Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Unintended Consequences of Trumpian Populism

One of the points I made in my book, The Optimistic Leftist, was that "the political dynamic unleashed by right populism will actually contribute to its own demise". No one paid much attention at this time, since everyone was busy panicking about Trump. But perhaps I wasn't so crazy, given the way things have been unfolding lately.
Along these lines, I was very interested to see this piece on Bloomberg from columnist Karl W. Smith. Smith is not a conventional leftist; he is rather a "liberaltarian" who is a fellow at the Niskanen Center, the split-off from hard-libertarian Cato Institute. Here's some of what Smith had to say:
"Trump’s election was supposed to have heralded a political realignment in America. The Republican Party, long associated with the interests of business and more affluent Americans, would now be fueled by the white working class and a powerful nativist sentiment. In the Democratic Party, the interests of organized labor and the working class were giving way to those of Wall Street, Silicon Valley and the cosmopolitan elite. The new partisan divisions would be based not on class but on openness to globalism.
To be blunt about it: This didn’t happen. (To be fair, some were skeptical at the time.) Instead, the entire country is shifting in a more populist direction, and Democrats are dominating the policy debate.
Exhibit A is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her off-the-cuff mention of a 70 percent tax rate, which has sparked a national discussion. Polls show that it’s popular not only with Democrats but with a plurality of Republicans. Celebrated left-wing economists argue that high tax rates are necessary to prevent the U.S. from slipping into an oligarchy, a message that is likely to resonate strongly among anti-globalist Trump supporters.
Likewise, Ocasio-Cortez has forced elites on both sides to at least grapple with the economic tenets of modern monetary theory. MMT, as it is known, suggests that a government with its own currency does not need to raise taxes in order to increase spending. So far MMT has faced strong pushback from elites of the left and right. But its basic contention, that deficit spending isn’t as bad as you have been led to believe, is gaining support.
These two propositions — that the government should check the power of private-sector billionaires and should spend freely to alleviate social ills — form the core of the classic leftist platform. And these positions are becoming more influential, not less, in the Democratic Party....
If their nominee in 2020 is someone like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown, then I predict a rapid shift. Democrats would win back many of the white working class voters they lost and cruise to victory. Centrist pro-business Democrats would be sidelined, and the only resistance to the president’s tax and spending priorities would be from Senate Republicans. That would just drive more populists out of the Republican Party and into the Democratic Party, which would enter a period of almost complete electoral dominance.
If, on the other hand, Democrats nominate a more centrist candidate, such as Kamala Harris or Cory Booker, then the uneasy status quo would remain.....
In the long run, however, the end result in both cases would be largely the same. America is moving leftward. And that shift infuses the left of the Democratic Party with an energy that is unmatched anywhere else along the political spectrum."
Interesting times!
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