The American Affairs Journal, the self-appointed ideological caretaker of Trump’s populism, has published a statement of policy . . . and it’s gawdawful. It might be summarized as “reclaiming populism from the Democratic Party” or “We Want Our Progressive Movement Back!” If you look closely, you can almost see Matt Yglesias’ fat bald head staring back at you. As the editors point out, Bernie Trump is their real hero:
Throughout 2016, the media presented both Trump and Sanders as essentially lunatics. The former was supposed to be seen as evil and the latter adorable, but neither was supposed to be taken seriously. Yet it was they who addressed the serious concerns of the electorate.
Anyways, some highlights:
Trade: Trade policy is a key area of focus for us and a broad topic that includes everything from tariffs to monetary policy and more . . . At bottom, however, rethinking trade means rethinking the theoretical foundations of economics and moving beyond the textbook abstractions that have justified decades of failed policy.
Um, I think the “textbook abstractions” are the ones where government officials tweak a rate there and a tariff here and *BEEP BOOP BOP* like an engine, THE Economy springs back to life. What’s not an abstraction is that it’s dumb to tax the entire country in order to subsidize a few special interests.
Health care: In general, we support universal health care administered by the government. This could involve an outright “single-payer” system—which we have no ideological objection to—or something like a “Swiss system” . . . The government should also take a much clearer role in controlling costs and setting prices for procedures and prescription drugs . . .
Conservatives’ insistence on “private” health care is at this point purely ideological and counterproductive. We have not had a “free market” health care system in this country for decades, and obscuring that fact only makes it more difficult to improve the system. Today’s small cartel of health insurers no longer offers any meaningful market in the choice of health insurance, which for most people is chosen by their employer anyway. In most circumstances, the choice of actual medical care is hardly governed by market principles.
Yeesh. “Setting prices” does not “control costs.” It never has and it never will because prices are not costs. Prices are dynamic signals: to entrepreneurs they whisper “supply here,” and to consumers “demand here.” If you mess with those signals, then you just confuse people and the result is shortages and surpluses, i.e. supply untethered from demand. Again, it’s like the lobsters and the herring (or starvation and disease in Venezuela) — these problems are way too complicated for any central decisionmaker to grasp, let alone solve. As Poppa Milton once said, if you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.
The editors are at least correct that “we have not had a ‘free market’ health care system in this country for decades.” However, their solution — total government ownership of the healthcare industry — is lunacy that betrays their own ignorance of the “theoretical foundations of economics” they claim to “rethink.”
On Financial Regulation:
Financial regulation: Financial regulation is by nature complex and difficult to summarize, though we support measures such as the elusive “Glass-Steagall for the 21st Century” and the closing of the “carried-interest loophole.” The deregulation that occurred during the Clinton and Bush administrations has rightly been blamed for contributing to the financial crisis, but trade and other imbalances contributed to the expansion of the financial industry and its bubbles as well.
Durrr, it sure is complicated but one thing we know for certain is that regulations (that we can’t explain) definitely, 100% would have stopped a financial crisis (that we also can’t explain). ‘Nuff said. Bernie Trump! Goldman Sachs, rawwwr!
Immigration: Although it has become something of a cliché, we favor a “Canadian” approach to immigration. Streamlining high-skill immigration while limiting low-skill—and eliminating illegal—immigration offers one means to support wage growth.
It’s only partly terrible, and again, the rationale is stupid. “Wage growth” in isolation is just cost growth and making things more expensive will cannibalize any perceived increases to income. Imagine if New York City made it illegal for non-native New Yorkers to work in New York City — now, consider how much more expensive financial services would be at that point (before the whole industry finally moved to a different part of the country leaving hollowed out
factories sky scrapers behind). You don’t have to think hard — financial services are already incredibly expensive given the currently regulatory barriers to entry. Productivity is what you’re shooting for, i.e. making the pie bigger, and not scarfing a larger slice of the pie. When the salt of the earth complains that healthcare costs too much they can blame the healthcare labor cartels who only wanted their turn at “wage growth.”
As for the stuff I skipped, there are bits on taxes (make them simpler and more protectionist), infrastructure (build it), tech (army gizmos) and foreign policy (America First). Only the last (and sorta the first/second) is a coherent view, but query whether it’s a prudent one.
The editors conclude with a somewhat muddled love/hate rant about technocracy, but if I were to summarize, it’s: “Let’s geographically reorient progressive statism around the Unite States — the folks right here — rather than the United City-States of New York, Paris, London, San Francisco, Berlin and Brussels.”
The wonk’s conceit is that “politics” is simply a matter of tinkering with administrative arcana, a pastime best reserved for former or aspiring bureaucrats and lobbyists. The “policy innovation” preferred by the wonk mistakes complexity for seriousness and masks a fundamental affirmation of the status quo. Proposals for tweaking interstate barber licensing requirements or altering the opt-in clauses of health savings accounts, for instance, are ultimately as inconsequential as they are soporific. They are excuses to justify think-tank donations more than anything else . . .
The new “populism” has identifiable legislative commitments, yet its radicalism resides not in implausible policy demands but in a new intellectual outlook. It is about recognizing that the ideological categories of Right and Left are no longer relevant to the essential questions of the present. It is about recognizing that today’s economy has little in common with Adam Smith’s capitalism and that there is no longer a straightforward policy choice between the “free market” and “government intervention.”
It is about recognizing that leaving the people out of decision making results in a more fragile and dangerous politics. The choice is not between the apolitical individualism of universal consumerism and the ever-shifting narratives of identity politics. These are merely different sides of the same globalist, neoliberal coin. The true alternative is the reconstitution of a common American citizenship that stands in contrast to both. The essential task is the redefinition of the American people’s distinctive interests in the present, and their unique hopes for the future.
Donald Trump is and always has been a Democrat, i.e. a statist. He terrifies the Democratic party because (among other things) he’s reclaiming their brutish playbook for its original constituency and geographic locale. Democrats can’t really argue with any of these policies, so to oppose Trump, they’re forced to admit that they really, really don’t like his constituency. “The policies work, they’re just not for you, you ugly, no good nationalist patriots. Borders are so last century. Global cantons are where it’s at and we’ll never let you in our cities anyway!”
When both coalitions are essentially Leftist/statist in their outlook, that’s bad news bears for liberals.