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.