Monday, November 21, 2016

“We’ll just have to see.”

This past weekend, my parents and I stumbled into a conversation with a Trump supporter.

“The media was so biased against him, they took what he said and presented it out of context to make him look bad. I want to keep an open mind. We’ll see what he’s actually going to do.”

“What about his appointment of Steve Bannon?”

“Well, I’m not a big fan of that, but we’ll just have to see.”

“They’re still talking about a ban on Muslims, and justifying it by saying it’s not as bad as the internment camps where we locked up Japanese-Americans during World War II.”

“It’s not going to come to that.”

“But what will you do if it does?”

“It won’t.”

“A lot of decent Germans didn’t think Hitler would go as far as he did. By the time they realized what he was doing, it was too late.”

“I’ve read lots about German history. Hitler locked up his opponents and shut down press freedom.”

“People at Trump rallies chanted, ‘Lock her up!’ and Trump egged them on.”

“Well that I would agree with.”

“Locking up Hillary?”


“For what crime?”

And from there the conversation pretty much ground down in a pointless circle. But she didn’t have an answer for my Dad’s question, “When will you have seen enough?” She simply was sure that Trump didn’t intend to do anything too bad.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A piece of the puzzle?

How did this happen?

Just in terms of the math, from what I understand, Clinton did pretty well in turn out among demographic groups favorable to her, but Trump simply crushed it with his base. Nate Cohn (cited by Josh Marshall) referred to what he described as the white working class voters, who make up more than 40% of the electorate.

Note: the previous paragraph was based on my impression Wednesday morning when I was writing this. It turns out that turnout was down, and particularly in states that Clinton won. According to 538, it was highest in competitive states, and Trump won most of those, so the underlying point of the first paragraph likely stands: the demographic favorable to Clinton didn't turn out to the extent as did the demographic favorable to Trump.

In county after county that is white rural or white working class, Trump solidly outperformed Mitt Romney's results from 2012, and the turnout in those places was higher than in 2012.

That added up to a series of losses—some small, but still losses—in state after state that Clinton couldn’t afford to lose.

Most people who were pro-Clinton, or at least anti-Trump, will have their own explanation as to why this demographic came out in such numbers and went so strongly for Trump.

In presenting the numbers below, I don’t claim to be discounting other explanations—racial resentment, fear of cultural change, …—I don’t even claim to be right. I’m just putting this out there for reflection.

First, turn to the World Wealth and Income Database, set up by Thomas Piketty and colleagues. The site has compiled data on shares of income going to different slices of the population (e.g., the wealthiest 0.01%, the wealthiest 10%), and average incomes for people in those same slices.

Here’s the story for the shares of income in the U.S. (Note that the orange line for the top 10% is graphed on the right axis, while the other two slices are on the left.)
Starting roughly around 1980, shares for the upper slices of the income stack started rising—slowly at first, then an odd jump in the late 1980s, and continued strong growth after that.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Rhyming history

This afternoon I came across a passage concerning labor conditions in German agriculture in the 1890's, and it struck a chord. Conditions on farms in the eastern part of the country were harsh, and wages were quite low. People emigrated to the western part of Germany, and to America, so the great landowners had trouble getting enough labor to work their holdings.

First there's the familiarity of the complaint and the type of remedy proposed:
For a time, the Agrarian, or Conservative Socialist party, to which the great landowners belonged, was wholly in favor of reactionary measures, such as the limitation of the right of free migration, higher protective duties upon foreign produce, and more stringent legislation against breach of contract on the part of domestic servants and farm laborers.
The blogger Atrios often highlights examples of businesses complaining about the lack of available workers, when what they really mean is that they're having trouble hiring good people at the wages they're willing to pay.

If you can't get people to stay and work on your farm for the wages you're paying, then you need to pay more. If you can't afford to pay more, then someone is doing a better job of producing food than you are. And if you can afford to pay more but just don't want to, perhaps out of a sense that "those people should know their place," then it's not really an economic problem.

The second resonance with the present came a little further down the page:
With regard to the east, on the contrary, Dr. Weber point out ... that unless some means can be adopted for checking the outflow of the German population, there is every reason to fear that their places will be supplied by an inroad of Slavs, and that thus an element of disintegration already existing will be increased.

First you pay crap wages, so that the local population has better things to do than stick around and get a miserable reward for their hard work. Then people come in from the neighboring country, where farm labor is paid so poorly that even the crap wages you offer are an improvement, an opportunity. And you complain about them sullying your population.

It's hardly a new phenomenon for people to want something without having to pay for it - to want people to grow their food while hardly paying them enough to live on.

And racial anxiety about dilution of supposedly superior groups by immigration of "inferiors" is also an old idea.

But it's a bit rich for people to simultaneously complain about the difficulty finding workers willing to work at crap wages and complain about the racial or ethnic unsuitability of the folks who are willing to work for so little.

A bit rich, but sadly, also not new. Welcome to America of the 21st century ... or Germany of the 1890's.

Excerpted passages from Royal Commission on Labor, Foreign Reports: Germany (London, 1893), p. 52, reprinted in Theodore S. Hamerow, The age of Bismarck: documents and interpretations, Harper Torchbooks, 1973, p. 186