Archive for November, 2016

The “Free Market” Economy

One of the on-going Republican policy positions, as well as a stand taken by President-elect Trump, is that too much government regulation hampers the economy and costs jobs, and that the “freer” an economy can be, the better.

The problem with this stand is that it ignores reality. Markets don’t work very well, and sometimes not at all if there isn’t a certain amount of order. In turn, maintaining order requires an overriding structure and authority backed by some sort of force, or at least the possibility of force. Most conservatives will accept that as a necessity.

So the question really becomes one of what, if anything, should government [or the authority structure] do beyond providing basic order. Despite those who feel government should do nothing, in historical practice, most western governments have, if spottily, required some basic standardization and regulation of trade. The size, weight, and composition of basic foodstuffs have been set forth; counterfeiting forbidden; and often the times and places prescribed where goods could be sold, as well as where certain noxious practices, such as rendering and smelting, could be carried out.

Most societies have been aware of the dangers of adulterated foodstuffs. Rye contaminated by ergot fungus and turned into flour can result in ergotism, which caused tens of thousands of deaths in Europe from the 1300s through the mid-1800s, but more than a few unscrupulous farmers still sold contaminated grain to millers, even after the cause of the disease, popularly known as St. Anthony’s Fire, was known. Meat-packing in the U.S., even in the early part of the twentieth century, was often terribly unsanitary, as revealed in Sinclair Lewis’s The Jungle, a book which spurred public outcry, which led to reforms including the Meat Inspection Act.

Bit by bit, the U.S. government passed laws and implemented regulations to improve food safety. Later, after it become clear that industrial practices had resulted in rivers that caught fire and were too toxic for fish to survive, and that air in some areas was barely breathable because of airborne pollutants, Congress passed environmental laws to regulate the emission of various classes of pollutants.

Now… the question that tends to get overlooked by those who claim that all these regulations are excessive and that business and industry could do just fine if they didn’t have to comply with all the regulations is, if businesses could protect public health, why they never did. The answer is simply that the economic structure didn’t allow them to do so.

Producing anything in the fashion most beneficial to consumers’ health and in the most environmentally sound way costs more than ignoring the health and environmental issues. Therefore, the way to maximize profits is to do the bare minimum in terms of health and environmental issues, the bare minimum being not immediately poisoning your consumers and workers or the surrounding environment. Any business that does more than that jeopardizes its own future because, when there are no regulations, or lesser regulations, the business that increases its costs to improve health and environment becomes less profitable.

And that is exactly what’s happened in terms of the thousands of U.S. businesses that have offshored production of goods to third world nations or those with lower environmental and health regulations.

There’s a definite trade-off between environmental and health safety and cost of production. And higher costs of production mean higher prices. U.S. consumers want cheaper goods, but they also have wanted cleaner air and waters. The only way we can have both, in the present world, is to import cheaper foreign goods from other countries who are polluting their air and water, endangering the health of their workers and environment, and paying those workers far less.

What China is already discovering is that there is, in fact, even under an authoritarian government, a level of pollution that is too much, but even if other nations improve their health and safety standards, and most will have to, over time, they’ll still be able to produce goods more cheaply.

Which brings up the question of exactly how a Trump administration intends to “return” jobs to the U.S. without increasing the price of goods produced by those workers. Or does he intend to attempt [because it’s not clear that he can succeed] to reduce environmental protection in order to lower costs of production? If not, then he and Congress will have to impose tariff barriers and those barriers will increase the costs of goods to U.S. consumers.

Of course, I haven’t yet seen anyone in the incoming administration publicly dealing with these questions… and I have some doubt that we will.


Apparently, one of the big concerns by advertising professionals is whether an ad campaign is “current” and not “dated.” I’ve also heard this being voiced about cover art on books, and how political campaigns are being conducted, particularly after the recent election, despite the fact that the furor over the Electoral College is anything but new or recent.

Even though I don’t drink beer, I really liked and appreciated the Anheuser-Busch commercials which featured their Clydesdale horses. So did all of our beer-drinking friends, but it appears that all of us are “dated,” because using gentle humor, good feelings, and horses was just not appealing to the current generation, a generation that I find less than appealing if they’re actually motivated to buy beer based on dumb commercials featuring clueless young males.

I’ve also heard that Facebook is becoming dated, and that email is almost passe among the younger generations and that communications are largely carried out through tweets and somethings called Snapchat and Instagram, and that websites such as mine, which actually discusses matters in far too many words, are positively antediluvian. It would appear that written communications of more than 128 characters are also “dated.”

Knowledge of history is also clearly “dated,” given that the vast majority of college students on the local university campus have no idea about the civil rights violence of the 1960s and 1970s, the Great Depression, the causes and results of either World War I, World War II, or Vietnam. Music majors seem to arrive at college knowing little about any music except rote-rhythm pop, and seem unable to learn or memorize melodic lines of more than four bars without what seems to them to be excruciating effort, while Hamilton has become the only history lesson many students even want to pay attention to.

Printed newspapers are becoming dated as well, and magazines are in the process of following that trend. And now, a number of school systems aren’t teaching cursive writing, presumably since it’s also dated, despite recent scientific studies showing that writing actually enhances memory and learning.

But then, as the recent election just demonstrated, facts and knowledge are also dated.

Grunt Work

Last week one of my readers posted election turnout statistics, which revealed an interesting pattern – that Republican voters turned out with about the same numbers in every presidential election over the last twelve years, but that Democratic votes varied dramatically, apparently based on the “appeal” of the candidate, and particularly the appeal to African-Americans.

But it wasn’t just candidate appeal that affected turnout. With lawsuits recently upheld by the Supreme Court that restricted the ability of the Justice Department to monitor state election procedures, a number of states “consolidated” polling locations and reduced voting hours, and such restrictions have been shown to reduce minority voter turnout far more than they did Republican turnout, which is exactly what they were designed to do.

Such state acts have been currently held to be legal, but I’d hold that they’re scarcely moral, not that morality counts in elections. Only votes do.

And that gets down to the bottom line. Republicans have been working hard for years on a state-level strategy designed to create a political system more to their liking. They’ve gerrymandered Congressional districts so that Democrat voters are concentrated in fewer districts, which is the principal reason why the House of Representatives is overwhelmingly Republican. What also tends to get overlooked is that getting elected to the House gains an aspiring politician visibility and the ability to fundraise, and if there are more Republican representatives in a state’s delegation, then the Republicans have better odds in eventually electing more senators from that state.

What they’ve done is perfectly legal, but it takes time, effort, and money, all of which Republicans have, and have used effectively over the past decade and even longer, while much of the Democratic constituency is far shorter on all three.

The other factor is cultural change. Like it or not, we now live in a “celebrity” culture, and the key factor in celebrity is the ability to relate to people through the mass media. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump could do this with their supporters, Hillary Clinton much less so.

In terms of the 2016 election, although it was far from obvious at the beginning, what this meant was that the Democrats were at what I’d call a structural disadvantage from the start, in that all the election-year “ground game” and organizational skills in the world would be hard-pressed to meet the Republican challenge without a “popular” candidate, and especially hard-pressed once they nominated Clinton.

What I’m saying is not an “excuse” for Democrats. What I’m saying is that Democrats have gotten out-organized, out-funded, and out-maneuvered. Democrats, and this includes others with the same concerns, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, have tended to focus on protests and lawsuits, but in the end votes count. No matter how necessary, or how worthy legal and political change may be, in our system that requires changing the laws. Changing the laws requires changing the lawmakers, and changing the lawmakers requires getting more votes at state and local levels… and working at that year after year after year, not just in an election year.
If you get enough votes, even the Electoral College comes your way.

And, as the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding.

The Woman Question?

In the last blog, I cited figures showing the incredibly disproportionate white male vote against Hillary Clinton. Clinton won women last Tuesday by 12 points and lost men by 12 points: a total 24-point gap, the widest gender gap ever in a Presidential election.

There are many contributing factors to why Clinton didn’t win the Electoral College vote, but the one of the major factors is simply that a great number of white males didn’t want a woman President. Now, you can give me lots of other reasons why Clinton didn’t win, but none of them, even together, explain the size of the anti-Clinton white male vote.

People voted that way because they didn’t trust Clinton? That’s obviously true. But why is it true, given that Trump has been proven to be more deceptive, and a greater liar than Clinton? Not to mention that he’s screwed contractors and others out of what he’s owed them? And why do men seem to be so much more willing to ignore Trump’s lies than Clinton’s? Especially given that in every income and education level, men are more against Clinton than women?

Roughly seventy percent of adult males are in the labor force and roughly sixty percent of adult women are in the labor force. Women tend to be paid less, and by all logic, would seem to suffer more from hard economic times. If the reasons for voting are economic, as so many claim, why do men’s votes differ so much from women’s?

Is education a factor in the difference between men’s and women’s votes? Regardless of the level of education, more men than women voted for Trump and against Clinton.

Roughly seventy percent of U.S. households consist of two adults, and the vast majority of those are male-female. That means that similar social, economic, and other pressures impact both, yet there was the widest gender gap ever between men and women’s voting patterns.

In general, women’s votes tended much more to follow past economic and social indicators and past voting patterns than did men’s. The major difference in this election was that one candidate was a woman, and while women’s voting patterns didn’t change all that much, men’s did.

Please don’t give me all the excuses. All the reasons thrown up don’t explain the magnitude of the gap. The only thing that does is that a great many men (and even some women) don’t want a woman President…and all too many of them will never acknowledge that, and some are very, very good at rationalizing why they couldn’t vote for Clinton on other grounds.

It’s still rationalization.

The “Whitelash” Charge

CNN commentator Van Jones, who is black, made the following statement on-air soon after the projections showed that Donald Trump would win the Presidency:

“This was a whitelash – this was a whitelash against a changing country. It was whitelash against a black president, in part.”

Hyperbole? Exaggeration? Not if a number of exit polls taken at hundreds of polling places across the nation happen to be correct. White voters, who compose 69% of voters, voted 58% for Trump and 37% for Clinton. This margin was even more pronounced among men. White men opted 63% for Trump and 31% for Clinton, while white women voted 53% for Trump and 43% for Clinton.

By comparison, non-white voters, who make up 31% of the electorate, voted 74% for Clinton and 21% for Trump.

Trump not only won white voters without a college degree by a margin of 67% to 28%, according to Research for the National Election Pool and Pew Research, but also those white voters with a college degree, if by a much smaller margin of 49% to 45%.
Even among more well-off whites, according to CNN studies, of the 64% of American voters who earn more than $50,000 a year, 49% chose Trump, and 47% Clinton.

Unhappily, these aren’t just factoids and statistics. They represent a white misperception of economic reality… or possibly just a failure by affected white workers to understand that they’re not the only ones hurting, and hurting badly.

I’m not denying that 5-6 million largely white manufacturing workers lost jobs to globalization and automation. Nor am I denying that middle-class income levels, largely of white families, have stagnated over the past thirty years.

The problem is that it’s far worse for minorities, and they feel that their opportunities are also hampered by persistent discrimination and by an economic and justice system that makes their path harder than for whites.

Even though now 23% of African Americans over age 25 have at least one college degree, 36% of whites, and 53% of Asian Americans do. Unfortunately, only15% of Latinos do.

But even with equal degrees, the results aren’t equal. On average, college-educated and degreed blacks make 20% less than similarly educated whites.

According to Census figures, the average [median] income of all households in the U.S. is about $54,000, but the average income of African American households is lower than any other ethnic group at just over $35,000. In terms of savings and housing and some form of assets that can buffer hard times, the average [median] household wealth for whites is $114,000, for Hispanics $13,000, and for African-Americans $11,000. Not only that, but over the past 25 years, the wealth gap between blacks and whites has nearly tripled, according to research by Brandeis University.

Currently, a quarter of black and Hispanic families live in poverty, compared to ten percent of white families, and the numbers are even starker when looking at child poverty. Under 11% of white children were in poverty in 2013, but 38% of black children and 30% of Hispanic children are poor.

While great improvements have been made in the educational achievement of minorities and in increasing minority income levels, the gaps are still huge.

What this means, in political and social terms, is that the Trump administration cannot just focus on dealing with “white” economic pain, not without risking even greater political and societal unrest, an unrest that will get even more intense if it is not addressed as the white electorate becomes a smaller and smaller proportion of the population – and we’re talking about a population shift without taking into account ANY future immigration or lack thereof.

Catering to “whitelash” exclusively is a prescription for longer term disaster.

And all that doesn’t even take into account the equally great problem of gender discrimination, which is far too big a subject to include in this post, except to note that it’s also a problem that isn’t going to go away, no matter what white males think.

Relative – and Personal

There are times when I’m not exactly excited to be proved correct. A little over a week ago, I suggested that it was very much possible that Donald Trump would win the Presidency. He did just that, for very much the reasons I suggested. He energized and lifted the non-college educated white male vote and increased the turnout of those men significantly. He got votes from rural areas and small towns – except many college towns – in a far higher percentage than any pollster on either side expected.

He was incredibly effective in speaking to his constituency, and, frankly, the vulgarity and crudeness was part of that effectiveness, because it made him seem real to his voters and not a politician removed from their concerns and their pain. He was one of “the boys,” which also carried the unstated implication that no woman could really understand the problems facing unemployed or underemployed men.

What Trump also understood was something that no Democratic candidate since Bill Clinton has apparently understood, or, at least, been able to convey, is that politics is relative… and personal. People judge where they are in life relative to other people and relative to where they used to be, and their judgment period is fairly short. They don’t care if they’re much better off than their parents or their grandparents if they personally are worse off than last year or the year before. And if they’re minorities, especially African Americans, they’re not all that happy being better off than they were last year if they’re still worse off than non-minorities, especially if they’ve been worse off as a group for centuries… and when they don’t see long-standing injustices and discrimination being effectively addressed.

Add to that the gridlock in Washington, which Trump could and did attack as an outsider, while Clinton was in fact greatly handicapped by her knowledge and experience, simply because if she said in detail why Trump was wrong she was defending a system that all too many Americans dislike and distrust. And if she used detailed policies, which she did, that caricatured her as a bureaucrat for many and reinforced the image of someone who was just another untrustworthy politician.

Nor could Clinton connect that effectively with many women, even despite Trump’s clearly expressed misogyny.

Clinton’s policies may indeed have been better for minorities and possibly even for most Trump supporters, but she couldn’t connect with those voters personally. She couldn’t make them feel that she understood their pain and problems.

Trump could… and did, because, in the end, politics is relative… and personal. And that is why he is President-elect.

Deceptive “Fairness”

The local newspaper had two articles dealing with the two major party Presidential candidates this morning. The one featuring Donald Trump was headlined,“Trump not only billionaire who turned to politics.” The one featuring Hillary Clinton was entitled “Promises by Clinton Might be hard to keep.” Both articles were of two columns, and both featured pictures of the candidates speaking, and both were set at the same height on the page opposite the editorial page, which did not feature an endorsement.

The “problems” story only dealt with Clinton’s possible difficulties in keeping her promises on taxes and the deficit and debt, and did not mention at all the fiscal impossibilities of Trump’s tax plans. The “Billionaire” story mentioned that, while Trump was the first U.S. billionaire to seek the presidency, other wealthy Americans, such as Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush, had sought and won the Presidency. It then went on to mention billionaires in other countries who had been elected to high office.

The superficial fairness reveals the editorial set of the paper without ever actually declaring a stance. First, whoever wins is going to have problems keeping their promises, and it’s more likely that Trump will actually have more trouble doing so even if he has a Republican House and Senate, simply because he’s promised more that is impossible, given technical, legal, Constitutional, and economic limitations. Yet by highlighting only Clinton’s difficulties the editors have created the impression that Trump is more “reasonable” and practical.

This is only one newspaper, and I’m more than certain that other news media have done the same thing, in a way to benefit one candidate or the other, but what bothers me about this is that, in years past, there was at least a vestige of impartial coverage. When the supposed “news” media engage in deception, whether overt or covert, this erodes their credibility – something that, ironically, Trump has charged repeatedly, especially when the media has been brutally factual about his foibles, and something which may have benefited him more than Clinton.

And, whether I like Trump or not, the issue he’s raised is real, despite the fact that the very reason he’s become a viable candidate is exactly because the media has turned from an emphasis on factual reporting to an emphasis on sensation and dollars. The more sensationalism becomes the basis of supposed “reporting,” the less that reporting is trusted, yet paradoxically, the more effective it becomes in reinforcing people’s personal biases, because most people, knowing the media is not impartial, more and more pick out only that news that suits their mindset to accept as “true.”

In essence, then, the emphasis on the bottom line not only bolsters profits, but boosts societal polarization at a time when we need more societal cooperation, not less. And I have yet to see anyone in the media who seems to recognize this. If there is, and there may well be, they certainly haven’t gotten media coverage. Go figure that.

Facts and Feelings

The current Presidential campaign has become ever more bitter as we approach the election, with partisans on both sides venting their feelings. Unfortunately for all of us, the election has become more and more about feelings than facts.

Facts are often those inconvenient examples, or bodies of data, or numbers that don’t quite fit neatly into any ideology or belief. People feel strongly that “free trade” is either good or bad. The facts say, rather convincingly, as a recent series in The Economist summed up, that free trade provides lower prices for everyone, on average a bit less than 40% lower in the U.S., and that the benefit is greater the lower one’s income happens to be. But free trade isn’t all that good for those formerly employed in certain sectors. Free trade means that millions of Americans in manufacturing industries, especially textiles,apparel, and steel, lost their jobs.

Technology is also a very mixed bag. Yes, computers and associated have revolutionized the American workplace and improved communications and entertainment, data processing, accounting, etc., but those same technologies have automated American manufacturing and reduced the number of good-paying jobs for semi-skilled workers, with the result that the combination of globalized free trade and automation has eliminated some six million U.S. manufacturing jobs since 2005. Technology has also significantly contributed to the restructuring of the entire U.S. economy, putting a premium on higher-skill jobs and adding to the forces that have created greater income inequality.

Likewise, improvements in energy production, including fracking, and automation of coal mining, have lowered the real prices of natural gas and oil, and that has reduced the numbers of coal mining jobs and driven a number of major coal companies into bankruptcy and some entirely out of business. Less coal production results in the production of cleaner electric power, but fracking creates new environmental problems.

Despite all the efforts by the Federal Reserve and central bankers around the world, there’s no way to make money cheaper for borrowers than it is, and that cheap money hasn’t done much to spur job creation. With massive deficits in government spending, not only in the United States, but around the world, reducing taxes will only make deficits greater, because any tax cut large enough to create a meaningful stimulus will ensure financial collapse within a few years.

These are facts. No amount of feelings or political rhetoric is going to change them. People aren’t going to willingly pay 20-40% more for goods at a time when middle class income is essentially stagnant, if not lower, and when the real incomes of those below the middle class level have, on average, declined. Government can’t cut taxes significantly, because it won’t be able to borrow enough to pay its bills, and if it prints that much more money, that risks destroying the entire financial system.

Do I see any real discussion on these points? Hell no. I see people frothing at the mouth over Trump’s crudeness and sexual predation, but not attacking or discussing his non-existent knowledge of government or economics, or his simplistic and unworkable, but highly popular [with his suppporters] plans. I see others fuming over what Clinton may have hidden in her emails and the sexual history of her husband, or inaccurate scare-mongering about how she’ll eliminate the second amendment [which she can’t], but not about the implications of her infrastructure programs or the details of her proposed changes to taxes.

Nor do I see any discussion of the voters’ tendency to always want more programs and lower taxes, which is one reason why we’re in the mess we’re in. After all, taxes and spending are truly controlled, not by who is President, but by the Congress, and with the exception of a year or so at the end of the first Bush Administration and some of the Clinton administration, for the last forty years, neither party has had the guts to say no to popular pressure.

It’s so much easier to mount personal attacks on the other side than to deal with the critical issues, especially if you have one candidate who doesn’t even know anything about what really caused the problems that fuel his anger and that of his supporters and the other who essentially ignores the losses so strongly felt by her opponent’s supporters. But then, they both know, Trump more than Clinton, that this election isn’t about facts. For most people, it’s all about feelings, especially anger, and that’s what makes the entire election process and what will follow so potentially dangerous.

November Surprise

Some of the latest polls are suggesting that Donald Trump might win the Presidential election. That would seem to be the greatest surprise in U.S. presidential elections at least since the Dewey-Truman election of 1948, but the closeness of the election isn’t all that much of a surprise to me, for a number of reasons.

First, what appears to be an overwhelming majority of non-college educated white men are angry, really angry, for a number of reasons. Older men in this group feel that they’ve had the economic rug pulled out from under them by the change in manufacturing technology and the globalization of the world economy. Younger men in this group are having a hard time finding even halfway decently paying jobs. Both want to blame somebody, and they don’t want to listen to anything realistic about what has happened and why. It’s much easier to listen to the wild and impossible promises of a candidate who also seems to share their feelings.

Second, there are the younger people, many of whom were attracted to Bernie Sanders. They’re facing or already enduring the high cost of education, or even precluded from that education by the higher costs… and they want that changed now, and many of them feel that Hillary Clinton denied them to chance to vote for Bernie Sanders, the candidate who promised what amounts to educational pie-in-the-sky. And while Trump isn’t promising them much, except “good jobs, lots of wonderful good jobs,” or some rhetoric to that effect, a number of the younger voters appear disinclined to vote for Clinton because she won’t go so far as Bernie in what she promises.

Both groups want everything, and they want it now, even if it’s financially, legally, and economically impossible.

Then, there’s the “elephant in the room,” the elephant – and it’s not the GOP, at least not this time — is the fact that much of the United States retains a patriarchal mindset, so much so that, as I’ve repeatedly noted, Clinton gets blasted for being the untruthful one, when Trump’s lies and misstatements are more than twice as frequent as hers. As one of my readers noted, she’s being investigated for acts that weren’t even questioned when male Republican politicians did the same things, and, also, interestingly enough, those who are flocking to third party candidates are rallying around the men, despite the fact that the sole “national-level” independent woman appears to be far better qualified than either of the two leading male “independents.”

I’m getting this feeling that all too many voters in the U.S. would rather have a womanizing, crude, lewd, cheating, unscrupulous, and incompetent male than a competent woman who has a few flaws in that she exhibits some, but not all, of the characteristics of almost all male politicians. I’m hoping that this blatant misogyny doesn’t result in Trump’s election, but if he’s elected this next Tuesday, don’t say I didn’t tell you. Even if Clinton wins, if the election is as close as it appears, that also says a great deal about too many American voters, and what it says is less than favorable in all too many ways.

But then, I’m just a writer who spent almost twenty years in politics. I really don’t understand why an incompetent lying “fresh face” that’s male is to be preferred over a somewhat flawed but competent and experienced woman.