Monday, May 31, 2021

Perhaps It Takes a European Observer To See the Democrats' Fundamental Political-Economic Problem Clearly

Jean Pisani-Ferry is at the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel. In an article on Project Syndicate he observes:
"The Biden administration's promises to "think big" and rebuild the country seem like a major historical departure from decades of policy orthodoxy. And yet, insofar as its agenda will merely help the United States catch up to other advanced economies, its main components amount to necessary but insufficient reforms."
He focuses particularly on the Democrats' fundamental political problem and links it to the difficulties of the left in other advanced countries:
"[S]uch reforms are unlikely to suffice to address the Democrats’ political problem. Their challenge is that white voters without a college degree – who formed the backbone of Trump’s support – still make up 41% of the electorate. Even assuming that new voting laws in many Republican-led states do not overly suppress black turnout, the Democratic coalition of black voters and educated elites remains at the mercy of a shift in public sentiment, leaving the party without a strong enough majority in the right places to guarantee victory in the Electoral College in 2024.
The Democrats’ imperative is to recapture the white working-class voters who backed Trump in 2016 and 2020. But since Bill Clinton’s presidency in the 1990s, the party has offered left-behind workers only two solutions: education and social benefits. As The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein recounts, Clinton’s mantra was that, “What you learn is what you earn.” He and Barack Obama strongly believed that more and better education was the best way to deal with the labor-market upheavals brought about by digitalization and globalization. (Europeans mostly shared this philosophy, though they placed a greater emphasis on social transfers.)
But workers do not agree. They do not want to live on welfare, but nor do they want to be sent back to school. Rather, they want to keep the good jobs that have long provided them with incomes and a sense of pride. Trump won in 2016 because he understood this sentiment and exploited it to win the working-class vote in key swing states.
And it’s not just America. Everywhere one looks, the left has lost the working-class vote. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has conquered Labour’s “Red Wall”; in France, far-right leader Marine Le Pen has emerged as the candidate of choice for a growing share of workers; and in Germany, the Social Democrats seem likely to be crushed in the September elections. As Amory Gethin, Clara Martínez-Toledano, and Thomas Piketty show in a fascinating comparative paper, the traditional cleavages that structured postwar politics have collapsed across Western democracies.
Biden clearly understands this political shift. Last month, in his first address to a joint session of Congress, he made a point of noting that nearly 90% of the jobs created by his infrastructure plan will not require a college degree. But how can his administration actually deliver good jobs?"
That's the question. And it's not at all clear the Biden administration has a good answer to this and, therefore, to its fundamental political problem.

How Green Is the Public?

There's no doubt there's a lot of support in the public for expanding the use of renewable energy and generally moving in a "green" direction, especially among younger generations. But that does not mean the public is sold on complete reliance on wind and solar. Consider these results from a new Pew poll. One question asked:
Right now, which ONE of the following do you think should be the more important priority for addressing America’s energy supply? Developing alternative sources, such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology or Expanding exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas.
By 71-27, the public backed developing alternative, clean energy sources over expanded fossil fuel production.
But, Pew also asked:
Thinking about the country’s energy supply, do you think the U.S. should… Phase out the use of oil, coal and natural gas completely, relying instead on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power only or Use a mix of energy sources including oil, coal and natural gas along with renewable energy sources.
On this question, the public backed using a mix of energy sources over renewable reliance by 64-33. Interestingly, the response among the younger Gen Z and Millennial generations still favored using a mix of energy sources (chart below).
Such are the complexities of public opinion on this issue. An abrupt transition away from fossil fuels, besides being substantively very difficult, would not sit well with a public that is green but not *that* green.
May be an image of text that says 'U.S. should phase out use of fossil fuels U.S. adults Use a mix of fossil fuels and renewables 33 Gen z 43 64 53 Millennial 42 56 32 Gen X Boomer & older 25 66 72'

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Defund Vs. Divert Money to Services Vs. More Cops

Some interesting data from a new Axios/Ipsos poll. First, on defunding the police:
27 percent support the defunding the police movement; 70 percent oppose it (including a majority of blacks and strong majorities of Hispanics and Asians).
Now, on diverting some police budget to community policing and social services you get a more positive response:
57 percent support; 41 percent oppose
But, on increasing funding of police forces:
61 percent support; 37 percent oppose (including majorities of Hispanics and Asians)
It's seems pretty clear the solution is not to "defund the police" but rather to both increase funding of relevant social services *and* increase police funding.
See, that wasn't so hard.

Friday, May 28, 2021

I Like the Sound of Biden's Plan!

Biden in Ohio yesterday laid out an impressive, universalistic vision for investing in and transforming the economy. It's a great vision but realistically his margins in Congress are too thin to realize it in full or probably even close, no matter how astute the legislative tactics. So this vision will likely only be realized over the long haul and for that he needs more Democrats. It's as simple as that.
From Axios AM's coverage of Biden's Ohio speech:
" President Biden echoed FDR's New Deal during a speech at a community college in Ohio yesterday, dubbing his own multitrillion-dollar plans "a new bargain."....
Promoting a "Blue Collar Blueprint for America," Biden contrasted himself with his Republican predecessors when he added: "Everyone is going to be in on the deal this time."
This is Biden's take on former President Trump's "Make America Great Again" — a populist appeal, minus dog whistles, for the U.S. to reclaim its post-World War II glory...
Biden today will unveil a $6 trillion budget proposal for next year that runs a $1.8 trillion federal government deficit. The plan "would take the United States to its highest sustained levels of federal spending since World War II," the N.Y. Times reports.
During yesterday's speech at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Biden invoked long-ago works projects — and China's rise on the world stage — to make the case for tax increases and deficit spending to reset the balance between the wealthy and the working class.
"We're going to take back some of that 1% money and make 'em pay for it," he said, referring to Trump tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations....
Rallying Americans around this argument is Biden's best chance to enact elements of his $6 trillion budget, and keep pressure on Republicans to commit to new infrastructure spending. "We have to start investing in ourselves again," he said.
He recalled the U.S. bringing electricity to the masses in the 1930s and connecting the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
Over three decades, Biden said, the U.S. slipped from the top to No. 9 for R&D spending worldwide, while China rose from No. 8 to No. 2.
"We're in a race to see who wins the 21st century," he concluded. "We must be No. 1 in the world to lead the world."
Spoken like a true liberal patriot! Now if only everyone could focus on electing more Democrats to help him out....

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Class Is Back in Session

My latest at The Liberal Patriot:
"Lurking beneath the surface of the 2020 election results were some important reminders of the central importance of class to American politics. According to Catalist data (two party vote), Republicans carried the overall working class (noncollege) vote by 4 points for the second straight time. Of course, the anchor of Republican strength among the working class is dominance among whites within that group, which only subsided slightly in 2020. But it is startling to note that since 2012, running against Trump twice, Democrats have lost 18 points off of their margin among nonwhite working class voters. This includes a shocking 22 point decline among nonwhite working class men compared to “only” a 14 point decline among nonwhite working class women.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that working class voters still vastly outnumber college-educated voters by around 63-37. Among whites, working class voters are bit over three-fifths of the vote and among nonwhites, the working class contingent is a full two thirds of voters. Trends among the working class can overwhelm trends among college-educated voters.
Another reminder of the centrality of class is the rise of the crime issue. Whenever crime goes up, especially violent crime, it is the working class that suffers the most. This is especially true of heavily working class black and Latino communities in urban areas. The negative impact on these communities is hard to overestimate."
Read the rest at The Liberal Patriot. And subscribe!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Refund the Police

From a piece on the Niskanen Center site by four economists, based on their recent NBER working paper.
"We find that expanding police personnel leads to reductions in serious crime. With respect to homicide, we find that every 10-17 officers hired abate one new homicide per year. In per capita terms the effects are approximately twice as large for Black victims. In short, larger police forces save lives and the lives saved are disproportionately Black lives....
When cities hire more police officers, there is a decline in “index” crimes — serious offenses like robberies, aggravated assaults and burglaries that have high social costs and sometimes lead to a prison spell. Critically, arrests for these types of crimes decline too. Why would a larger police force reduce serious crime while also making fewer arrests for that type of crime? The answer lies in the ability of a larger police force to deter offending from happening in the first place. For example, police force expansion leads to an especially large decline in arrests for street crimes like robbery and vehicle thefts — crimes for which more cops on the street might be a particularly effective deterrent. Because fewer crimes are committed, there are fewer people to arrest. Interestingly, the decline in index crime arrests is four to six times larger for Black civilians than whites, which suggests that investments in policing are unlikely to have contributed to the massive and racially disparate growth in the scale of incarceration in the United States during the last four decades."

Cultural Leftism and the Defeat of Sandersism

There's a very interesting polemic by Shant Mesrobian on the American Affairs website that i missed when it first came out. In "The Left's Culture War Rebranding" he argues that not only has cultural leftism been bad for the Democrats' broad electoral prospects but it has actually redefined the left away from the promise of Sanders' 2016 campaign to something quite different and less effective. Sanders' 2020 campaign was a casualty of this turn as the hegemony of professional class cultural leftism proved impossible to resist.
I don't agree with everything in this piece but Mesrobian makes a strong argument that is worth reading in its entirety.
"Technically, you could call it a victory. But what was expected to be a historic blue wave in 2020 turned out to be barely a ripple. Despite many polls predicting a blowout, Democrats only narrowly defeated a president widely believed to have mismanaged a pandemic that has killed over a quarter-million Americans and cratered the country’s economy. And Joe Biden’s underperformance in the presidential race gave way to disaster down-ballot, where Democrats failed to capture the Senate (which many analysts predicted), saw their House majority narrow significantly (instead of expand as expected), and failed miserably in their project of regaining majorities in state legislatures across the country.
If there was ever an opportune moment for left-wing activists to critique their party’s entire approach to politics, this would be it. Yet, if you listen to the group of politician-celebrities known as “the Squad”—Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, who have become the de facto spokespeople for the Democrats’ progressive, activist wing—the diagnosis is nothing short of bewildering. According to them, the lesson of 2020 is that the Democratic Party failed to address the forgotten and neglected issue of . . . racism?
In an interview published by Politico just after the election, Ocasio-Cortez declared that confronting racism was “an existential crisis for the Democratic Party” and lamented that “Democrats don’t want to talk about race.” She said in that same interview, “Anti-racism plays zero percent of a role in Democratic electoral strategy—zero, explicitly, implicitly. I’m not telling people to virtue signal, but there’s just like no plan for it.” Days earlier she had told the New York Times that the party had to “do a lot of anti-racist, deep canvassing in this country.” And in a tweet following the election, she observed that “white communities are getting more comfortable with overt racism” and that “real organizing & strategy is needed that disarms bigotry.”
The saving grace of an appraisal so far removed from reality is that it is in some ways revealing. Ocasio-Cortez’s comments are so discordant with the historical record of the Trump years, the events and tenor of the last election, and the surprising demographic inroads Trump achieved in 2020 that they suggest not merely a difference of perspective or interpretation but instead a profound structural incentive to deny reality. The Squad’s reactions to 2020 tell the story of a left-wing movement that has transformed itself from an anti-establishment, reformist effort within the Democratic Party to a performative opposition that now exists only to reinforce the party’s deepest pathologies.....
Unsurprisingly, House members from Democrats’ more conservative, business-friendly wing— who tend to be in closely divided suburban swing districts and suffered most of the party’s losses on election night—were quick to blame the Left for the Democrats’ poor performance. Many believed that controversial policies like defunding the police, which became the central demand of the summer protests and which Ocasio-Cortez and the Squad endorsed, had become an albatross around their necks.
But Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat and Squad member in good standing, knew how to fight back. In a contentious conference call among House members that was leaked to reporters, Tlaib said, “To be real, it sounds like you are saying stop pushing for what Black folks want.” In an interview with Politico several days after the call, Tlaib sounded a similar note: “We’re not going to be successful if we’re silencing districts like mine. Me not being able to speak on behalf of many of my neighbors right now, many of which are Black neighbors, means me being silenced. I can’t be silent.”
There’s just one small problem with Tlaib’s counteroffensive: black Americans overwhelmingly oppose defunding the police. According to a Gallup poll taken in July, 81 percent of black Americans oppose a reduction of police presence in their communities, with 20 percent of respondents indicating that they would actually like to see an increase. Defunding the police, it turns out, is the “Latinx” of public policies—an idea concocted and amplified by a largely white, status-signaling professional class and championed by supposed avatars of minority opinion like Tlaib, but with little actual support among the ordinary people upon whom it is foisted.....
But while it’s tempting to cast the Democrats’ centrist suburban caucus as victims of the Squad’s careless ideological extremism, it wouldn’t be quite accurate. After all, the Squad is simply the tip of the spear of a broader, party-wide turn toward a racialized, identity-obsessed culture war—one that’s been embraced by every corner of the party, nationally and locally, from leadership on down. Defunding the police was endorsed by some of the most traditional Democratic Party establishment institutions, including pro-choice groups Planned Parenthood and NARAL. No, the true casualty of the Squad’s brand of highly educated, professional-class cultural leftism is the political Left itself. While the Squad’s oppositional politics grew out of Bernie Sanders’s pathbreaking presidential run in 2016, the group’s success, and the cultural leftism it has elevated, represents not the triumph of Sanders’s broad-based populism but its ignominious defeat....
In fact, one of the most tragic victims of this evolution of the Left was Sanders’s own 2020 presidential campaign. In a sharp break from his highly successful 2016 populist campaign, the 2020 version adopted many of the intersectional Left orthodoxies that had been popularized and championed in the intervening years by his most influential surrogates, organizers, and supporters. Sanders’s laser-like focus in 2016 on wealth concentration, the threat of oligarchy, and his signature issue of Medicare for All became conspicuously diluted in 2020 by the addition of a grab bag of issues championed by the more educated, professional-class, social-justice-focused Left. Lightning-rod issues like abolishing ICE, the abstract Green New Deal, and the incessant denunciation of Trump as a “racist, sexist, and a homophobe” all became new staples of Sanders on the trail."