2016 cycle, and it’s in line with the margin necessary for Democrats to take back the House.
There have been 30 special state legislature and U.S. congressional elections since Trump was sworn-in as president. Democrats, as a group, have been outperforming the partisan lean in these districts — tending to come close in ruby red districts, winning swing districts and romping in light blue districts. More specifically, Democratic candidates have done about 16 percentage points better, on average, than you’d expect in a national environment in which no party held the advantage. (Imagine a world in which the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates tie 50-50 in the popular vote). This overperformance holds as well for the smaller subset of congressional elections.
 So quit being so paranoid. No guarantees on outcomes of course, but you can have confidence that what looks bad for Trump and the GOP is bad for Trump and the GOP. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: Paul McAuley

People occasionally ask me for contemporary science fiction recommendations and the first name I always mention is Paul McAuley. Usually people have not heard of him. McAuley is British and is far more popular and better-known there than here. I have no idea why. But I do know that anyone who is interested in science fiction and does not read McAuley is totally missing out. He is one of the field's best, particularly in the hard SF subgenre. McAuley is a biologist by training and he particularly shines in extrapolating developments in that field to the future. 

With some minor exceptions, everything McAuley has written is worth reading, including his short stories. Along with his fascinating scientific speculations, he is an excellent writer, with vivid descriptive powers.. This cannot be said of all science fiction writers, to understate the case.

Like I say, it's hard to go wrong, But I particularly recommend his far future Confluence trilogy, a masterpiece of imaginative world-building:
Confluence - a long, narrow, artificial world, half fertile river valley, half crater-strewn desert. A world beyond the end of human history, served by countless machines, inhabited by 10,000 bloodlines who worship their absent creators, riven by a vast war against heretics.
This is the home of Yama, found as an infant in a white boat on the world's Great River, raised by an obscure bureaucrat in an obscure town in the middle of a ruined necropolis, destined to become a clerk - until the discovery of his singular ancestry. For Yama appears to be the last remaining scion of the Builders, closest of all races to the revered architects of Confluence, able to awaken and control the secret machineries of the world.
Pursued by enemies who want to make use of his powers, Yama voyages down the length of the world to search for answers to the mysteries of his origin, and to discover if he is to be the saviour of his world, or its nemesis.
The entire trilogy can be had as a $15.99 Kindle e-book.  

Another masterpiece is Fairyland, perhaps the definitive biopunk novel. 
The 21st century.
Europe is divided between the First World bourgeoisie, made rich by nanotechnology and the cheap versatile slave labour of genetically engineered Dolls and the Fourth World of refugees and homeless displaced by war and economic upheaval. In London, Alex Sharkey is trying to make his mark as a designer of psychoactive viruses, whilst staying one step ahead of the police and the Triad gangs. At the cost of three hours of his life, he finds an unlikely ally in a scary, super-smart little girl called Milena, but his troubles really start when he helps Milena quicken intelligence in a Doll, turning it into the first of the fairies.
Milena isn't sure if she's mad or if she's the only sane person left in the world; she only knows that she wants to escape to her own private Fairyland and live forever. Although Milena has created the fairies for her own ends, some of the Folk, as fey and dangerous as any in legend, have other ideas about her destiny ...
Another Kindle bargain at $5.99.

Other books I loved include his early novel, Eternal Light, his Quiet War sequence (The Quiet War, Gardens of the Sun, In the Mouth of the Whale and Evening's Empires and his recent Jackaroo books (Something Coming Through and Into Everywhere). 

Most of these are also available in inexpensive Kindle editions--perhaps to encourage us Yanks to pick up on this great, but mysteriously neglected author. Time to stock up!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Are Democrats United?

Yeah, pretty much. Sure there's some ongoing tension between erstwhile Sanders supporters and erstwhile Clinton supporters, but really it doesn't amount to much despite the occasional heavy-breathing newspaper article. Compare to the knife fights we regularly see in the Republican party. It's not even close.

That doesn't mean of course that there isn't debate within the party on how to best move Democratic priorities forward. That's as it should be. But what Democrats shouldn't have is aggressive litmus tests on which exact policy Democrats must support to embody those priorities. That would be one way current Democratic unity really could start going south.

Paul Krugman had some useful thoughts along these lines in a recent column

Krugman argues:
Some even want to make support for single-payer a litmus test for Democratic candidates....A commitment to universal health coverage — bringing in the people currently falling through Obamacare’s cracks — should definitely be a litmus test. But single-payer, while it has many virtues, isn’t the only way to get there; it would be much harder politically than its advocates acknowledge; and there are more important priorities.....
I’d enhance the A.C.A., not replace it, although I would strongly support reintroducing some form of public option — a way for people to buy into public insurance — that could eventually lead to single-payer.
Meanwhile, progressives should move beyond health care and focus on other holes in the U.S. safety net...When you compare the U.S. social welfare system with those of other wealthy countries, what really stands out now is our neglect of children. Other countries provide new parents with extensive paid leave, provide high-quality, subsidized day care for children with working parents and make pre-K available to everyone or almost everyone; we do none of these things. Our spending on families is a third of the advanced-country average, putting us down there with Mexico and Turkey.
So if it were up to me, I’d talk about improving the A.C.A., not ripping it up and starting over, while opening up a new progressive front on child care.
I completely agree with Krugman on the desirability of taking on the child care issue in a big way. And speaking of improving the ACA, Gerard Anderson, Jacob Hacker and Paul Starr have an excellent piece in Health Affairs on "Making the Exchanges More Competitive by Bringing Medicare into the Fold". Well worth reading and another demonstration that there are many ways, not just one way, to further the goal of universal health coverage.

So let the debates continue. But Democrats should skip the litmus tests stuff. Leave that to the Republicans and their ongoing civil war.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Trump Fades in the Rust Belt

Gallup data show Trump's approval fading, including in key Rust Belt states:

These data, based on 80,000 interviews by Gallup this year through the end of June, show that significant damage is being done to Trump's support in key Rust Belt and other states the GOP needs to carry to be successful in 2020. 

Ron Brownstein has a good analysis of these data in his latest CNN column. He notes:
On one front, Trump faces undiminished resistance from minority voters, who opposed him in preponderant numbers last year. On the second, he is confronting a consistent -- and, in many states, precipitous -- decline in support from white-collar white voters, who expressed much more skepticism about him last fall than GOP presidential candidates usually face. From the third direction, Trump's support among working-class whites, while still robust, is receding from its historically elevated peak back toward a level more typical for Republican presidential candidates -- especially in the pivotal Rust Belt states that sealed his victory….
[T]hese poll results challenge the conclusion that Trump's political base has remained impregnable across the traditionally decisive swing states in presidential politics -- as well as several other states that each side hopes to put into play by 2020. "The implications going forward are fairly problematic," says long-time Republican pollster Glen Bolger. "He doesn't have a lot of room to drop, and yet he is."
Trump is confronting approval ratings well below 50% in [some] states with marquee Senate races -- including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida (where Democrats are attempting to hold seats) as well as Nevada and Arizona (where Republican incumbents could face their most serious challenges.)
[I]n the Gallup results, Trump's approval rating among college-educated whites has declined relative to his 2016 vote in all 13 states. In seven of those states, his approval rating stands at least 10 points lower than his vote --a list topped by North Carolina and Florida (both 19 points lower), Georgia (18 points lower), Ohio (15 points), Virginia (12 points), and Michigan and Minnesota (11 points each.) His approval rating among these white-collar whites reaches above 50% only in Texas and Georgia, and exceeds 45% in just two other states, Nevada and Arizona. In seven states, his approval among these well-educated white voters has tumbled to 40 percent or less. (That includes four states essential to his victory: North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.)
[Trump’s] standing [among working class whites] represents an erosion from his 2016 vote among blue-collar whites in 12 of those states; in five of them, he's declined by double-digits. Perhaps most important are the trends in four of the Rust Belt states that proved decisive last year: Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In all of them exit polls found Trump won between 62 and 64% of non-college whites. In each case, that was a substantial increase from Romney's performance with those voters in 2012, when former President Barack Obama carried the states.
Strikingly, though, Trump's job approval among working-class whites in each of those states has now receded to match, or even slightly trail, the level of support they provided Romney when he lost the same states to Obama. In Wisconsin, for instance, Trump's approval among whites without a college degree now stands at 51%, close to Romney's 53% vote share in 2012 but far below Trump's own 62%. Likewise, in Pennsylvania, Trump is now at 55% approval with non-college whites, almost exactly Romney's 56% vote in 2012, but well below the president's 64% among them. 
 A fade to Romney levels of support in these states would be extremely problematic for the GOP. This is a trend to keep an eye on. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Does It Make Any Sense To Be Anti-Globalization?

Does it make any sense to be anti-globalization, as many on the left style themselves? Brad DeLong doesn't think so and I'm inclined to agree (see chapter three of my book). DeLong terms such an attitude the new "socialism of fools" which perhaps goes a bit far. But he makes some excellent points in his new piece on Project Syndicate.

Stripped of associated theories, DeLong says globalization "should be understood as a process in which the world becomes increasingly interconnected through technological advances that drive down transportation and communication costs...To be sure, this form of globalization allows foreign producers to export goods and services to distant markets at a lower cost. But it also opens up export markets and reduces costs for the other side."

Put this way, globalization doesn't sound so bad and, importantly, sounds more or less inevitable. So why the intense reaction in many quarters against globalization? Why are people so upset at something that is arguably a natural outgrowth of economic and technological development?

Delong summarizes the reasons as follows:
First and foremost, it is easy for politicians to pin the blame for a country’s problems on foreigners and immigrants who do not vote.....
Second, more than a generation of inequitable and slower-than-expected economic growth in the global North has created a strong political and psychological need for scapegoats. People want a simple narrative to explain why they are missing out on the prosperity they were once promised, and why there is such a large and growing gap between an increasingly wealthy overclass and everyone else.
Third, China’s economic rise coincided with a period in which the global North was struggling to reach full employment. Contrary to what the followers of Friedrich von Hayek and Andrew Mellon have always claimed, economic readjustments do not happen when bankruptcies force labor and capital out of low-productivity, low-demand industries, but rather when booms pull labor and capital into high-productivity, high-demand industries.
Thus, neoliberalism does not just require open and competitive markets, global change, and price stability. It also depends on full employment and near-permanent booms, just as economist John Maynard Keynes had warned in the 1920s and 1930s. In recent decades, the neoliberal order failed to deliver either condition, most likely because doing so would have been impossible even with the best policies in place.
Fourth, policymakers did not do enough to compensate for this failure with more aggressive social policies and economic and geographic redistribution. When US President Donald Trump recently told upstate New Yorkers that they should leave the region and seek jobs elsewhere, he was simply echoing the past generation of center-right politicians in the global North.
The global North’s current political and economic dilemmas are not so different from those of the 1920s and 1930s. As Keynes noted then, the key is to produce and maintain full employment, at which point most other problems will melt away.
And, as the Austro-Hungarian economist Karl Polanyi argued, it is the role of government to secure socioeconomic rights. People believe that they have a right to live in healthy communities, hold stable occupations, and earn a decent income that rises over time.  
So there you go. The problem is not globalization but rather the constellation of economic policies that have kept us away from a high pressure full employment economy as globalization has proceeded. Blaming globalization is encouraging us to aim at the wrong target.

And, lest we forget, globalization has been central to the economic advances that have dramatically raised living standards all over the world. Indeed, most parts of the developing worldhave made huge progress in the last half century as globalization has bound countries closer and closer together.  Because of this, the proportion of the world’s population that lives on less than 2,200 calories a day has fallen from 56 percent in the mid-1960’s to less than 10 percent today. The proportion of the world’s population living in “extreme poverty” (currently defined by the World Bank as under $1.90 a day) has fallen from 44 percent in 1981 to less than 10 percent today. Put in terms of absolute numbers, there were almost 2 billion people living in extreme poverty in 1990; that is down to around 700 million today. That means around a quarter of the world’s population has been lifted out of extreme poverty in just the last 25 years—25 years that have coincided with an acceleration of globalization.

This trend has been strongest in East Asia, especially China, but it has greatly affected all parts of the developing world, including Sub-Saharan Africa, frequently the poster child for the alleged failures of globalization. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the percent of the population living in extreme poverty has dropped from 56 percent in 1990 to 35 percent today. More broadly, as Branko Milanovic, one of the world’s leading scholars on income distribution, notes:

Global income distribution [since the fall of the Berlin Wall] has changed in a remarkable way. It was probably the most profound global reshuffle of people’s economic positions since the Industrial Revolution. Broadly speaking the bottom third….became significantly better off and many of the people there escaped absolute poverty. The middle third or more became much richer, seeing their real incomes rise by approximately 3 per cent per capita annually.

Accompanying these dramatic rises in income have been dramatic increases in health. Between 1990 and 2013, the percentage of the world’s children who died before their fifth birthday fell by almost half. And overall life expectancy continues to climb, reaching 70 for those born in 2011. Back in 1950 world life expectancy was only 47. The average Mexican today lives longer than the average Briton did in 1955. And stunningly, of all the people in human history who have reached the age of 65, half are alive today.

These are amazing advances and they are taking place while the world is becoming ever more globalized. That’s because globalization, far from driving a race to the bottom, makes possible (even if it does not guarantee uniform progress in every country at every time) the spread of material progress to every corner of the earth. Marx, despite his underestimation of capitalism’s long-run potential, understood this. The broad left throughout most of the twentieth century understood this.  But many on today’s left have lost track of this fundamental truth and prefer instead to focus on the obvious facts that globalization has some negative effects, both in developing and advanced countries, and that material progress has been very uneven.  But it is only this maddening, uneven, unfair process that makes serious economic progress for most of human race possible. Therefore, on ethical and moral grounds alone, the left should enthusiastically embrace globalization, even as they seek to mitigate its negative effects where they occur and spread its benefits more evenly.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Is Trump's Base Really Shrinking?

While there are reasonable debates to be had about how much Trump's base is shrinking and how politically important such shrinkage might be, an accumulating mass of data indicates that Trump's base shrinkage is real. Consider:

Of course, it's a long way to election day and it is possible that Trump's ratings may improve by then (though his trend line is not good). And, even if Trump's approval ratings remain low, there are reasons why Democrats may have a hard time translating these low ratings into big gains. Finally, a Vox/SurveyMonkey aggregation of of six months of their polling data found that Trump's approval slippage has been relatively modest in Republican-held districts that were closest in the last election. Since these districts are critical targets for the Democrats in 2018, this finding, if confirmed by other polls, could indicate a potential problem for the Democrats.

So don't break out the champagne yet. But it's hard to see the very real and ongoing erosion of Trump's political base as anything other than good news.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Can't We and the Robots Just Be Friends?

Jared Bernstein is out with a great piece on his blog about whether robots will or will not steal all our jobs. He provides this super-short summary of the main strands in this argument:
Pro: Automation is killing jobs! The robots are coming!
Anti: Nuh-uh. If it were, productivity growth, or output per hour of work, would be climbing. Instead, it’s been slowing down…a lot.
Pro: Then we must be mis-measuring productivity growth.
Anti: Sorry, but solid evidence shows that’s not the case. Not to mention that thanks to years of job gains, we’re closing in on full employment.
Pro: Yeah, well, believe me. The robots are coming and the end of work is near!
Anti: Maybe. No one knows. But that claim has always been made and it has always been wrong.
As the summary implies, it is the "anti" side (no, robots won't take all our jobs) that is on firmer ground empirically and historically in this debate. That is exactly the case I made in a recent Vox article on the future of jobs

Bernstein develops a very important point in the remainder of his blog post that he summarizes as: "the robots are here, they’ve been here all along, and they’re not just substitutes that replace workers; they’re also complements that work with them." (emphasis added) He goes on to say:
In the earlier research, two analysts from Oxford University (Frey and Osborne) looked at the tasks done by workers in hundreds of US jobs, like number-crunching by accountants or selling clothes in retail outlets. They found that 47 percent of jobs had a high likelihood of being replaced by automation within a decade or two. Scary, right?
Except a deeper dive into those same weeds by couple of researchers from the OECD took that 47 percent down to 9 percent. The large fall off in the share of jobs threatened by automation was, the OECD authors argued, “driven by the fact that even in occupations that Frey and Osborne considered to be in the high risk [of automation] category, workers at least to some extent also perform tasks that are difficult to automate such as tasks involving face-to-face interaction.”…
In other words, the robot thing is not a zero-one situation, as in what you do at work is either totally automate-able or totally un-automate-able. For many workers, robots, AI, and other labor-saving technologies will be complementary to their work, boosting “throughput” in retail (“stack ‘em high and let ‘em fly”) and assembly-line work, efficiency in auto-maintenance, accuracy in accounting, etc., but not fully replacing human interactions. Moreover, this has been going on forever in one form or another as machines enter the workforce, and its one reason why productivity almost always–even now–increases year after year.
That leads me to be skeptical of “this time will be different” arguments in this space...
Unquestionably, the robots are going to keep coming. Some will replace jobs, some will create new sectors that add jobs, and some may even turn out to be, if not our besties, then at least helpful in improving the speed and quality of our output.
So stop panicking about the rise of the robots. As Rick Blaine says to Captain Renault at the end of Casablanca, this could "be the beginning of a beautiful friendship".

Sunday, August 6, 2017

If You Read Only One Lengthy, Dense Economic Report This Year....

It should be this one:

The report, by economist J.W. Mason for the Roosevelt Institute, is clearly written, closely argued, well documented and makes a compelling and very important case. The report is particularly good on the relationships between and among growth, productivity and the strength of demand. Here's perhaps the key argument:
While textbook theory suggests that productivity growth is a supply-side phenomenon, dependent on autonomous technological change and not on demand, we suggest that there are a number of reasons to expect strong demand to be associated with more rapid productivity gains, and weak demand to be associated with slower gains. There are a number of reasons to believe that weak demand has played a role in the exceptionally slow productivity growth of the past decade. First, the productivity slowdown has been spread out over a wide range of industries, including retail trade, services, transportation, durable and nondurable manufacturing, and other sectors. While the high-tech sectors that drove productivity gains in the 1990s have seen the largest falls in productivity growth, they account for only a relatively small portion of the overall slowdown. The breadth of the slowdown makes it hard to interpret in purely technological terms, or as simply the end of the exceptional productivity growth of the tech boom period. Second, the combination of slow productivity growth and slow employment growth is historically unusual; normally these two trends move in offsetting ways. A simultaneous decline in both is, historically, more typical of business-cycle recessions than of extended periods of slower growth.
Finally, the state of the economy as a whole is inconsistent with a story of tightening supply constraints. Macroeconomic theory—as well as history and common sense—strongly suggests an autonomous decline in the available labor force or that the pace of technological progress should be associated with higher inflation. The signature of a negative supply shock is lower output combined with higher prices. Normally, a central bank responds to a negative supply shock with contractionary policy—higher interest rates—in order to bring the level of spending in the economy down to the new, lower level of productive capacity. Yet the past decade has seen consistently low inflation even in the face of ultra-expansionary monetary policy—exactly the opposite of what we would expect from a fall in aggregate supply.
Given this picture, we think there is a strong case that slow growth is largely, if not entirely, a product of weak aggregate demand.
This is a very important analysis and I think largely correct. The most important implication is that there is nothing intrinsic or structural to recent sluggish economic performance. It is the refusal to attack weak demand with public investment, active fiscal policy and other measures that is to blame. Democrats take note.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Sadly, I think this resource is underutilized and underappreciated. The picture above is the cover of the second edition hardcover version of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, weighing in at a hefty 1,370 double column pages. My copy is lovingly dog-eared from use. As you might expect from a reference book published in 1993, it is out-of-print.

But never fear! The fabulous news is there is a third edition that is online, free and completely up-to-date. This resource is pretty incredible. There are over 17,000 separate entries, with 193,000 internal hyperlinks and an astonishing 5.4 million words of content. Entries cover every SF author you are ever likely to encounter along with key themes and subgenres within the field, SF art, SF TV and movies, SF magazines and websites and much more. If you can't find it here, you don't need to know it.

As a bonus the site has access to images of over 17,000 SF book covers (and who doesn't love SF book covers, the wilder the better?)

Friday, August 4, 2017

GOP Fading in the Exurbs?

Republicans generally tend to do well at the fringes of metropolitan areas in the so-called exurbs. The Wall Street Journal's Dante Chinni reports, based on aggregated Gallup data from the second quarter of this year, that their hold on these areas may be slipping. Here's the basic story:
Data from Gallup show 45.5% of adults in exurban communities self-identified as Republican in the second quarter of 2017, down from 49.6% in the first quarter of 2017 and 51.6% in the fourth quarter of 2016. It was also the lowest quarterly number for self-identified Republicans in the exurbs since 2013, the earliest numbers available.
The data also showed an increase in self-identified Democrats in exurban counties to 40.5% from 37.3% in the first quarter of 2017 and 36.8% in the fourth quarter of 2016. The 40.5% was the highest number recorded from Democrats since 2013…..
To be sure, the first quarters of 2017 have not been good overall for Republicans in the Gallup poll. Nationally, the number of adults self-identifying as Republicans dropped by about 2.6 percentage points since the end of 2016 – from 41.1% to 38.5%. But the 6-point drop in the exurbs was particularly noteworthy and may be tied to larger socio-economic issues.
The exurbs are home to a specific kind of Republican voter.
These counties, which are typically at the edges of urban areas’ commuter bubbles, are better educated than the nation as a whole: 34% of people 25-and-older have a bachelor’s degree, compared to less than 30% nationally. And their average median household income, $64,226, is more than $10,000 above the national median….
The figures could represent an important political shift in these communities. A movement of even a few points on the partisan divide could impact close House and Senate races, considering the relatively large population of these counties.
Now none of this means that Democrats are about to start dominating the exurbs. But they don't have too. Merely narrowing the GOP advantage in these areas combined with Democrats' continued strength in inner suburbs and urban areas will put them in a very good position going forward. Conversely, the GOP's base is now so narrow that they can ill afford significant attrition in any part of it.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Rural Areas Really Are Different

I don't think you can understand the resolute Trump support in much of rural America without taking into account the absolutely appalling economic and social trends in these areas. Janet Adamy at the Wall Street Journal has been doing some great work exploring these trends, both generally and in particular rural places (here and here). In the first of these articles, Adamy notes:
Starting in the 1980s, the nation’s basket cases were its urban areas—where a toxic stew of crime, drugs and suburban flight conspired to make large cities the slowest-growing and most troubled places.
Today, however, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows that by many key measures of socioeconomic well-being, those charts have flipped. In terms of poverty, college attainment, teenage births, divorce, death rates from heart disease and cancer, reliance on federal disability insurance and male labor-force participation, rural counties now rank the worst among the four major U.S. population groupings (the others are big cities, suburbs and medium or small metro areas).
In fact, the total rural population—accounting for births, deaths and migration—has declined for five straight years.
Is it any wonder these folks aren't in a good mood and are inclined to lash out? They are particularly sour on the situation with jobs and job opportunities where they live. A recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll allows for direct comparisons of the views of rural, suburban and urban residents.

  • 21 percent of rural residents say jobs/unemployment is the biggest problem facing their community, compared to 7 percent of suburban residents and 6 percent of urban residents.
  • 34 percent in rural areas describe the job situation in their community as "poor" compared to 18 percent in suburbs and 14 percent in cities.
  • 31 percent of rural residents say the availability of jobs in their area is worse than it was 10 years ago, compared to 22 percent of suburban residents and 17 percent of urban residents.
  • 59 percent in rural areas would encourage young people to leave their community for more opportunity elsewhere, compared to 47 percent in suburbs and 41 percent in cities.
  • 53 percent of rural residents say their area has lost manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years; 38 percent say farming jobs have been lost; and 31 percent say natural resources jobs like coal or lumber have been lost.
  • 56 percent of those who report these job losses say their community has not yet recovered from these job losses. 
Interestingly, by far the most effective policy fix for the job situation in rural areas, according to rural residents, would be for the federal government to invest in infrastructure projects like fixing roads, bridges and schools. This easily beats out better trade deals, cracking down on illegal immigrants and decreasing regulations on business.

And Governors Too?

Predicted change in Republican governors by different 2018 generic ballot results

Yesterday I covered Democratic prospects for taking back the House, which look fairly favorable. Today Alan Abramowitz released results from his governors seat change model, which also look pretty good for the Democrats. In brief, given an incumbent Republican President in a midterm election plus the Republicans' high seat exposure, they should lose governors seats in most circumstances, with particularly severe losses if the national political environment--as measured by the generic Congressional ballot--is unfavorable. As summarized by Abramowitz:
We are a long way from November 2018, so national conditions could change. Still, Republicans will have so many seats at risk in next year’s gubernatorial elections that they are almost guaranteed to suffer a net loss of seats. Of course, the quality of the respective party candidates and campaigns will be important as Republicans seek to limit potential Democratic gains. Still, based on recent generic ballot results, the GOP loss could be rather substantial. According to the FiveThirtyEight weighted average of recent polling results, Democrats currently hold a lead of about eight points on the generic ballot. A lead of that magnitude in early September 2018 would predict a net Democratic gain of around nine governorships with a two-thirds probability that the gain would be between six and 12 seats.
Early days, but still encouraging.