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Economics under Trump
David Brin   Mar 11, 2017   Contrary Brin  

Please. We have one hope. That a civilization built by pragmatic idealists—who used fact-grounded skills to craft a nation and a gradually better society—can somehow use facts to save it. We will win this on two fronts:

(1) by steadily peeling away from the rabid confederacy more adult Americans, one by one... and 

(2) by showing die-hard confeds that their self-interest does not lie with the plantation lords. That eventually happened in 1864, as desertions from Lee's army doomed that wretched "cause."

Neither of these things will be accomplished by yelling and marching... though yes, yell we must. And march we must. (And I will be out there, especially on Earth Day.) A movement must energize, after all.

But both (1) and (2) will require tenacious argument, repetition, and cornering the fact-evaders with wagers! (More on that, soon.)

== It's the economy, stupid ==

While there certainly are many Trump voters who have legitimate economic complaints, millions more are doing just fine. Back during the primaries, Nate Silver at 538 tracked Trump supporters and found that their average incomes were higher than average in those states, not lower. Such folks still felt rage! Their core grievance is culture war, about which we've spoken often.

But this time, let's focus on economics. Among my patented Name an Exception Challenges, one of them asks: Name one major metric of U.S. national health that did better across the spans of either Bush administration than across the spans of the Clinton and Obama admins. Nearly all such metrics declined - many plummeting - across Bush regimes. Nearly all rose, many of them by a lot, across both Democratic Party terms. 

Still, no one can deny the vast transfer of wealth from the middle to upper classes that sped up during the Reagan, Bush and Bush terms... but only reversed under Clinton... not Obama. Indeed, below I will cite an article in Commentary that seems to undermine -- yes by citing facts -- every optimistic thing you have seen me write! A missive of doom and gloom that can be answered!  But an honest adult first faces such things, and does not hide from challenge.

A little further down, I will exercise host privilege and rant for you a dozen spectacular outrages, all of which are about one thing -- opening the middle class carotid artery, to be sucked by vampires.
== What will happen to jobs? ==
My friend John Mauldin points out: “The simple fact of the matter is that United States is producing more manufactured goods than ever before. And the growth trend in manufacturing, which was established in the 1920s, has shown no signs of slackening, even through recessions. The chart below is from a study done by two professors at Ball State University. It’s a fabulous analysis that shows that 80% of the jobs that have been lost in American manufacturing have been lost due to technology. American workers are now dramatically more productive than they were in just the year 2000. The authors point out that our 12 million manufacturing jobs today produce the same amount of goods as 21 million manufacturing jobs did in 2000.”
John continues: “That trend is not going to change. Technology is going to continue to increase the productivity of American (and global!) manufacturing. With companies like Foxconn in China creating robotic production lines, the cost of labor is truly becoming a rounding error in manufacturing. Prediction: Apple will soon be manufacturing the iPhone 9 or 10 in the United States. But producing those iPhones here won’t create that many jobs, because the work will be done on a robotic assembly line.”
John alternates this sagacity with lapses into… well… rationalization that today’s American right has not gone insane.  A stunning act of willful hallucination.  But well…
== The Collapse of Supply Side Rationalizations ==
Mauldin runs a prominent - conservative-leaning - investment newsletter.  And John's a really nice guy who laments the anti-intellectualism and vulgarity of his party’s right wing… without ever admitting that there are no other wings remaining, or that all the knowledge and fact people are fleeing the madness.  To be clear, he does offer up economic insights of real value and I use them to balance the sage wisdom you all can get from the Evonomics site, where the truly wisest heirs of Adam Smith reside.
Like so many “ostriches”… sane and decent Republicans who must cover their eyes and ears with sand, in utter denial over the hijacking of their movement by monsters - my friend called for ‘sensible negotiation’ during the Obama years, especially using low interest rates to finance infrastructure investments that are both needed (lest bridges collapse) and that would boost money velocity among the working classes. 

Alas - like all ostriches with their heads buried in denial - he persistently excuses the Republican Party of any fault for their intransigent unwillingness to negotiate, even over menu choices at a restaurant. (The ‘Hastert Rule’? Punishing any Republican who ever negotiates with a Democrat? Never heard of it!)
So, I was unsurprised when my friend’s recent newsletter quoted Lacy Hunt, of Hoisington Investment Management, who recently offered up a stunning example of denial by tunnel-vision. Hunt critiques the proposed Trump-Ryan tax cuts for the rich and sensibly says they’re “unlikely to work as well” as the huge tax gifts for the wealthy that were done under Reagan, Bush and Bush.
Now note that the premise - conveyed slyly by assuming it - is that those tax cuts ever “worked” at all. But did they? 

Yes, there was some growth across the Reagan years, compared to the post Vietnam collapse under Nixon, Ford, and then Carter.  Carter got all the blame, even though he was the grownup who unleashed Pal Volcker to dry out the nation’s runaway binge-inflation. That medicine spread short term pain and crushed Carter’s re-election chances, but it set the stage for recovery, which everyone credited to Reagan. What? Nothing for Volcker and the President who supported him? Well, I have learned never to slam conservatives’ deity. Let Ronnie have it.

(Note: at the recent CPAC gathering, Trump never mentioned Reagan even once, completing the dismissal and abandonment of every single GOP figure since Lincoln.)
But let's admit there was some tepid growth under Reagan. Only, growth, which did not happen after either Bush tax cut, is just one supply side prediction!  Others include absolute promises that tax cuts on the rich will wind up erasing budget deficits

Now, repeat that aloud a few times. Yes, that is the core catechism of a madness that transfixes today’s right. Voodoo? Never once ever happened? Sure. But millions believed the incantation, repeating it with increasingly urgent desperation.
Ah, but back to Lacy Hunt, who says that Supply Side tax cuts may not “work as well” this time (they never worked at all)… because ever since those huge Reagan/Bush/Bush tax cuts for the rich, federal debt ratios skyrocketed from 30% or so to over 100%, with economic pace and money velocity plummeting, and hence there is now less slack for big tax cuts to leverage…
...and my jaw dropped. Seriously? Sagacious conservative economists can lay those sentences together, in a row, and not draw the blatantly obvious and true conclusion?  
That vast tax gifts to the rich under Reagan, Bush and Bush maybe caused the spectacular increase in debt and the decline in economic activity? Also skyrocketing wealth disparity? Seriously. Is there any more direct proof that smart people can be crazy, than when they cannot connect blatant dots?
Is it possible that the supply side cult can or will ever respond to relentless disproof? I repeat: every single huge Supply Side tax cut on the rich resulted directly in skyrocketing deficits and wealth disparities, along with plunging economic growth. Not just at the federal level.  Look at Kansas. Oklahoma. Almost every confederate state. 
Here's an impudent notion. Ponder that perhaps the Greatest Generation - just maybe - knew what they were doing, back when their program of strong unions and high taxes on the rich led to the greatest boom in the history of our species. Back when the GGs built continent-spanning highways and universities, defeated Hitler, overcame Depression, contained Stalinism, went to the moon and began our forward progress against racism, sexism and environmental neglect. Might they have known their stuff? And perhaps the fanatic voodoo doctors Chicago School - subsidized by the beneficiaries of those massive tax cuts - did not?
No wonder science and all the knowledge professions who deal in fact are now Public Enemy Number One.
The Evonomics folks are fighting for Adam Smith and for the mixed and successful system the Greatest Generation built, now being smashed by oligarchy & confederatism. You conservatives may disagree with much that's said at Evonomics.  But the weight of their argument belongs on your scales. See: Extreme Inequality Causes Economic Collapse and Inequality and Unearned Income Kill the Economy.

== A dozen examples of outright economic/political rape ==

Okay so let's indulge in some choice ranting:

First: after supply side voodoo has been disproved at every level, the GOP is talking about a $3 trillion tax cut, 99.6 percent of which would go to the top 1 percent of households. 

So much for the stunning delusion nursed by so many that: "Trump is not really a Republican." Name one major effective action Trump takes that does not favor oligarchs. I said effective, not populist confederate theater or cranky toddler stuff. Top priority has gone to taking off even slight restraints on the 5000 CEO golf buddies voting each other vampire sucks out of our arteries. 

Or take the House voting to kill the Federal Electoral Commission. Or the separate Election Assistance Commission, which inspects and vetts the voting machines that we rely upon for honest tallies, a service which the GOP Congress now plans to abolish because, of course, why should anyone worry about our voting machines being misused or hacked? (In most blue states, at least paper ballots can be audited after an election, limiting the cheating. In many red states, that capability has mysteriously vanished.)

 Or to end equality of Net access. The newly minted head of the FCC is a vocal opponent of net neutrality. 

Yep. It's oligarchs, all the way down. But confederates care about only one criterion -- does an action OFFEND the snooty smartypants professional castes? If we hate it, they have to love it.

And hence, we have the following example, so stunningly egregious that it boggles the mind anyone can see it as anything but outright rape. Of us.
President Trump proposes to cancel an Obama era rule that financial advisers have a "fiduciary" responsibility to protect their clients' interests.  Believe it or not, financial advisers can urge you to buy certain products that they know will harm you but that will benefit the adviser... all of it legally, thanks to GOP legislation that Obama tried to reverse. 
What? You thought Republicans were on the side of the little guy? Dig another example: Trump just caved to the pharmaceutical industry, after promising, fervently, during the election, to let the government negotiate drug prices (a GOP law forbids it.)  Oh, and now coal companies can dump into streams and groundwater and the EPA can't investigate.  And that is the tip of the tip of the tip.
Silly confeds claim that Trump appointing almost all billionaires and Goldman-Sachs execs to his cabinet is goooood! Because 'it takes foxes to guard the henhouse.' Numb. Skulls. Feathers are already flying. Enjoy being eating, Johnny Reb.
== The gloom!  The gloom! ==
All right, after that gloomy rant (!) let's get back to a master gloomcaster! 

A long, fact-rich tirade by Nicholas Eberstadt - “Our Miserable 21st Century” - against optimism ran in Commentary, and yes, every polyanna should read it in detail.  We have a full plate of problems to solve. It was a good contrary tonic vs pollyanna optimism... which is ironic, of course, since optimism is almost nonexistent and the reflex toward gloom is exactly the tool used by oligarchy to promote Trumpism and hatred of the "elites" who are trying to fix these problems.  Problems that are almost entirely caused by the oligarchic putsch.
Notice how the author focuses almost solely on the U.S., because some of our high metrics peaked a while back.  All over the planet, though, those metrics are climbing fast, with a billion children now in school who would have been child labor slaves, twenty years ago.
The crux is that gloom serves a function when it piles proposed corrections on our to-do list.  It is our enemy when it screams "give up!" Or when it undermines our can-do spirit. Or when it leads millions to seek salvation with the nearest "strong" simplistic fast-talker. 
Somewhat in parallel to Eberstadt’s gloom is this article in the New Yorker by Evan Osnos: “Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich." Some of the wealthiest people in America—in Silicon Valley, New York, and beyond—are getting ready for the crackup of civilization.” 

Oh, the mail I am getting about The Postman, from folks genuinely concerned that they see proto-Holnists arising... and some even from those proto-Holnists who (gulp) give me strange credit for their "movement."

Agh. I was trying to argue against...

... oh, never mind.  Buy and distribute more copies of the book! Heck, let's make a better movie.
David Brin Ph.D. is a scientist and best-selling author whose future-oriented novels include Earth, The Postman, and Hugo Award winners Startide Rising and The Uplift War. David's newest novel - Existence - is now available, published by Tor Books."

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