Blow and Krugman

In “Trump’s Rural White America” Mr. Blow says shifting demographics contribute to the sharp political divisions seen in this year’s election.  Prof. Krugman, in “Trump Slump Coming?”, says don’t count on an immediate disaster after the next president takes office.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

As I watched last week as protesters took to the streets in big cities, what struck me was the vast and growing divide between America’s rural and urban populations and their politics and sensibilities.

One look at county maps of this year’s election results and you see what looks like a handful of blueberries sprinkled on an endless spread of red sauce (between the blue coasts). And yet, it is likely that the final result will be that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, although Donald Trump won the electoral vote and therefore the election.

Part of the reason for this is that, as a census report noted last year: “U.S. cities are home to 62.7 percent of the U.S. population but comprise just 3.5 percent of land area.”

Indeed, a 2013 analysis by Business Insider found that “half of the United States population is clustered in just the 146 biggest counties out of over 3000,” according to Census data.

Fourteen states — a few in the Plains, a few in the Deep South and a few in New England — contained none of those “biggest counties” and another 19 only contained one or two of those counties.

Furthermore we are seeing a corrosive decline in faith in our institutions.

There are many reasons that people lose faith in institutions. They cluster and perpetuate money and power among the few, often at the expense of the many. Their very weight in the cluster and the tremendous influence they wield makes them ripe for corruption and malfeasance.

Another likely reason is that, for many of the white working-class voters, particularly in the “rural countryside of the North” as The New York Times put it, these institutions are increasingly foreign.

Institutions are largely urban. The federal government is in Washington, D.C.. The financial center is in New York. New York is also the publishing capital and home to cable and broadcast news. Hollywood is in California. Our Ivy League schools are in a handful of Northeastern states. Our most influential cultural institutions — museums, performance companies and spaces, music studios — are in big cities. The same can be said for our most influential newspapers.

Furthermore, there are two complimentary and compounding internal migratory patterns that exacerbate the divide: At the same time that young people are moving out of rural areas and into urban ones, a 2009 United States Department of Agriculture report pointed out that “members of the baby boom cohort, now 45-63 years old, are approaching a period in their lives when moves to rural and small-town destinations increase.”

This makes the places these people are leaving and the places they’re going both more homogeneous. Young people tend to be more liberal as well as more educated. Baby boomers are more conservative. In fact, a 2015 Gallup report found that “older generations have twice as many conservatives as liberals.”

Add to this brain drain the diversity factor in cities. As the International Business Times pointed out in 2011:

“Non-Hispanic whites are now minority in 22 of the country’s 100-biggest urban areas, including those surrounding Washington, New York, San Diego, Las Vegas and Memphis. The reversal is being fueled by a growth in Hispanic and Asian populations — they grew by 41 and 43 percent, respectively — and the fact that white populations have grown by less than one percent.”

Furthermore, urban areas, rather than rural ones, are magnets for new immigrants from other countries and, as a 2014 Pew Research report found, this immigrant population is exploding, providing fertile ground for appeals to rural whites experiencing or worried about economic distress and looking for easy scapegoats for their anxieties:

“In 1990, the U.S. had 19.8 million immigrants. That number rose to a record 40.7 million immigrants in 2012, among them 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants.”

So, rural whites are suspicious of big institutions and big government, located in big cities with big populations of people who don’t look like them.

People in big cities, living cosmopolitan lives among diverse populations that resemble a tub of rainbow-colored ice cream, may be weary of institutions for other reasons, but they are less likely to blame diversity and inclusion for their problems, and are therefore less amenable to the destructive message of Donald Trump.

Earlier this year a working paper published by the Gallup senior economist Jonathan Rothwell found: “This analysis provides clear evidence that those who view Trump favorably are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated ZIP codes and commuting zones. Holding other factors, constant support for Trump is highly elevated in areas with few college graduates, far from the Mexican border, and in neighborhoods that stand out within the commuting zone for being white, segregated enclaves, with little exposure to blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.”

We are living in two diverging Americas at odds and at battle. Trump’s America won this round.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Let’s be clear: Installing Donald Trump in the White House is an epic mistake. In the long run, its consequences may well be apocalyptic, if only because we have probably lost our last, best chance to rein in runaway climate change.

But will the extent of the disaster become apparent right away? It’s natural and, one must admit, tempting to predict a quick comeuppance — and I myself gave in to that temptation, briefly, on that horrible election night, suggesting that a global recession was imminent. But I quickly retractedthat call. Trumpism will have dire effects, but they will take time to become manifest.

In fact, don’t be surprised if economic growth actually accelerates for a couple of years.

Why am I, on reflection, relatively sanguine about the short-term effects of putting such a terrible man, with such a terrible team, in power? The answer is a mix of general principles and the specifics of our current economic situation.

First, the general principles: There is always a disconnect between what is good for society, or even the economy, in the long run, and what is good for economic performance over the next few quarters. Failure to take action on climate may doom civilization, but it’s not clear why it should depress next year’s consumer spending.

Or take the signature Trump issue of trade policy. A return to protectionism and trade wars would make the world economy poorer over time, and would in particular cripple poorer nations that desperately need open markets for their products. But predictions that Trumpist tariffs will cause a recession never made sense: Yes, we’ll export less, but we’ll also import less, and the overall effect on jobs will be more or less a wash.

We’ve already had a sort of dress rehearsal for this disconnect in the case of Brexit, Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. Brexit will make Britain poorer in the long run; but widespread predictions that it would cause a recession were, as some of us pointed out at the time, not really based on careful economic thinking. And sure enough, the Brexit recession doesn’t seem to be happening.

Beyond these general principles, the specifics of our economic situation mean that for a time, at least, a Trump administration might actually end up doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Eight years ago, as the world was plunging into financial crisis, I argued that we’d entered an economic realm in which “virtue is vice, caution is risky, and prudence is folly.” Specifically, we’d stumbled into a situation in which bigger deficits and higher inflation were good things, not bad. And we’re still in that situation — not as strongly as we were, but we could still very much use more deficit spending.

Many economists have known this all along. But they have been ignored, partly because much of the political establishment has been obsessed with the evils of debt, partly because Republicans have been against anything the Obama administration proposes.

Now, however, power has fallen into the hands of a man who definitely doesn’t suffer from an excess of either virtue or prudence. Donald Trump isn’t proposing huge, budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations because he understands macroeconomics. But those tax cuts would add $4.5 trillion to U.S. debt over the next decade — about five times as much as the stimulus of the early Obama years.

True, handing out windfalls to rich people and companies that will probably sit on a lot of the money is a bad, low-bang-for-the-buck way to boost the economy, and I have my doubts about whether the promised surge in infrastructure spending will really happen. But an accidental, badly designed stimulus would still, in the short run, be better than no stimulus at all.

In short, don’t expect an immediate Trump slump.

Now, in the longer run Trumpism will be a very bad thing for the economy, in a couple of ways. For one thing, even if we don’t face a recession right now, stuff happens, and a lot depends on the effectiveness of the policy response. Yet we’re about to see a major degradation in both the quality and the independence of public servants. If we face a new economic crisis — perhaps as a result of the dismantling of financial reform — it’s hard to think of people less prepared to deal with it.

And Trumpist policies will, in particular, hurt, not help, the American working class; eventually, promises to bring back the good old days — yes, to make America great again — will be revealed as the cruel joke they are. More on that in future columns.

But all of this will probably take time; the consequences of the new regime’s awfulness won’t be apparent right away. Opponents of that regime need to be prepared for the real possibility that good things will happen to bad people, at least for a while.



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