Krugman’s blog, 8/11/15

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Tea and Trumpism:”

Memo to pollsters: while I’m having as much fun as everyone else watching the unsinkable Donald defy predictions of his assured collapse, what I really want to see at this point is a profile of his supporters. What characteristics predispose someone to like this guy, as opposed to accepting the establishment candidates?

The reason I’d like to see such a poll is that I suspect that both conservative and liberal pundits are still getting the Trump phenomenon wrong. And yes, that’s the kind of statement — hey, left and right both wrong! — that I usually hate when other pundits do it. But in my case it’s not knee-jerk centrism, it’s an informed guess based on some related evidence.

Right now, the conservative explanation of the GOP’s onset of DTs is, as best I can figure, that base voters are victims of celebrity; what they really want is a true conservative, but they’re being hijacked and hoodwinked by someone who makes good TV.

Meanwhile, the liberal version, as I’ve seen it, seems to be that Trump is appealing to resentment that ultimately rests on economic failure: working-class whites have been left behind by soaring inequality, but they mistakenly blame immigrants taking their jobs.

But are Trumpists being hoodwinked? Are they members of the suffering working class who don’t understand why they’re hurting? OK, here’s my guess: they look a lot like Tea Party supporters. And we do know a fair bit about that group.

First of all, Tea Party supporters are for the most part not working-class, at least in the senses that group is often defined. They’rerelatively affluent, and not especially lacking in college degrees.

So what is distinctive about them? Alan Abramowitz:

While conservatism is by far the strongest predictor of support for the Tea Party movement, racial hostility also has a significant impact on support.

So maybe Trump’s base is angry, fairly affluent white racists — sort of like The Donald himself, only not as rich? And maybe they’re not being hoodwinked?

Now, you might ask why angry racists are busting out of the channels the GOP constructed to direct their rage. But there, surely, we have to take account of two things: the real changes in America, which is becoming more socially and culturally diverse, plus the Fox News effect, which has created an angry white guy feedback loop.

Again, this is just guesswork until we have a real profile of typical Trump supporter. But for what it’s worth, I think the Trump phenomenon is much more grounded in fundamentals than the commentariat yet grasps.

Yesterday’s second post was “Competitiveness and Class Warfare:”

For reasons not entirely clear to me, recently I found myself thinking about Lester Thurow’s Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe, and America. For those too young, or who don’t remember, Thurow’s book was a monster best-seller in the early 1990s; it resonated with many people who feared that America was losing its economic edge, that Japan was an unstoppable juggernaut, and so on. And it also played into the general notion of global economics as a struggle for competitive advantage, which is a perennial popular favorite.

I was pretty critical of that notion at the time, arguing that economic success or failure had little to do with international competition. But what I found myself thinking about was the question of who really did best in the decades that followed Thurow’s book. And the answer is … nobody.

The chart shows real GDP per working-age adult (15-64) in France, Japan, and America since 1990. The demographic correction is important: Japan has lagged economically, but a lot of that is just demography.


What’s striking here is how similar the three look. Japan lagged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but recovered. France has lagged since 2010, largely thanks to the eurozone crisis and its misguided austerity policies. But given how much rhetoric there is about structural problems here and there, what’s striking is how little divergence there has been among advanced countries.

What this tells you, I think, isn’t just that international competition is far less important than legend has it. It also suggests that economic growth is pretty insensitive to policy: France and the US are at the extremes of advanced-country regimes, yet there’s not much difference in their long-term performance.

But does this say that policy doesn’t matter? Not at all. For while there is not, repeat not, anything like the zero-sum competition among nations so beloved of business types, there really is the question of who gets the gains. U.S. economic growth has been OK these past 25 years; US family incomes, not so much, because such a large share of growth goes to the very top.

International competition is a mostly bogus notion; class warfare is very, very real.

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One Response to “Krugman’s blog, 8/11/15”

  1. Jeff Sells Says:

    On Tea & Trumpism:

    Yep, Racism might be a factor, but disgust with Government as Usual may be even a stronger rallying point for well-heeled tea-partiers. There’s satisfaction in watching The Donald kick butt and take names ‘midst the annointed of the GOP, especially those associated with our highly-paid, do-nothing Congress.

    Calling our past & present leadership “stupid”, and disdaining wimpy “PC” language, taps into deep, long-standing frustration with America’s perceived decline…

    For GOP nominees, the contest may be won by whomever can project the greatest contempt for Washington.

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