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Monday, January 1, 2018

Trumponian Economics

I sent WHAT’S RED, BLUE, AND BROKE ALL OVER? AMERICA. to my faithful correspondents and California Bob replied at length. Evidently I'm getting led around by the nose, just like most Americans.

First, Kotkin betrays his bias when he describe's the Recovery and Reinvestment Act as a "transit" project** -- it was actually for myriad projects, including highways, railways, bridges, airports, and transit, as well as homeland security, and even extending broadband reach, which most would agree is a good thing, though maybe it just enables more "couch sitters."  It may have created that 400-lb guy sitting on a bed somewhere who rigged the election.

But it's true that everyone needs a job -- more specifically, it's a good idea to keep people productive and engaged in society so they don't languish and become alienated internet trolls, or worse.  When large numbers of people start to fall through the cracks, it can create problems.  And if people are working at truly productive jobs, it enhances the economy as a whole.  Unlike my job, where we are burning other people's capital to create a dubious product of contrived value.  But we're not the first by any means.

I sort of like the concept of managed back-to-work programs, like the WPA/CCC.  One wonders in our economy hasn't developed to the point where the private sector could do this better.  After all we're not talking about millions of hobos prowling the byways looking for their next meal, for whom we need to set up camps to keep them from starving or turning violent.  We're mostly talking about overweight people sitting on their couches, watching satellite television and poking their iPhones; they're not working because the available jobs "don't pay enough."  Those jobs go to economic refugees from other lands -- agricultural, restaurant, janitorial jobs.

So maybe instead of a large government program, something more subtle might work.  Some 17 states are going to increase the minimum wage today, Jan. 1.

In any case, the GOP has no appetite for big government programs.  They opposed Obama's Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and they grumbled about the "trillion dollar" infrastructure idea that Trump once mentioned.  After all they just passed a tax cut that will make the national debt skyrocket.

Indeed the GOP currently seems to want to strangle the government.  The Trump admin is leaving all kinds of jobs vacant, appointing unqualified and rash political operatives to the bench and key administrative posts, and whether it's the intent or not, the result is going to be the hollowing out of government, top-level corruption as seen in the kleptocracies, insolvency, and ultimately, a failure of the institutions, and triumphant cries of "government doesn't work" by the victors.

In fact I am now counting on the civil service and the bureacracy to preserve our institutions against subversive leadership.

People aren't going to miss the precious institutions of civil society, rule-of-law, enlightened democracy, transparency, low corruption, public education, independent judiciary, etc., until they are gone.

Many [of] you won't notice -- as when the Interior Secretary handed his Whitefish Energy friend tens of millions of dollars to "work" in Puerto Rico.  This new administration started lining their pockets right out of the gate.  And people won't notice when they start letting Nabisco put cement in the Oreos, and those stomach problems you start getting will just be your bad attitude, or God's will....

In my review of history, unregulated free-for-all societies can produce examples of great progress, but they're not typically examples of just egalitarian societies.  If you look at the industrial revolution or the colonial British empire, along with the great fortunes made there was plenty of widespread misery.  At least modern Americans can find jobs if they want them, and they enjoy protections on wages, hours, and working conditions (for now).

Libertarianism is a seductive thing, but I think I'm better off with traffic signals, and someone enforcing that there be no mercury in my Funyuns.

Anyway..Kotkin.  Kotkin derides the "intangible" production of blue states, and lauds the value of the agriculture, energy and manufacturing sectors in the red states -- but doesn't mention that the blue states contribute far more tax dollars to the Feds than they get back, whereas most of the "valuable" red states are net moochers off the Feds.  Not trying to be derogatory, but value is value, and is generally measurable.

Coal jobs?  Even if you're pro-pollution, coal just isn't competitive against nat gas.   The Energy department's scheme to subsidize coal must be a political sop to coal states.

Don't like technology or green energy?  Don't worry, if they're not sustainable they'll eventually fail on their own, but you can't keep scientists from researching stuff they're interested in, or capitalists from subsidizing it.

Don't like finance, media, and tourism?  Again, if they're not sustainable they'll fail, but under current law these industries are allowed to operate.

If Kotkin's argument is that the Feds should pump more money into basic industries, subsidizing manufacturing, coal, energy, agriculture ... that's a point of view.  Seems I'm hearing a lot of : "Erect trade barriers, impose tariffs, deport cheap labor, tax cuts for manufacturers so they have more working capital."

1. Trade restrictions WILL increase the cost of imported goods (which is virtually everything).
2. Less unskilled labor WILL increase costs in those industries (agriculture, food service, janitorial, construction), and the costs or availability of those goods (food, which could stand to be a good bit more expensive; restaurants, who cares, though it's a huge industry; construction -- has to put upward pressure on house costs.  Can't help anyway).
3. Tax cuts for industry -- well, tax cuts are good, though biggest beneficiaries as always will be at the top of the food chain (owners and management).  And again tax cuts cause fiscal problems for the government, which is a separate topic.

He might be right. You could argue about several of his points, but that's what we do, isn't it? While Trump has numerous faults, I'm not sure he is going to have any worse of an effect on the country than any other president. I suspect we might have become so successful that our empire is becoming Byzantine, which will lead to our collapse sometime in next five or ten centuries. Or next Tuesday. Or maybe I just need a better source of information.

  * I posted it here yesterday.
** transit is only 6% of the bill.

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