Bernie and Donald – come again?

So, Trump and Sanders.   The previously unthinkable types of candidates in America.  What’s up with that?  Personally I agree with this Guardian article.  Most of my friends and colleagues who brand me a socialist are entirely beholden to the economic propositions and advantages of free trade.  It is scientifically proven to make an economy more efficient. 


Few even question what that means. The theory goes along the lines of whomever can make a good the most efficient (cheapest) way for equal quality should be the ones to make it. That way the good is distributed to the demand side for the lowest (most efficient) price for the given demand. 


Hell it makes sense even to layman like myself.  And indeed most people.  The labour movement takes the side that the workers create the value and should retain more of the reward for that work than those who own the means of production.  Because it drives up the unit cost, that is, according to same theory, less competitive as it is less efficient. 


The market theory then goes on to imply (this isn’t part of the economics) that other work will rise to take the place as labour is finite, and jobs will be found that will take over as the source of employment for those people, or they will move to where jobs are, or they will lower their wage expectations to make the company competitive (this part always only seems to target the largest cost of the labour force, rather than the entire wage AND profit rates of the company itself).  


It (and this attempt to analyze Trump support) continue to reduce things to minimal dimensions for ease of explanation, thought, and communication.  It removes people, lifestyle, quality of life, social impact, and thousands of other aspects.  The labour force is just a number on supply side.  The lowest cost is the goal that feeds the measure of profit.  


Remember too that with money as the measure, then the financial influence has increased in politics over the years. It has done so in order to shift rules to make this system and its premises work increasingly well. 


Doing so has pissed these very people who comprise the labour force off.  Because while their votes should count for more, their issues are sidelines and dismissed as it doesn’t support the needs of the economic theory, and gradually the influence of the labour force and the people in it have nobody representing them. 


The US didn’t take much.  As the article points out the Democrats abandoned those principles as they mainstream rhetoric was all around the economic leading indicators, which all reflect a combination of efficiency and productivity.  It has employment as well to say that the jobs are still there.  So when the Democrats focused on the economy they did so because everyone has somewhat sensibly bought into what the media and leaders now across the spectrum said was good for the economy.  


I believe this would have continued to progress further for another decade or two.  The anti-establishment rumblings were empowered by social media, but people still had jobs, the economies were still growing in North America and more free trade kept correlating with increasing GDP.  It was all smooth. 


But free markets relentlessly optimize.  Everything.  That’s why they do create these efficiencies. When there is no pressure, they maximize returns, most often to the owners/shareholders. That is the stated directive of the corporation. Some include the workers but most don’t.  They are, as I said, part of the cost equation. 


But in doing so the free market will externalize both risk and cost.  Never take on something on the cost or risk side if you can get someone else to do it for you. 


Two big results of that were having the government cover off catastrophic risk and failure, and remove all environmental or societal impact to government cleanup and support. And reduce the need for business to pay for that via lower corporate taxes. The people need the services, so they should pay.  Don’t tax the providers of jobs, they help.  Do you see where the system naturally goes?


So with this all proceeding and increasing smoothly with the re-emergence and popularization of neoliberalism, what happened?


The financial crisis. All the undercurrents and anti-globalization were giving small voices to the concerns. It’s not like the issues which are created by the effects of the proven economic theory were not felt or hidden, just that they were marginalized. 


So the market creating a web of inherent fragility, which is what highly optimized systems are. Another word for inefficiency in some cases?  Robustness. All that extra capacity or padding or ability to absorb change?  You don’t need that all the time so it gets optimized out.  The market did what it does best. A little too well some say.  I say to the best of its ability.  


Then something went wrong.  It came apart.  It came apart due to basically lying and fraud.  Normally when that happens in a market those bad actors are removed and punished.  That’s what everyone expected.  Except that those actors had the political system worldwide and especially in America in its pocket. So the citizens looked on and took the damage while their money was used to bail these companies out. In some cases that meant these same people kept their jobs.  But they still had a righteous sense that someone should be help responsible.  


They weren’t. And the abuse got worse right out in the open at that point.  The attention to the lack of accountability or redress grew. 


The mainstream parties across North America didn’t seem to notice.  It was still fringe. Except it wasn’t.  People were now questioning. At least why the free market wasn’t a free market, but one where the taxpayers rather than the shareholders were now bearing the bulk of the risk.  It should have warned the establishment. A student of history knows that politicians use scapegoats to focus the anger of the populace away from themselves. But the new neoliberals and those fully beholden to not questioning the “free market” or how it was now being realized didn’t consider that. There was no redress. It was like it was ok.  But the average citizen saw how their money was spent to help those who didn’t need the help.  And how they still lost jobs. It was, in a very real parallel, the 2008 edition of the misquoted scene of “let them eat cake”.  It seems the new political elite skipped those classes. And now the people are outright angry. 


So in the US two champions have emerged.  One is and always has been anti-establishment. He had always been fighting for individuals and for the betterment of society as a whole, questioning the wisdom of how free market capitalism was realized. 


The other is a free thinker who has been both part of and outside the political elite variously while practicing that capitalism. He’s seized on populist rhetoric and touched on real and imagined pains as well as perceived slights and injustices, weaving them in to bolster the talk addressing the real injustices felt. 


Both are, as was said early in the campaign, anti-establishment.  Sanders is being openly repressed by the DNC in the nomination race.  Trump is now being attacked by the leaders of the Republican Party itself.  


One is sticking largely to the same principles and thoughts he had from the earliest days of his political activism. Tempered and deepened over the years. 


The other seems to me caught up in the campaign and fully populist, taking in anything that will give energy, be it anger or fervour, to his campaign.  


Both are gaining momentum.  Dawn has risen on the populace as they realize now that for once, they can make a difference and send a message more clearly than imagined in decades to the political elite that they are, in fact, in charge. They do have the power the fringe has been telling them they have. 


I disagree categorically with populism and especially that which fosters and feeds on hate or division. Much evil has been wrought over the years from such practice. This I disagree categorically with Trump, but he and his followers still need to be understood.  If you agree with my premise around the economic system and how the measures were agreed to for many years by all sides, he’s one of the strongest proponents of that system, when it suits his personal needs.  There is no integrity or consistency in Trump or his platform.   He is rife with hypocrisy. That seems to give him a veneer of credibility with his followers as he addresses all their anger, doubts, fear and desires, even when they conflict, and most often in impractical, unrealistic, outlandish, or even simply increasingly vague, ways.  But he addresses them. 


Sanders hasn’t shifted much that I’ve seen. This has hurt him due to his not tailoring the message to sub-constituencies, or special interests, be they labour, racial/ethnic, religious, demographic or even socio-economic.  He talks about the system and the injustices plainly. He has consistency and credibility but not populist appeal.  And he doesn’t say what everyone wants. He also challenges what we as a society have believed for years about economics.  I admire him. 


But if you only listen to the parts you agree with, Trump says your stuff. Bernie only sort of does.  He says some uncomfortable things in the middle. Trump says stuff you are also uncomfortable with but it seems too outlandish to worry about. 


Both are outlets for our anger, and especially for the anger and frustrations of American workers. Both are giving us a scapegoat. Indirectly, because they waited to act, the responsible group is actually the voters, but directly and tangibly, the scapegoat is the political elite that really should have known better. 



Just today (day after I wrote, but had not yet posted), the NPR talks about this from a different perspective.   The conclusion is about as overcooked-noodle weak and flimsy as I have ever read, but the idea of preserving the good while changing is the right idea to me.