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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Silicon Valley Will Escape the Revolution

The Daily Escape:

Waterfall Jumping Competition (from 69 feet up), Bosnia, August 5th – photo by Amel Emric

Antonio Garcia Martinez:

Every time I meet someone from outside Silicon Valley – a normy – I can think of 10 companies that are working madly to put that person out of a job…

Well, that makes most of us “normies”. In context, we are the people who do not work in Silicon Valley. We are the people who use technology, rather than invent technology, and many of us ought to see technology as a threat to our jobs and our place in society.

We are not in the beautiful peoples’ club. Our names are not on the list. We’re not software engineers who work just to pay the taxes on their company stock.

And who is this Martinez guy? From Mashable:

He’d sold his online ad company to Twitter for a small fortune, and was working as a senior exec at Facebook (an experience he wrote up in his best-selling book, Chaos Monkeys). But at some point in 2015, he looked into the not-too-distant future and saw a very bleak world, one that was nothing like the polished utopia of connectivity and total information promised by his colleagues.

Martinez pointed out that there are enough guns for every man, woman and child in this country, and they’re in the hands of people who would be hurt most by automation:

You don’t realize it but we’re in a race between technology and politics, and technologists are winning…

Martinez worries about how the combination of automation and artificial intelligence will develop faster than we expect, and that the consequences are lost jobs.

Martinez’s response was to become a tech prepper, another rich guy who buys an escape pod somewhere off the grid, where he thinks he will be safe from the revolution that he helped bring about. More from Mashable: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

So, just passing [after turning] 40, Antonio decided he needed some form of getaway, a place to escape if things turn sour. He now lives most of his life on a small Island called Orcas off the coast of Washington State, on five Walt Whitman acres that are only accessible by 4×4 via a bumpy dirt path that…cuts through densely packed trees.

He’s not alone. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn told The New Yorker earlier this year that around half of Silicon Valley billionaires have some degree of “apocalypse insurance.” Pay-Pal co-founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel recently bought a 477-acre escape hatch in New Zealand, and became a Kiwi. Other techies are getting together on secret Facebook groups to discuss survivalist tactics.

We’ve got to expect that with AI and automation, our economy will change dramatically. We will see both economic and social disruption until we achieve some form of new equilibrium in 30 years or so.

It will be a world where either you work for the machines, or the machines work for you.

Robert Shiller, of the famous Case-Shiller Index, wrote in the NYT about the changing meaning of the “American Dream” from the 1930s where it meant:

…ideals rather than material goods, [where]…life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement…It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable…

That dream has left the building, replaced by this:

Forbes Magazine started what it calls the “American Dream Index.” It is based on seven statistical measures of material prosperity: bankruptcies, building permits, entrepreneurship, goods-producing employment, labor participation rate, layoffs and unemployment claims. This kind of characterization is commonplace today, and very different from the original spirit of the American dream.

How will the “Normies” survive in a society that doesn’t care if you have a job? That refuses to provide a safety net precisely when it celebrates the progress of technology that costs jobs?

The Silicon Valley survivalists understand that, when this happens, people will look for scapegoats. And we just might decide that the techies are it.

Today’s music is “Guest List” by the Eels from the 1996 album “Beautiful Freak”:

 Takeaway Lyric:

Are you one of the beautiful people
Is my name on the list
Wanna be one of the beautiful people
Wanna feel like I’m missed

Are you one of the beautiful people
Am I on the wrong track
Sometimes it feels like I’m made of eggshell
And it feels like I’m gonna crack

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Is Taxing Robots a Solution to Fewer Jobs?

The Daily Escape:

(Slot canyon with dust devil – photo by Angiolo Manetti)

Yesterday, the Dutch voted in an election pitting mainstream parties against Geert Wilders, a hard-right, anti-Islam nationalist whose popularity is seen as a threat to politics-as-usual across Europe, and possibly, as an existential threat to the EU.

Wilders, who wants to “de-Islamicize” the Netherlands and pull out of the EU, has little chance of governing, as all of the mainstream parties have already said they won’t work with him. Given Holland’s complicated form of proportional representation, up to 15 parties could win seats in parliament, and none are expected to win even 20% of the vote. OTOH, polls show that four in 10 of the Netherlands’ 13 million eligible voters were undecided a day before voting, and there is just 5 percentage points separating the top four parties, so Wilders could surprise everyone.

As Wrongo writes this, the Dutch election results are not known, but PBS NewsHour coverage on Tuesday surfaced a thought about taxing robots. PBS correspondent Malcolm Brabant was interviewing workers in Rotterdam:

Niek Stam claims to be the country’s most militant labor union organizer. He says the working class feel insecure about their prospects because of relentless automation and a constant drive to be competitive. The union is campaigning for robots to be taxed.

Brabant then interviewed a worker:

Robots do not buy cars. Neither do they shop for groceries, which leads to a fundamental question: Who’s going to buy all these products when up to 40% of present jobs vanish?

This isn’t an entirely new idea. Silvia Merler, blogging at Bruegel, says:

In a recent interview, Bill Gates discussed the option of a tax on robots. He argued that if today human workers’ income is taxed, and then a robot comes in to do the same thing, it seems logical to think that we would tax the robot at a similar level. While the form of such taxation is not entirely clear, Gates suggested that some of it could come from the profits that are generated by the labor-saving efficiency…and some could come directly in some type of a robot tax.

The main argument against taxing robots is made by corporations and some economists (Larry Summers), who argue that it impedes innovation. Stagnating productivity in rich countries, combined with falling business investment, suggests that adoption of new technology is currently too slow rather than too fast, and taxing new technology could exacerbate the slowdown.

It can be argued that robots are property, and property is already taxed by local governments via the property tax. It might be possible to create an additional value-added tax for robots, since an income tax wouldn’t work, as most robots are not capable of producing income by themselves.

Noah Smith at Bloomberg argues that the problem with Gates’ basic proposal is that it is very hard to tell the difference between new technology that complements human work, and new technology that replaces them. Shorter Noah Smith: Taxation is so hard!

Why are Western economies stagnant? Why has wage growth lagged GDP growth? Automation is certainly a key factor, but rather than point the finger at the corporations who continually benefit from government tax policies, let’s just assign blame to an object, a strawbot, if you will. That way, we won’t look too carefully at the real problem: The continuing concentration of economic and political power in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations.

Automation isn’t the issue, tax laws that allow economic treason by corporations in their home countries are the issue.

Why is nationalism on the march across the globe? Because fed-up workers see it as possibly the only answer to the neoliberal order that is destroying the middle class in Western democracies.

Let’s find a way to tax robots. Something has to offset Trump’s tax breaks for the rich.

Now, a musical moment. Did you know that “pre-St. Patrick’s Day” was a thing? Apparently, some dedicated celebrators prepare for the day itself by raising hell for up to a week beforehand. With that in mind, here is some pre-St. Pat’s Irish music, with Ed Sheeran singing “Nancy Mulligan” a love song about his grandparent’s marriage during WWII, against the wishes of her parents, and despite their Catholic/Protestant differences:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Why Trump Doesn’t Talk About Jobs Anymore

The Daily Escape:

(Bamboo after snowfall in January, near Kyoto. Photo by Hiroki Kondo)

During the 2016 presidential race, Trump campaigned on populist themes. Now that he is in office, it is clear that his policies will be neither populist nor popular, but strictly pro-business. The first clue was his choice of Cabinet members. Despite promising to “drain the swamp”, nobody realized that he could do that by making lobbyists pointless, as their clients are in charge of the government: The CEO of Exxon is head of foreign policy, a former Goldman Sachs partner heads Treasury, the daughter of a ship owner heads Transportation, a corporate raider is at Commerce, and so it goes.

Two months into his presidency, it is clear that the Trump economic policy is pro-business, not pro-jobs, or pro-little guy. If you still have doubt, the Republicans just rolled back a series of Obama-era worker safety regulations. The Senate voted 49-48 to kill a rule that required federal contractors to disclose and correct serious safety violations.

It’s clear that industry CEOs can’t believe their good luck, despite having opposed Trump at every step before the election. He’s only asking them for some vague promises to add new American jobs in return. Acting normal when they are interviewed after leaving a Trump meeting must be the hardest part of their day.

Trump hardly mentions jobs anymore, because he knows there aren’t many. His bogey man of weak domestic manufacturing needs to be addressed: China’s total exports in 2015 were $2.3 Trillion. The US total exports in 2015 were $1.5 Trillion, second in the world.

And the total value of US manufacturing in 2015 was $6.2 Trillion and we are doing it with fewer people than ever before. Today, US factories produce twice as much stuff as they did in 1984, but with one-third fewer workers.

Trump’s carrot and stick approach with US companies is theater. He is now industry’s number one value creator: When he commended Ford for deciding not to build a new plant in Mexico, the price of its shares rose 4.5%.

Softbank shares went up 6.2% after being praised by Trump for investing $50 billion in the US. Softbank’s motive was simple: Softbank owns Sprint, who would like to merge with T-Mobile. The authority to permit this merger lies with the new head of the FTC, yet to be named by Trump. Trump’s positive tweets feed Softbank’s hopes that the merger will be approved.

The Trump presidency has begun in the worst possible way for all who believed he would be an activist in new jobs creation for the lightly skilled, the people who overwhelmingly helped to elect him.

If the opposition wants to take Trump down, they should stop talking about Russia, and focus on Trump’s record with jobs creation. He made big promises – a job for everyone. It will be a long time (if ever) before a significant number of new manufacturing jobs materialize. This is true because Trump’s plan is to cut the fat out of government, cutting so many jobs that he might never add enough to make up for those he eliminates.

His plan is to use the freed-up funds to do something splashy with infrastructure. This would allow him to boast significant job creation, while downplaying the lost jobs in government. If Trump can figure out how to take unemployed, 50+ year old white males living in small town West Virginia, and make them productive, employed workers, then he’s a genius.

Capitalism hasn’t changed. A subset of oligarchs led by Trump have seized control of the US government. They are “nationalists”. Another subset, the “globalists” lost control of the state.

OTOH, the American people would have lost regardless of who won.

This is being repeated around the industrialized world, from Brexit, to Marine Le Pen’s right-wing challenge in France, to far right challenges to Angela Merkel in Germany.

The chaos described in Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is engulfing the world.

In honor of those who still believe that Trumpy will solve the jobs equation, here is Alan Jackson with “Hard Hat and a Hammer”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Sample Lyrics:

Lace-up boots and faded jeans
A homemade sandwich, and a half a jug of tea
Average Joe, average pay
Same ol’ end, same ol’ day

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Saturday Soother, January 7, 2017

Happy Birthday today Kelly!! Other than that happy fact, little went right in America this week. Our Overlord, Donald I, rode to a presidential win by saying he would bring jobs back to America that have been lost to automation and offshoring by US companies.

But economists have said for years that creating jobs for low skilled Americans will be difficult. Here is further evidence that bringing back jobs may be tougher than Trump thinks. Salon reports that for men ages 25 to 54, the work statistics are poor:

For this group, labor force participation has sunk to 88.5% from a 1954 peak of 97.9%. Most of that loss has occurred among men who have a high school degree or less, according to a report this year by the Obama administration.

And there are interesting facts to consider where unemployed men are concerned. The NYT’s Upshot reports that the jobs that have been disappearing, like machine operator, are predominantly those that men do, while the occupations that are growing, employ mostly women. More from Upshot:

Of the fastest-growing jobs, many are various types of health aides, which are about 90% female. When men take these so-called pink-collar jobs, they have more job security and wage growth than in blue-collar work, according to recent research. But they are paid less and feel stigmatized.

Upshot quotes David Autor, an economist at M.I.T.:

The jobs being created are very different than the jobs being eliminated…I’m not worried about whether there will be jobs. I’m very worried about whether there will be jobs for low-educated adults, especially the males, who seem very reluctant to take the new jobs.

The issue is America’s culture of masculinity. Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist and public policy professor at Johns Hopkins says:

Traditional masculinity is standing in the way of working-class men’s employment…We have a cultural lag where our views of masculinity have not caught up to the change in the job market.

Why is it that men can get away with saying that they deserve better than women? Perhaps that is a rhetorical question. After all, we elected Donald Trump, who can get away with anything.

The Salon article had this snippet: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Health problems and the opioid epidemic may also be a major barrier to work, according to research by Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist and former Obama adviser. Nearly half of men ages 25 through 54 who are neither working nor looking for work, take pain medication daily.

Some of these men may have been injured on the job and were subsequently laid off. But some may also represent part of the huge increase in opioid use in America. They may be part of the increase in disability cases since the Great Recession: More than 10 million Americans received Social Security disability benefits in 2014 (most recent statistics). Benefits paid to disabled workers totaled $11.4 billion per month nationwide, a substantial increase from the $6.1 billion paid monthly in 2004. The top three states receiving disability benefits are West Virginia, Alabama and Arkansas.

We became this society honestly. Our politicians hold our corporations in high esteem. The corporations repay us by automating most jobs and shipping other jobs overseas. They do this with little or no responsibility to help displaced workers retrain, or find new work. They do this while asking for bigger tax breaks to remain domiciled in the US. They do this while blaming our education system for not providing trained, ready-to-work job entrants at no cost to them.

We just cannot count on them to be good corporate citizens.

Those on pain killers may or may not have disabilities that prevent them from working. But in any case, society does not owe unemployed working age men permanent, high paying manufacturing or mining jobs, despite whatever efforts Trump may make.

It is time for them to adapt.

We need a soother. Here is Grex Vocalis a Norwegian chorus formed in 1971. Grex Vocalis has reached the finals of the BBC contest “Let the Peoples Sing” three times. In this video they are performing “An Irish Blessing” (May the road rise to meet you) written by an American, James E. Moore in 1987, live at the Amadeo Roldán Theatre in Havana Cuba:

A Norwegian chorus performing an Irish tune, written by an American, in Cuba. That’s gotta be soothing.

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.

Sample Lyrics:

May the sun make your days bright

May the stars illuminate your nights

May the flowers bloom along your path

Your house stand firm against the storm.

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Ohio?

Our industrial heartland has withered away, in that there are fewer manufacturing jobs than ever, while manufacturing revenues have never been higher. Forty years of promises by politicians have come to nothing: These people are victims of a world order in which corporations have either exported or automated those jobs, with no responsibility to workers. It is left to the towns of Middle America and the federal government to clean up their mess.

This world order we live in today was born in 1980, with Thatcher and Reagan. According to Ian Welsh, the world order made a few core promises:

If the rich have more money, they will create more jobs.

Lower taxes will lead to more prosperity.

Increases in housing and stock market prices will increase prosperity for everyone.

Trade deals and globalization will make everyone better off.

Those promises were not kept, and in America’s Midwest, economic stress is now the order of the day. That stress has contributed to rising rates of drug addiction and falling life expectancy.

Understandably frustrated, Ohioans and other Midwesterners gave Donald Trump a victory in November. His win has refocused attention by pundits and pols on the plight of our failing de-industrialized areas. While we have economic growth, we also have growing inequality. Here is a graphic illustration of the problem, comparing the US with the EU:

The Economist reports that from 1880 to 1980, the incomes of poorer and richer American states tended to converge, at a rate of nearly 2% per year. The chart above shows that the pattern no longer exists. This causes us to ask if the shift of resources and people from places in decline to places that are growing is simply taking longer to adjust, or has the current world order failed our people? In econo-speak, the gains in some regions should compensate those regions and towns harmed by the shift, leaving everyone better off.

But that is a political and financial lie promulgated by the very corporations that benefited, and by their political and economist cheerleaders.

With economic decline, some towns and cities became poverty traps. A shrinking tax base means deterioration in local services (think Detroit). Public education that might provide the young with new skills and thus opportunities, fails. Those that remain are on government subsidies or hold low-wage service jobs, or both. It is impossible to tell these citizens that the decay of their home town is an acceptable cost of the rough-and-tumble of the global economy.

Politicians are short on solutions. Since housing costs have risen sharply in towns and cities that are growing, underemployed Americans are less likely to move, and those who do, are less likely to head for richer places. Enrico Moretti of the University of California, Berkeley and Chang-tai Hsieh of the University of Chicago argue that our GDP could be 13.5% higher if this wasn’t the situation in America.

But if moving isn’t an option, what can be done to improve the outlook for those who are left behind?

Would more government subsidies help? Prosperous tax payers already support poorer ones. Subsidies for health insurance costs with Obamacare, as well as industrial tax incentives provide some cushion, but they are not likely to deliver long-run economic recovery, and they have not stemmed the growth of populist political sentiment.

To be fair, many people in Ohio and elsewhere want good jobs, but without having to move too far to get them. That may be impossible.

In the 19th century, the federal government gave land to states, which they could sell to raise proceeds for “land-grant universities”. Those universities, including some that are among our finest, were given a practical task: to develop and disseminate new techniques in agriculture and engineering. They went on to become centers of advanced research and, in some cases, hubs of local innovation and economic growth.

Politicians and academic economists might disdain a modern-day version of the program, one that would train workers, foster new ideas, and strengthen weakened regional economies.

But if our politicians do not provide answers, our populist insurgents will.

Time for a Christmas song. Here is Elvis with “Santa Claus Is Back in Town & Blue Christmas”, from his comeback special on NBC. This was recorded over six days in June, 1968 and aired on December 1, 1968. Elvis flubs “Santa Claus is Back in Town”:

Despite his flub, he does get this line right:

You don’t see me comin in no big black Cadillac

Kind of like out-of-work Ohioans.

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Capitalism Is Past Its Sell-By Date

“This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations…” Rutherford B. Hayes (March, 1888)

Nearly 130 years ago at the height of the Gilded Age, President Hayes had it right. Capitalism then was an economic free-for-all. Today, capitalism again is rewarding too few people. And data show that the problem is worse than we thought. The WSJ reported on a study by economists from Stanford, Harvard and the University of California that found:

Barely half of 30-year-olds earn more than their parents did at a similar age, a research team found, an enormous decline from the early 1970s when the incomes of nearly all offspring outpaced their parents.

Using tax and census data, they identified the income of 30-year-olds starting in 1970, and compared it with the earnings of their parents when they were about the same age. In 1970, 92% of American 30-year-olds earned more than their parents did at a similar age. By 2014, that number fell to 51%. Here is a chart showing the results:

wsj-30-year-olds-make-less

And we know that real median household income in the US today is basically the same as in 1989. The paper doesn’t provide specific reasons for the decline in incomes for younger Americans, but it generally blames slower economic growth and, especially, the rapidly widening income gap between the top 20% and the rest of society.

They found that the inability of children to out-earn their parents is greatest in the Midwest. This underlines that those who voted for Trump have a point: The Midwest has been hit harder by import competition, especially from Japan and China, and by technological changes, than other regions of the US.

When looking only at males nationally, the decline is even starker: In 2014, only 41% of 30-year-old men earned more than their fathers at a similar age.

There are some issues with the study worth mentioning: Most kids born in the 1940s did well in their thirties, maybe because their parents were 30 during the Depression and WWII. By the 1960s, an industrialized economy brought significantly higher wages to 30 year olds. A high denominator in the ratio of parent’s income to child’s income (compared to the past) made it more difficult for succeeding generations to exceed their parents’ incomes.

The economy also has shifted in the past 30 years and is now service-based, as factories moved overseas, and automation became prevalent. This change swapped higher wage manufacturing jobs for mostly lower wage service jobs. That alone could make it all but impossible for young adults to hit the ratios that their parents did relative to their grandparents.

Maybe the American Dream didn’t die; it just never really existed in the sense of broadly-based income mobility. Have another look at the chart, upward mobility (as measured by making more than your parents) has been declining since the mid-1940s.

Why? Between rising globalization and rapid advances in automation, we now have more people than jobs. And no matter whom we elect, this trend will continue. Those manufacturing jobs are never coming back. Even in China, robots are now displacing workers in factories.

We don’t need “good paying manufacturing jobs”; we need good paying jobs.

This is the most serious challenge capitalism has faced in the US. Without improving personal income, there will be fewer who can afford college, or afford to buy the things that capitalism produces. Low personal income growth puts sand in the gears of our economy.

The left offers a critique of contemporary global capitalism but no real practical alternative. Neither does the right, but their memes of America First, nostalgia for a golden (gilded?) age, and more tax cuts seem like less of a stretch than a Bernie Sanders-like frontal assault on capitalism.

No one in either party has a plan for a world in which robots displace the demand for labor on a large scale. And the under-30 cohort is now spending at least 4 times more (in the case of Wrongo’s university, 10 times) for a college education than what their parents paid, and they are earning less.

If people matter at all to our leaders, and if 90+% of them lack the means to live without working, America must make employment our top priority, despite the fact that many have been deemed redundant by capitalists in the private sector.

Surplus labor drives the price of labor down; allowing the employer class to afford a pool boy, or a nanny, or another cook.

And it makes the waiters more attentive to Mr. Trump.

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Trump Promised Jobs. That’s Why He Won

Take a good look at this map. It shows which counties switched parties in the 2016 US Presidential election compared to 2012. Red counties switched from Democrat to Republican, blue counties switched from Republican to Democrat and the vast majority in grey did not switch parties:

counties-that-changed-partys

Source: Brilliant Maps

Of course, it doesn’t show vote margin or size of the total vote in each county. The main thing this map shows is the large number of counties in the North East and Midwest that flipped to Trump, after having been Democratic counties in the prior election. The effect was large enough to deliver the normally Democratic leaning states of Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin into the Republican camp.

Tim Duy has an article about how economists and most politicians get so wrapped up that they miss the human element in economic dislocations. Duy makes the point that they ignore two of the negative impacts of job losses. First, they say how lost jobs free up human capital for use elsewhere in the economy. Of course, as jobs are added to the economy, skill levels and training determine whether laid-off workers are part of that equation.

“High-skilled” workers is what we need, but they are not always the kind of workers that were laid off.

Second, Duy reminds us that most workers have little ability to move to where better jobs might be found. Politicians tell us that the economy is shifting to urban and suburban areas; to higher skilled jobs; that workers must go and get retrained. That misses the point.

Most new jobs for those who were laid off will only be found if workers are able to relocate, to move from rural or devastated urban locations to geographic areas where jobs are expanding. Duy notes it is particularly difficult for rural areas:

The speed of regional labor market adjustment to shocks is agonizingly slow in any area that lacks a critical mass of population…Relative to life spans, in many cases the shocks might as well be permanent.

We don’t have answers for most of these communities. Rural and urban economic re-development is hard. The people living in these regions have experienced job losses (or no jobs growth) for decades; positive jobs growth has occurred elsewhere.

And the laid-off workforce isn’t mobile. In effect, we have limited access to housing in our major cities by pushing housing costs beyond the reach of most middle class workers. This, from Kevin Erdmann:

If you lost your manufacturing job in Buffalo, and you’re thinking of moving to New York City because there are more jobs there, you might decide not to move because it is too expensive. It is the affordability that is keeping you out. But, even here, the affordability problem is just the messenger. It is the rationing mechanism for a housing stock that is relatively fixed for political reasons.

If you decide to move to the NYC area, you see that the housing supply is largely fixed. New buildings are hard to get through zoning. Construction costs in big cities are very high. Income taxes are rising rapidly.

Erdmann makes the point that housing in big cities doesn’t move up with increased demand:

So, it doesn’t matter if Brooklyn apartments rent for $500, or $1,000, or $2,000, or $4,000. There isn’t one for you. Fixing this by fixing affordability isn’t going to change the supply curve. It’s simply substituting non-monetary rationing mechanisms for the monetary one.

Trump’s message that US firms need to consider domestic jobs as much as their bottom line, also resonated with middle and upper-middle class households. OTOH, it’s not like Trump took on the Coal Industry on behalf of workers. He blamed federal environmental policy, but that isn’t what caused the loss of coal industry jobs.

Trump doesn’t really have any answers, but he pretends to care while pretending to have answers. Pretending to care and pretending to have answers gave him the switched counties on the electoral map above. People want work. They want secure jobs.

Trump might be running a “jobs” scam, but if it fails, what is the Democrats’ alternative?

We have four years until the next election, two if you are looking at Congress. What policies will work? Will we just trade Trump’s scam for another one peddled by the establishment?

Business as usual hasn’t delivered. The idea that economic growth creates jobs is a pipe dream for many: For the past 40 years, economic growth did not improve wages.

Trump’s promise swung the election. If he fails, what will be the Democrats’ response?

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Who Moved My Cheese?

Some may remember the book by this name by Spencer Johnson, published in 1998. The underlying message of the book is “Don’t waste time fighting against change: accept that bad stuff will happen to you for no good reason and just keep moving”.

This outdated and simplistic message remains the message of the Democratic Party to the White Working Class (WWC). Donald Trump’s message is different. He offers them nothing but a dream, to limit immigrants working in the US and to cut off the US market from China. And since the WWC knows that more of the same isn’t going to work, they’re voting for Trump.

It is useful to remember that since our “Most Favored Nation” trade deal with China in 1979, we have lost 35% of all manufacturing jobs in this country.

The WWC thinks that the Democrats have not been able to do anything to help them keep their jobs. The reasons for failure can be at least equally shared by the Parties, but since Dems have said for years that they are the party of the working class, they are getting the greater share of the blame for 35 years of no results.

There are two issues that dominate the discussion: Illegal immigration and transition assistance when jobs are lost. Regarding Immigration:

  • The WWC knows that Dems need the political support of the Hispanic community, and that requires Dems to show sympathy with illegal immigration.
  • The WWC believes that illegal immigration has put downward pressure on job opportunities and wages in the trades, in restaurant and hotel work, and in service sectors where immigrants may be overly represented.
  • That’s why Trump’s stance on immigration is so popular with the WWC. They probably know in their hearts that kicking all the Mexican workers out, or building a wall is ridiculous. But the Democrat’s position on immigration is diffuse, and is viewed as “soft” on illegals by the WWC.

Despite anything the Dems say about retraining or “transition assistance”, the WWC knows that someone on job transition assistance can’t earn enough to support a family. Other problems:

  • Identifying the fields/industries that workers can train in that will produce stable, living wage employment is an inexact science. So, demand for retrained workers is often less than the supply for any given job type.
  • Businesses have been very successful at shifting the burden (and cost) of training displaced workers from themselves to society. This is helped along by a corporate critique that public and not-for-profit private schools are failing to maintain standards, and they can’t churn out sufficient grads with qualifications that meet the corporations’ highly specific requirements.
  • Hence the continuing financial opportunities for for-profit technical schools and for-profit universities, (can you say Trump University?)

And Ford Motor Co. just gave Trump a big wet kiss:

Ford Motor Co. says it’s moving all of its US small car production to Mexico…The company is building a new $1.6 billion assembly plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. It will make small cars there starting in 2018.

What can the Pant Suit say about this that would go beyond what the Pant Load will certainly say? And if she did, would WWC people believe her?

On the macro level, our current capitalism has turned to technology to produce much of what is needed with far less human labor input than ever before. That leaves job growth (and job opportunity) in only the low-skilled, low-paid “service” jobs; or in highly advanced, specialized jobs requiring very advanced training/skills/talent.

This means that the dogma of Endless Economic Growth, which we have accepted since the Industrial Revolution, is dead. Along with killing that, we need to kill off the current organizing principle of our economic system, where humans exist solely to fulfill the needs of businesses.

Work helps us find our place in society. It is something that we see as having an inherent value, something that fills a basic human need, similar to food and shelter. But our current economic system no longer recognizes that, and our economy provides little opportunity for fulfilling that basic need for a large portion of American citizens, including many in the WWC.

The idea of government deploying under-utilized labor to build and repair our infrastructure, or to re-tool our country to reduce carbon emissions would be a step that might return the WWC to jobs and a place in society. It would cost a ton.

But the idea that the government would create demand is too socialist for most politicians to accept, despite the fact that the rest of the tools just haven’t worked in 35+ years.

Tell me again why Bernie Sanders was a terrible choice.

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More Political Lessons From Brexit

There is a neoliberal aspect to Brexit that has many Brits in the 1% quietly (and tentatively) quite happy. Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, writing in the WSJ, said the Brexiteers:

…think the vote for Brexit was about liberty and free trade, and about trying to manage globalization better than the EU has been doing from Brussels.

Neoliberalism at its finest. You could substitute “No Obama” for “Brexit”, and “Washington” for “Brussels”, and think it was the GOP talking.

Mr. Nelson says that a major problem was that the EU’s centralized, command-type structure makes local issues difficult to manage. He says that regulations issued at the European level, rules promulgated by officials whose names Brits didn’t know, people they never elected and cannot remove from office, became law in the UK. More from Mr. Fraser: (emphasis and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Mr. Cameron has been trying to explain this to Angela Merkel…He once regaled the German chancellor with a pre-dinner PowerPoint presentation to explain his whole referendum idea. Public support for keeping Britain within the EU was collapsing, he warned, but a renegotiation of its terms would save Britain’s membership…Mr. Cameron was sent away with a renegotiation barely worthy of the name. It was a fatal mistake [by the EU] not nearly enough to help Mr. Cameron shift the terms of a debate he was already losing.

The EU took a gamble: That the Brits would not vote to leave. A better deal—perhaps aimed at allowing the UK more control over immigration, a top public concern in Britain—might have stopped Brexit. But the absence of a deal sent a clear message: The EU isn’t interested in reform.

The EU apparently needs fixing, but it won’t be the UK who does it. Cameron tried in a lukewarm way to fix Europe a little around the edges, and failed. A final point from Mr. Fraser:

The question is not whether to work with Europe but how to work with Europe. Alliances work best when they are coalitions of the willing. The EU has become a coalition of the unwilling, the place where the finest multilateral ambitions go to die.

Perhaps. It IS clear that not all regulations are created equal, some are inefficient, and some are just stupid. But, a business environment with fewer government regulations is the wet dream of most business owners, while it often harms consumers. It is also true that the Brexit supporters were able to conflate in the minds of voters all the discontent with UK austerity, benefit cuts, poor quality job creation and wage stagnation along with the EU’s hegemony, into a big ball of emotion.

And it worked.

The inside-the-bubble UK neoliberal view is that the EU was the problem, and the British voters solved that. America doesn’t have an analogue. We could leave NAFTA, but that has none of the earth-shaking possibilities. We could fail to pass the TPP. That would be a yuuge anti-neoliberal event.

There is an economic malaise in blue collar UK. Once an industrial powerhouse, it has become service driven, with finance and lawyering representing a significant portion of its economy. Sounds just like America in 2016.

Let’s link all of this up with our domestic political economy:

  • Income inequality has grown in the US since at least the 1980s.
  • Real median income is the same as in 1996.
  • Our Labor Participation Rate (the share of American civilians over the age of 16 who are working or looking for a job) is about where it was in the 1970s.
  • Despite a rosy headline unemployment rate of 4.7% (which counts only people without work seeking full-time employment), the U-6 rate (includes discouraged workers and all marginally attached workers, plus those workers who are part-time purely for economic reasons) is much higher at 9.7%. In human terms, that is 15.3 million souls who need a job.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both see these things. The candidate who convinces voters that s/he will really address them will win.

Trump is correct when he says if there are millions out of work, how can we permit immigration? He wrongly focuses on Mexicans, but he’s right: We need fewer people pursuing the fewer jobs we will have until at least until 2025, when finally, all the Baby Boomers retire.

America is in a class war, but it’s the working class versus the middle class rather than workers versus billionaires, as Bernie talks about. Joe Six-pack doesn’t hate the billionaire class. Therefore, Trump is acceptable.

The Pandering Pant Load sees this, and has moved to exploit their anger.

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The Pant Suit vs. the Pant Load – Jobs, Part Infinity

We are in a time when a presidential candidate’s personality counts for more than the candidate’s policies. Candidates obfuscate on most policy issues and the media lets them get away with absolutely outrageous declarations of near-facts or outright half-truths.

One policy we must make them nail down explicitly is their jobs policy.

The key to making America great again is adding more jobs. Wrongo is a pest on this subject, but without more jobs, growth in GDP is harder to achieve. Tax revenues are more difficult to grow. People who are idle get into trouble.

The Pant Suit and the Pant Load know this, so they will talk from here to November about adding manufacturing jobs back to cities that lost them starting in the 1970’s. Those jobs are never coming back, but both of them are working hard to convince you they can do it. Consider this, from Parallel Narratives:

We’re now being told by folks who know better that all we need to do to bring those jobs back, to resurrect a future we can believe in, or make America great again, is to elect the outsider politician who is not beholden to elite interests like banks, CEOs and politicians. Unfortunately, that horse has left the barn, those jobs are gone for good…

A great example of a politician braying the “I can bring jobs back” mantra was in Sunday’s NYT business section’s column, “Preoccupations. In it, a young couple had the option to work from home, so they moved from Austin, TX, that hot-bed of tech, to South Portland ME, not so techie. They work for two different firms from two home offices. Then, they are invited to attend a funds-raiser for a gubernatorial candidate: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The candidate raising campaign funds was a hard-working lawyer who seemed genuinely well meaning, but no one had told him that his economic platform of protecting manufacturing jobs and Maine’s traditional industries wasn’t going to fly with an audience of health care professionals, programmers, web designers and researchers…We muttered to each other that this guy didn’t have a place in his platform for people like us, many of whom worked for employers in other states. Our checkbooks stayed in our pockets.

If you hear this kind of BS from the Pant Suit or the Pant Load, your checkbook should also remain hidden.

While the low-wage jobs problem has been around for more than 40 years, America’s politicians are still peddling the same solutions. In fact, a new analysis from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) released Monday shows that only 88% of men ages 25 to 54 are participating in the US workforce. The CEA reports that the US has the third-lowest labor-force participation rate for “prime-age men” among the world’s developed countries. We have done so well that, on a percentage basis, Greece, Slovenia and Turkey all have more men working than the US does. Greece! The decline is concentrated among less educated. Here is a chart:

Male Labor Force Part by Edu

More than 95% of men used to work in 1964, regardless of their educational attainment. Today, you better have at least a bachelor’s degree if you want to be sure you will get a job.  But it is worse than that. The CEA said:

In recent decades, less-educated Americans have suffered a reduction in their wages relative to other groups. From 1975 until 2014, relative wages for those with a high school degree fell from over 80% of the amount earned by workers with at least a college degree to less than 60%.

Clinton and Trump would have you believe that the problem is bad trade deals with China, the TPP, or immigration. Trump in particular, is saying that the political elites have knowingly caused this all at the expense of the American worker. There is a modicum of truth to that, but it is the American corporation and the American tax code that is closing out US jobs, and hammering the middle class. American corporations now pay about 11% of our total US taxes, down from about 30% of US taxes in 1960, as jobs (and markets) have moved abroad.

What are the Pant Suit and/or the Pant Load going to do in the face of advancing automation now facing us not just in manufacturing, but also in the service and knowledge industries?

It is time to make the candidates talk about this on the campaign trail.

The basic policy choice we have is to put people to work, or to continue to allow the profit motive to dominate. If the profit motive remains supreme, we will continue our relentless drive to reduce labor costs — by eliminating jobs, or by paying workers less for the same work.

To date, our leaders have chosen the latter path, and we have reaped the results. We have become a land of spreadsheets and flags.

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