55 It’s Not 1934

Wanted: A name for the hypertrophied fear of Trump that’s overcome so many — maybe most — of his opponents.  Do you really need examples? There was the ThinkProgress editor terrified of his plumber:

He was a perfectly nice guy and a consummate professional. But he was also a middle-aged white man with a Southern accent who seemed unperturbed by this weeks news. … I couldn’t stop thinking about whether he had voted for Trump, whether he knew my last name is Jewish … I couldn’t shake the sense of potential danger. I was rattled for some time after he left.

More recently, here’s Adam Gopnik in one of  those New Yorker paragraphs so classily convoluted you don’t notice the embedded hooey:

Assaults on free speech; the imprisoning of critics and dissidents; attempts, on the Russian model, likely to begin soon, to intimidate critics of the regime with fake charges and conjured-up allegations; the intimidation and intolerance of even mild dissidence (that “Apologize!” tweet directed at members of the “Hamilton” cast who dared to politely petition Mike Pence); not to mention mass deportations or attempts at discrimination by religion—all things that the Trump and his cohorts have openly contemplated or even promised—are not part of the normal oscillations of power and policy. They are unprecedented and, history tells us, likely to be almost impossible to reverse. … [**]

The best way to be sure that 2017 is not 1934 is to act as though it were.

Of course, you don’t need these examples if you have Democratic Facebook friends.  Just read their posts — alarms about journalists jailed and killed, brownshirts, ethnic cleansing, pervasive surveillance, people living in fear, exterminationist violence, the whole nein yards. They’re scared.

The thing is, they’re not poseurs — they’re sensible citizens. They are, many of them, my friends. They’re in no way ignorant. That’s why the dismissive label “Trump Derangement Syndrome” doesn’t seem an accurate description (in addition to being belittling and ineffective). If they see the seeds of authoritarianism in Trump’s “Hamilton” tweet — or more plausibly in his suggestion that he might pick and choose which reporters can attend briefings … well, sure. Those are seeds. There’ve been seeds before, of course. There were the seeds of authoritarianism in Truman bullying a press critic who panned his daughter’s singing. There were more than seeds in Roosevelt’s NRA, in Nixon’s wiretapping and J. Edgar Hoover’s longrunning COINTELPRO surveillance and harrassment of dissenters.

It’s not deranged to extrapolate from seed to tree, and to worry that the relative handful of alt-righters (50,000 ?) and smaller handful of anti-Semitic trolls (1,600?)  might produce something very bad. You can imagine a world where Jews are attacked by their plumbers. My mother grew up in such a world (Frankfurt, Germany in 1933) and I’m here because her parents had the good sense to flee.

It’s thinking that such development–from seed to tree–is at all likely today that seems … well, wrong. Let’s call it wrong!  We have strong counter-majoritarian institutions (including an independent judiciary) and a culture that supports them. The idea that Trump is going to mobilize some army of thuggish supporters to intimidate the press, the courts, the opposition party and half of his own party seems a fever dream, no less feverish because of its rational basis.

Yet those who adhere to this unnamed tendency — let’s call it ’34ism, unless you can come up with a better name *** –allow the power of their terrifying dream to overwhelm sober consideration of everything Trump does or intends to do, good or bad (on trade, taxes, regulations, immigration, etc). We’re supposed to draw up sides — condemning (and ostracizing) those who are “complicit” in Trump’s administration and welcoming those who “stand on the right side of history” — even before we know whether the authoritarian seed will grow or wither, disregarding all the other positively auspicious seeds (reform of trade, control of borders, fewer foreign miliary adventures,  ending the Republican threat to Social Security and Medicare, etc.) that might flourish instead. In Slate 34ist Yascha Mounk’s head it’s practically Life During Wartime already, with brave Trump critics fired from their jobs, sleeping on the couches of their secret colleagues in the Resistance. Keep the car running.

Suggested alternative: See what happens first! Don’t let the reaction to Trump be dominated by one extremely unlikely bad possibility, at the expense of nurturing the far-more-likely good possibilities.

Coming in next post: How does 1934ism go away? Is it enough that the brownshirts don’t appear? (Spoiler: Maybe not.)


**– The Hooey: Gopnik says authoritarian measures against critics “are unprecedented and, history tells us, likely to be almost impossible to reverse.” This is fatuous on both counts. 1) Even direct assaults on free speech are far from unprecedented –e.g. the Sedition Act of 1798, passed not too long after our nation’s founding, or the imprisonment of Eugene Debs for opposing World War I. 2) They also haven’t been that hard to reverse. The Sedition Act was repealed in Thomas Jefferson’s term expired in 1801 after Jefferson campaigned against it and the House voted down an attempted renewal. It’s highly doubtful that Debs could be imprisoned under current First Amendment law — the opposite of what Gopnik declares “history tells us”.

*** — Better name ideas appreciated — just put them in the comments section below, or tweet them to @kausmickey. Thanks.

4 No, Robots Don’t Kill Trumpism

R.U.R vs. M.A.G.A.: The New York Times suggests that Trumpism is undone by robots:

Donald J. Trump told workers like Ms. Johnson that he would bring back their jobs by clamping down on trade, offshoring and immigration. But economists say the bigger threat to their jobs has been something else: automation.

Sure … but while it may be true that over time automation has been eating up unskilled (and skilled) jobs by the millions, that doesn’t vitiate Trump’s point.

a) For most unskilled jobs shipped offshore (like assembly line work) maybe robots would’ve “eventually eliminated those jobs anyway.” But not for all of them. Call centers, for example, haven’t been completely automated out of existence. Yet they can be (and are) offshored. Bringing them back would bring back some un-robotized jobs.

b) Even if all jobs global trade has sent offshore were instead done by robots, there will still be some unskilled jobs left that have to be performed here. Do we let undocumented immigrants stream into the country to do those jobs more inexpensively? Or do we tell American employers they have to hire from the finite pool of citizens, legal residents, and legal immigrants? “Clamping down on immigration” suddenly becomes more important, not less, as automation makes unskilled jobs less abundant.  If stopping outsourcing no longer has much impact (when robots take all the once-outsourced jobs), controlling immigration may be the main lever we have left if we want to tighten the labor market (and raise wages) for the unskilled jobs that remain.

In the not-so-distant future we may even come to regard unskilled jobs as precious assets, to be reserved for our fellow citizens and residents. After all, the alternative for those who can’t easily acquire marketable skills is unemployment or some kind of dignity-sapping dole (e.g. disability, or the much-discussed universal dole, or UBI).

That seems like an alternative to be avoided as long as possible. ….



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6 Borjas for Council of Economic Advisers

Here’s why Harvard economist George Borjas would be an inspired choice to run the Council of Economic Advisers in Trump’s White House. Put aside questions of formal qualifications, of which he has plenty— Prof. Borjas may be the nation’s most prominent economist when it comes Trump’s big issue, immigration. He’s certainly the most prominent economist sympathetic to Trump’s side. Specifically, Borjas refutes the comforting “narrative” that more immigration is “good for everyone,” arguing that it helps some groups (immigrants, employers) but hurts others — especially low-skilled Americans (and immigrants already here), against whom the newcomers compete. That’s the same group most obviously hurt by global trade. And it’s the heart of Trump’s winning constituency.

What happens if Trump names Borjas? He’ll be highly controversial. Which is great. There’ll be hearings — attention-getting hearings at which Borjas will be attacked as borderline deplorable by the small industry of well-funded economists and think-tankers who argue, counterintuitively, that immigration is an area where the laws of supply and demand don’t apply. (Flooding the market with new workers doesn’t lower wages! Not a #Slatepitch.) These critics may well have some good points to make (though in his latest book, We Wanted Workers, Borjas leaves one of the more prominent critics, Giovanni Peri, for dead like Darth Vader laid out on the lava banks of Mustafar). But if there’s a real argument, so much the better for the cause of making the Dem-leaning press aware that immigration control isn’t a matter of racism, or fear of “the other,” but largely a question of hard, dollars-and-cents economics for those (lower skilled workers) already hurt by modern economic trends (automation as well as trade). Let’s have it out! It’ll be like Kellyanne Conway vs. Mitt Romney, or Kellyanne Conway vs. Jennifer Palmieri! The noisier the better. Borjas will more than hold his own.

In the process, he might also address some other confounding issues (confounding to me, anyway): how, exactly, would mass immigration cure Lawrence Summers’ “secular stagnation”, as advertised, in a way that benefited the average worker? Is there really a skills “bottleneck” holding back production, or is that a fiction devised by employers who want to bring in cheaper foreigners? Will more immigrants help save Social Security? Is there any hope of luring more Americans into the labor force? The last chapter of Borjas’ book suggests he’ll address these, and other, issues with a mixture of professional creativity and humanity. (Example: Borjas estimates every 10 percent increase in the supply of unskilled labor lowers wages 3 to 10 percent. But he still favors a “mixed-skill” policy that lets in some unskilled immigrants for non-economic, humanitarian reasons–though maybe not from the Middle East.) He’s pro-assimilation, while worried about evidence of our eroding ability to assimilate the immigrants we’re getting.

Above all, he’s learned the hard way about the conformist power of PC narratives and conventions (e.g. “today’s immigrants are just like yesterday’s!”) — and the need to upend them when they don’t match reality. On Trump’s best days, that seems to be his calling as well.


“Boosting wages is really hard to do” bv.ms/2fWcqrK [Cough] Tighten labor markets by having a border [Cough]!

| 2 months ago on Twitter