Centrists Cling To Their Failed Dogma Even As It Tears Their Countries Apart

Tony Blair - Hillary Clinton - centrism

In a wide-ranging essay, Michael Lind argues that the elite managerial class have broken their compact with the working classes to the detriment of the country, thus explaining the populist backlashes witnessed in Britain and America

“The New Class War”, an essay in the American Affairs Journal by writer Michael Lind, perfectly captures the intersection between trade regulation, democracy and the interests of the managerial elites which is at the heart of the current debate over sovereignty – and which fuelled the Brexit vote in the UK and Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency in America.

It is necessary to quote at some length from the section entitled “The Politics of Global Arbitrage“, in which Lind discusses the ways in which corporate behaviour has influenced the contours of our democracy:

Even as they have exploited opportunities for international labor and tax-and-subsidy arbitrage, firms in the post–Cold War era of globalization have promoted selective harmonization of laws and rules, when it has been in their interest to do so. In the second half of the twentieth century, successive rounds of negotiation under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and, more recently, the World Trade Organization (WTO) effectively reduced most traditional tariff barriers. By 2016, when the WTO effectively terminated the failed Doha Development Round of global trade talks, the United States and other leading industrial nations had shifted the emphasis from removing barriers restricting the cross-border flow of goods to harmonizing laws and regulations through “multiregional trade pacts” like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in the interests of transnational investors and corporations reliant on transnational supply chains.

The areas chosen for arbitrage and harmonization reflect the interests not of national working-class majorities but of the managerial elites that dominate western governments. Harmonizing labor standards or wages would undercut the labor arbitrage strategy, while transnational crackdowns on tax avoidance would thwart the strategy of tax arbitrage by transnational firms. Instead, the emphasis in harmonization policy has been on common industrial standards, the liberalization of financial systems, and intellectual property rights, including pharmaceutical patents. These kinds of harmonization benefit transnational firms, investors on Wall Street or in the City of London, and the holders of intellectual property rights in Silicon Valley and the pharmaceutical industry.

In many cases, this kind of regulatory harmonization makes sense—standardizing product safety measures, for example. But the new regulatory harmonization agreements produce a “democratic deficit” in two ways.

First, they remove whole areas of regulation from the realm of ordinary legislation, replacing it with “legislation by treaty.” Favorable laws and regulations that corporate lobbyists are unable to persuade national democratic legislatures to enact can be repackaged and hidden in harmonization agreements masked as “trade” treaties. These treaties, often thousands of pages long, tend to be drafted in secret by committees involving corporate lobbyists and may be ratified by legislatures without careful scrutiny.

Worse, most of these contemporary regulatory harmonization agreements include “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) provisions that allow individual corporations to sue national governments that change the rules in their countries after the passage of the treaty in private tribunals, dominated by corporate lawyers, with no appeal mechanism. If Congress enacts a statute that adversely affects the interests of Acme Inc., then Acme has few options, other than paying lobbyists and making campaign donations. But if Congress ratifies a treaty, and later changes a provision by passing a new law, Acme can sue the federal government for financial damages. The United States has yet to lose a case to ISDS, but other countries have, and some believe that the prospect of corporate lawsuits has a chilling effect on new laws and regulations of which particular corporations disapprove.

None of this is to imply that the transnational managers of the West and littoral East Asia who control the new global oligopolies are more selfish or less public-spirited than the managers of national corporations during the Second Industrial Era. On the contrary, in personal terms, today’s managerial elite is for the most part less bigoted and often quite philanthropic. The point is simply that the American, German, and Japanese corporations of half a century ago were constrained by kinds of Galbraithian countervailing power and Burnhamite/Moscian juridical defenses that have crumbled. Thanks to globalization, itself a voluntary policy choice enabled but not required by new technology, today’s transnational firms have much more bargaining power in their dealings with workers and democratic nation-states.

My emphasis in bold.

This perfectly sums up a core part of the democratic case for leaving the European Union as it relates to trade, and is very much in line with the analysis and arguments advanced by Dr. Richard North of eureferendum.com and Pete North.

Lind is quite correct to acknowledge that regulatory harmonisation can be an enormous force for good. In fact, the trouble only really comes about when there is no option for a democratic nation state to “opt out” of a certain regulatory change or edict when its imposition would harm the national interest in some way. Obviously there would be consequences for such an action, such as the non-recognition of standards relating to the product or industry in question. But the opt-out is a vital tool which nation states must possess in order to wield sensibly and with restraint on those occasions when the compromise hashed out by 27 EU member states is unacceptable to the sole outvoted dissenting country.

This is what we mean by the outsourcing of sovereignty. Remainers and assorted pro-EU apologists love to make the glib assertion that EU member states retain ultimate sovereignty at all times because they are technically free to leave the EU, but this is an asinine assertion. Sovereignty should not be a choice between having to go along with every diktat from Brussels or deploying the nuclear option and leaving the European Union. Indeed, how can you call it sovereignty when the choice is between accepting papercut after papercut (grave though the cumulative wound may be) or else enduring the disruption of severing ourselves from the union? This isn’t sovereignty, it is blackmail. Thank goodness that Britain finally called the EU’s bluff.

This section is also instructive:

To obtain social peace and mobilize national populations during World War II, the United States and its allies like Britain brokered business-labor pacts and promised welfare benefits to veterans. In the ensuing Cold War, every major industrial democracy devised some kind of “settlement” or compromise among business and labor interests within the nation.

The postwar settlements were a combination of employer-specific welfare capitalism and universal or means-tested, social-democratic welfare states. In West Germany, welfare capitalism took the form of “codetermination,” or union membership on corporate boards. Japan, following intense labor conflict after 1945, developed a system of corporate paternalism and lifetime employment for many workers. Organized labor was weak in the postwar United States, but the “Treaty of Detroit” negotiated among automobile companies and unions was a successful example of informal business-labor corporatism. Low levels of legal and illegal immigration, and social pressure on married mothers to exit the work force to become homemakers, strengthened the bargaining power of mostly male workers by creating tight labor markets.

These corporatist systems of welfare capitalism made the welfare states of the period from the 1940s to the 1970s much smaller than they would have been otherwise. Wage compression brought about by unions in the welfare-capitalist system made it easier for payroll taxes to fund entitlements like public pensions, which in turn were smaller than they might have been because of the widespread existence of private employer pensions.

The post-1945 settlements in the West and Japan demonstrate countervailing power and juridical defense in action. The result was the golden age of capitalism from the 1940s to the 1970s, combining high growth with a more equal distribution of its rewards than has ever existed before or since.

But Lind sees the end of the Cold War as a turning point when the post-war settlements established in the West and Japan began to be fatally undermined:

Following the Cold War, the global business revolution shattered these social compacts. Through the empowerment of multinational corporations and the creation of transnational supply chains, managerial elites disempowered national labor and national governments and transferred political power from national legislatures to executive agencies, transnational bureaucracies, and treaty organizations.

Freed from older constraints, the managerial minorities of Western nations have predictably run amok, using their near-monopoly of power and influence in all sectors—private, public, and nonprofit—to enact policies that advantage their members to the detriment of their fellow citizens. Derided and disempowered, large elements of the native working classes in Western democracies have turned to charismatic tribunes of anti-system populism in electoral rebellions against the selfishness and arrogance of managerial elites.

I have to say that Lind’s essay has given me pause for thought. This blog has consistently championed the Thatcherite revolution which took Britain from being the sick man of 1970s Europe, seemingly in terminal decline, to a revived and confident global power by the 1990s. I did so while acknowledging the various failures of the Thatcher government to ameliorate the decline of heavy industry outside of the wealthy Southeast and its cost in terms of suffering and wasted human potential, but I nonetheless saw (and continue to see) Thatcherism as a necessary if painful tonic for the economically sick Britain of the 1970s.

Lind, however, sees things differently. From Lind’s perspective, the post World War II settlements established between labour and the managerial classes in various Western countries were responsible for the great boost in productivity and living standards, not an anchor on these metrics (as I have always viewed the post-war settlement in Britain, partially deconstructed by Thatcher). To be fair, Lind pinpoints the start of the unravelling to the end of the Cold War when Thatcher’s premiership was nearing an end, but since many of the tenets of Thatcherism continued through the Major and Blair governments into the 21st century once can reasonably infer a criticism of Thatcher’s policies, which merely took a decade to come to full fruition.

This is food for thought for an unabashed Thatcherite like me, and I need to do more reading to decide how much of Lind’s narrative holds water. The narrative arc he constructs is persuasively argued and passes the “common sense” test, but to my mind Britain’s experience stands as an exception to Lind’s rule. In our case, the post-war settlement we constructed (based on the recommendations of the Beveridge Report) grievously held us back as a country. We did not benefit from enlightened German-style corporate governance or Japanese-style jobs for life in the post-war years, but rather sank into decades of adversarial conflict between unions and (largely state-owned) employers, with government policy repeatedly favouring the interests of the producer over those of the consumer.

Now, this could be because British government policy was particularly misguided and the British managerial class particularly useless (an argument I have some sympathy with), but it seems more likely to me that Lind’s blanket assertion that countries prosper most when there is a powerful countervailing force to push back against the elite managerial class is not always correct – or at least is only one of several other key factors determining economic growth and increases in standard of living. I would posit that Thatcher’s Methodist upbringing probably provided a great moral anchor that prevented excessive self-serving policymaking, while today’s decadent and avowedly secular elites are perhaps more prone to corruption and in greater need of the countervailing force that Lind describes (hence the populist backlashes we have witnessed).

Lind then goes on to discuss how labour arbitrage and tax & subsidy arbitrage in our more globalised world have worked to undermine the nation state and empower the corporation – a line of reasoning which would certainly be familiar to anyone on the Left.

He concludes by looking ahead to the likely geopolitical situation in the year 2050, and considers what will be the best strategy for the West to maintain power and influence:

Great-power competition, even in the form of limited cold wars, is likely to reward nations whose economic model is based on developing productive technology and raising the incomes of domestic worker-consumers, rather than engaging in labor and tax arbitrage, regulatory harmonization, and other schemes that boost profits without increasing productivity. In cold wars and trade wars, even if no blood is shed by the contenders, countries and blocs with empowered and patriotic workers are likely to do better than rival nations crippled by immiserated workforces and selfish, nepotistic, oligarchic elites.

[..]

Managerial elites are bound to dominate the economy and society of every modern nation. But if they are not checked, they will overreach and produce a populist backlash in proportion to their excess. By a misguided policy of suppressing wages and thus throttling mass consumption, unchecked managerial elites may inadvertently cripple the technology-driven productivity growth responsible for their rise and accidentally cause the replacement of managerial society itself by a kind of high-tech rentier feudalism.

Managerial society works best when there are not only concessions to national working-class economic interests—the bribes to the “losers” of neoliberalism—but also genuine economic bargaining power and political power wielded by the many. Far from undermining managerial regimes, Burnham’s “juridical check” and Galbraith’s “countervailing power” make them more legitimate and sustainable.

In other words, the policies favoured by the current dispossessed centrists in Britain and America are not as smart and self-evidently beneficial as their advocates love to claim. Status quo globalisation, which increasingly seeks to leverage labour arbitrage, tax arbitrage and selective regulatory harmonisation to benefit the managerial class while doing little to raise productivity (not to mention leaving millions of people in dead-end jobs or the unemployment scrapheap) is not only selfish on the part of the managerial class, it is also injurious to the future prosperity and security of the country.

In fact, according to Lind, it turns out that having a patriotic population and workers with a commitment to the country they live in, together with some degree of bargaining power (preferably due to their possessing valuable skills rather than the threat of withholding their labour, as deployed in the 1970s), is perhaps a net positive after all, particularly in the long term.

Again: I don’t buy everything in Michael Lind’s essay. But he spins a plausible narrative and argues his case well. And if Lind is correct, how regrettable is it, then, that the populist backlashes on both sides of the Atlantic have been held in check partly through their own incompetence (Donald Trump in America and the Tory hard Brexiteers in the UK) and partly by the fact that the resurgent centrists have effectively ground the respective movements to a halt?

Bear in mind, if and when the centrists retake power, they intend to revert to pure business as usual. They have learned nothing from the comprehensive rejection they received from voters only a short time ago, and think that the world can revert to its previous happy state where they got everything that they wanted while anyone who dissented could go jump off a bridge.

I have long contended that such an overturning of these populist movements by the elite would be poisonous, even fatal, to our democracy. But if Lind is correct, it could also be fatal to the future economic prosperity and national security of our countries.

 

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Donald Trump Is Rick Santorum 2.0 – Less Social Conservatism, But Economic Populism On Steroids

Former Republican presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum, siren of the white working classes back in 2012, ran a campaign which laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s insurgency in 2016, and ultimately prophesied his victory

For several months now I have been waiting for somebody to make the connection between Rick Santorum‘s strong running in the 2012 Republican primaries and the playbook which took Donald Trump all the way to the White House.

Way back during the 2012 campaign, I noted that Santorum was singing a siren song to the “white working classes” of rust belt America, responding to their very real and valid concerns with reassuring but unrealistic promises that the tide of globalisation could (and should) be turned back, thus sparing them the need to adapt to the new America.

Back then I labelled Rick Santorum the “Pied Piper of Pennsylvania“, a reference to the way in which the former Pennsylvania senator accumulated a large, trusting and often sympathetic audience of followers, but whom he would ultimately lead off the edge of an economic cliff:

Barring certain specific exceptions, the manufacturing jobs that America has lost will simply never return.

And perhaps among all of the things that Rick Santorum says that rile me up, this one makes me the most angry. He is peddling a Pleasantville-style, black and white, 1950s vision of a country where once again it is possible to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle with a decent sized family home and a couple of cars, paid for by the wages earned from assembling televisions, or refrigerators, or cars. And Republican primary voters, many of whom are in the squeezed middle class and have been let down by successive administrations, are listening to Santorum’s claims and gaining hope, and voting for him, even though he cannot in actual fact turn the clock back fifty years, even if he does actually want to.

Whether he wins or loses the Republican primary and the general election, the persistence of this argument – and the belief that a few tweaks to the tax code and the drilling of a few more oil wells will spur a resurgence in unskilled and semiskilled manufacturing – simply dooms another generation of people to a life of stagnating or falling living standards.

People trust Santorum because, unlike the other main Republican candidates, he is so genuine. Why would he advocate policies that would hurt them, when he was one of them? And yet the policies that he proposes would either do little to bring back more unskilled or semiskilled manufacturing jobs, or would make the US population even less qualified to perform those jobs which already exist. And all the time that people hold out hope that a Rick Santorum or another politician like him can work this magic, it is time that they are not spending going back into training, or into college or university, and reskilling themselves for the jobs of tomorrow’s economy.

Rick Santorum says all of the things that the Republican Party’s blue collar base want to hear, but in many ways he is just a modern day Pied Piper, promising them a brighter future while marching them off a cliff.

Globalisation cannot be rolled back, nor should it be. The challenge – which falls hardest upon Republicans and small government, small-c conservatives like myself, who generally do not foresee an active role for central government in the lives of citizens – is to find a way of reaping the fruits of globalisation while bringing these disrupted communities with us instead of callously leaving them behind.

And we should be honest: conservatives are at a disadvantage here. Leftists have the luxury of simply waving their hands and promising new government programmes for the mass retraining of millions of people in new, higher value-added jobs and careers. But no matter how costly or inefficient those schemes may prove, those on the right have an even harder job persuading voters, and no one party or politician on either side of the Atlantic has yet arrived at a fully convincing solution.

The inability to satisfactorily answer these questions and convince enough people of his ability to deliver the fruits of globalisation with none of the adverse consequences -together with the establishment reluctantly falling firmly behind Mitt Romney – ultimately saw Rick Santorum fall by the wayside back in 2012. But four years later, Donald Trump came charging along with almost the exact same message, and stormed all the way to the White House. And during this extraordinary journey, none of his supporters seemed to realise or care that Trump has been every bit as unable as Rick Santorum was to answer the question of “how?”, beyond his usual barnstorming bluster and well-worn pledge to Make America Great Again.

Now Bill Powell from Newsweek magazine has also picked up on the similarity between the two men, with a new piece entitled “How Rick Santorum helped Donald Trump win the White House” in which he argues that to a large extent, Donald Trump merely honed and executed a playbook originally written by Santorum.

Powell writes:

In the spring of 2015, [Trump] was talking to a few family members and confidantes about running for president. And he wanted to get in touch with a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, who had served two terms before losing big in 2006. In 2012, he was the runner-up to Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential primaries. Ensconced since then in a Washington, D.C., law firm, Santorum had written a book that attracted little attention: Blue Collar Conservatives, Recommitting to an America That Works. But Trump had read the book, very carefully, in fact, and was intrigued. He called Santorum and asked if he would come to Trump Tower for a visit. Santorum was a bit surprised by the invitation but said yes.

Santorum didn’t know what to expect. He had never met Trump and, like millions of Americans, knew of him only from his long-running NBC reality show, The Apprentice. Trump got right to the point. He had loved Santorum’s book and believed it could unlock the White House for a GOP candidate who ran a campaign based on reaching the working-class voters throughout the industrial Midwest that, Trump said, Democrats take for granted.

Santorum agreed, of course—he was thinking of making another run at the White House, using that playbook. (He did, but got bum-rushed early in the primaries.) Trump then surprised Santorum even more by questioning him on details of his book and economic policy in general. What could be done with trade policy to help the working class? Was there any way to turn around the massive bilateral trade imbalance with Beijing? Could the White House be used as a bully pulpit to pressure American companies to stop sending manufacturing offshore? On and on they went, and Santorum left the meeting wondering what might happen if you mixed the power of celebrity with a blue-collar tent revival.

We now know the answer. Trump’s improbable run to the presidency—which was nearly derailed on several occasions by his lack of discipline—was guided by a conviction that he could, as political consultant and longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone said last year, “rewrite the [electoral] map” by smashing the “great blue wall” of Midwestern Democratic states. And smash it he did.

Something happened (or continued to happen) between 2012 and 2016 which made more people receptive to the Santorum message of economic populism and protectionism, and the failure of the Obama administration to change the economic trajectory of those people already  suffering the fallout from globalisation (or nervously waiting for it to impact their industry and their jobs) clearly played a large part.

But even then, Trump’s victory could probably have been prevented had prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton and President Obama not been so blasé about the economic challenge facing millions of Americans while they were campaigning. Hillary Clinton in particular took every opportunity to criticise Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, neglecting to consider that from many people’s perspective, America is only as great as their own present circumstances. But while sanctimoniously lecturing Donald Trump and his supporters that “America is already great” may have been factually true, it also felt a lot like the establishment dismissing the legitimate concerns of suffering people.

Sure, America is pretty darn awesome if you are one of the Wall Street bankers to whom Hillary Clinton loved to give speeches, one of the celebrities attending her fundraisers or just a prosperous coastal professional whose job and career is not about to be eradicated through automation or outsourcing. But if you do not fall into one of these categories, America can feel a lot more precarious than great. And having the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee continually insisting that everything is wonderful and that anyone with concerns or complaints is somehow “deplorable” was about the most stupid and politically tone-deaf way for a candidate to behave.

And of course we all know the outcome:

The Trump high-command members knew then they had an opening. The crowds Trump was drawing were enormous, and even before [FBI director James] Comey’s announcement [about the reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server], their internal polls said the race was tightening, but not enough to make many of them believe he would win. Now, though, they thought they had a shot. Trump remained focused, and the campaign laid on rally after rally—up to five per day in the last days of the race. Trump went back to Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin again and again. He even made a trip to Minnesota, the bluest of blue states, because—stunningly—polling had him drawing close even there. The Santorum strategy was playing out just as Trump had bet it would so many months before.

[..] “Those states—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin—were the targets,” [Trump campaign manager Kellyanne] Conway would later say. “[Trump] had a `theory of the race,’ and when it became clear that he had tapped into something very big, he rode it. And that is what good candidates do.”

Bill Powell is right – to a large extent, Donald Trump picked up the mantle from Rick Santorum, amending it by ditching some of the niche social conservatism (an integral part of Santorum’s Catholic traditionalism) and ramping up the economic populism even further.

While Santorum spoke of the pain of those whose manufacturing jobs were disappearing and promised help through the corporate tax code, Donald Trump identified a specific bogeyman in the form of China and other countries who supposedly always get the better of America, and then promised to confront these foreign economic enemies. While Rick Santorum railed against the coastal intellectual elites and dismissed aspiring to go to college as “snobbery”, Donald Trump insulted and belittled those Ivy League experts and elites day after day.

In many ways, watching Donald Trump on the campaign trail was like watching an incredibly vulgar, amoral and less eloquent version of Rick Santorum, with the brightness and volume dial turned up to max. And it worked. The economic message that Santorum road-tested in his 2012 campaign and in “Blue Collar Conservatives” was a beguiling one, as I acknowledged four years ago. But when it was hitched to a television celebrity phenomenon and fuelled by a combustible blend of identity politics backlash and the Democratic Party’s seeming disdain for middle America, it became immensely powerful.

Of course, this leaves President-elect Trump in a far worse place than Rick Santorum. Santorum was able to rack up Republican primary votes and victories against Mitt Romney, but his ultimate defeat saved him from having to make good on his campaign rhetoric and unrealistic promises to insulate middle America from the negative consequences of globalisation. Donald Trump has made it all the way to the White House, and the people who put him there will now expect him to deliver.

Which means that it falls to Donald Trump – of all the unlikely people – to do something that no right-wing politician anywhere in the world has successfully achieved: find a way to reap the benefits of globalisation while mitigating the negative side effects.

My gut feeling: assuming that Trump even tries to address this challenge, it will only be by enacting economically ruinous levels of protectionism or by abandoning any pretence of conservatism and embracing some kind of mass worker retraining program, either in a massive expansion of the federal government or else delivered by the states through federal block grants. And given the dynamics in Congress, it is by no means certain that any such measure would pass.

Make America Great Again – so easy to say, so hard to deliver for millions of struggling Americans.

 

Rick Santorum

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The Democrats Rub Illegal Immigration In The Faces Of Struggling Americans – No Wonder Many Support Donald Trump

The American Left’s determined intransigence and dishonesty on the issue of immigration pushes decent people into the arms of Donald Trump

Imagine that for some crazy reason, you just happen to believe in the strict upholding of law and order.

Suppose that this belief extends to the enforcement of federal immigration laws, and zero tolerance on those who seek to bypass, subvert or ignore the legal avenues for attaining permanent residency and citizenship of the United States.

Suppose that you’re a hard working, ordinary decent person who perhaps doesn’t have the time or inclination to ruminate on the ways in which a conspiracy of the two political parties has effectively encouraged plentiful illegal immigration for so long that the US economy is now dependent on the millions of illegal immigrants living in America.

Suppose that you occupy a relatively unskilled and low-paid position in the labour market, and have not seen your disposable income or living standards increase for years, or in some cases even decades.

Suppose that whenever you watch or read the news, both politicians and the media refuse to call the people who overstayed their visas or snuck into the country by their proper descriptor, “illegal immigrants”, preferring to term them “undocumented immigrants” as though they were regular Americans whose birth certificates, passports and other papers proving their right to residency had simply vanished in an unfortunate puff of smoke.

Suppose that every time you turn on the television you see a deliberate effort to change the language to speak of “undocumented” rather than “illegal” immigrants, while the media consistently portray people like you, those with legitimate personal and civic concerns, as being inherently “racist”.

Suppose you then see the Democratic Party not only consistently celebrate “undocumented” immigrants at their quadrennial national convention but actually invite many of them onto the stage to give speeches, and reward those speeches with thunderous standing ovations – while the Democratic presidential nominee described people like you as belonging to a “basket of deplorables”.

Suppose that while you and your family are held to account and in some cases persecuted by the criminal justice system for the smallest infraction, the hearts of politicians and the media seem brimming over with sympathy not for you but for those whose very presence on American soil violates US immigration law.

Suppose that you are a relatively low-information voter, but someone who is very aware of the persistent air of scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton and who sees in the media’s incredulity at Donald Trump something of the same hostility that you face every day simply for daring to believe that immigration should be legal and controlled.

Now: if you were this person – and there are millions of them, in every state of the Union – why the hell would you NOT vote for Donald Trump this November?

And wouldn’t all of those people in the political and media class clutching their pearls in horror at the thought of a Donald Trump presidency bear a significant share of the responsibility for pushing you toward that decision?

 

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William Hague’s Bizarre Critique Of Donald Trump

Donald Trump Hosts Nevada Caucus Night Watch Party In Las Vegas

William Hague is just the latest media personality to use Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy as an opportunity for virtue-signalling, rhetorical target practice

William Hague is getting rusty.

The former Conservative Party leader has already shredded his reputation among real conservatives through his shameful support of David Cameron and the Remain campaign. And now, added to that, his latest column on the US presidential election is written with all of the insight of someone who has been paying no attention to the American political scene for years, and is basing their hastily-written column on all of the most tired generalisations from a British television news report.

Whatever happened to the sparklingly witty and intellectually nimble political personality who could keep the House of Commons spellbound (or laughing uncontrollably) with his skills as a raconteur? Perhaps that side of William Hague is curled up in the foetal position, rocking backwards and forwards in shame and incredulity at what the europhile side is up to.

Hague begins with this remarkable statement about the main factors which should disqualify Donald Trump from becoming president of the United States:

Two characteristics make Trump fundamentally unfit to be president: his attitude to women and the way he treats rivals. The first of these, including crude and offensive remarks about female interviewers and candidates, shows deeply patronising instincts.

This isn’t just foul manners. It really matters because the way to liberate the greatest quantity of untapped talent in the 21st century is to achieve the full social, political and economic empowerment of women. Having a leader of the world’s most powerful country who shows no recognition of that cannot be a good idea.

His insulting response to rivals is another disastrous weakness in a potential global leader. The belittling of political opponents – “Lying Ted”, “Little Marco” and so on – shows no grasp of the fact that any president must work with them in Congress the minute he or she is elected. Even worse, Trump’s bullying attitude to other countries – telling Mexico it will have to pay for a wall along its border – would be utterly counterproductive and diminish the power of the USA by destroying its moral authority and crucial ability to persuade others to act.

Of all the things that Hague could have picked as Donald Trump’s disqualifying features, he chooses to virtue-signal and cite Trump’s view of women – as though Trump’s public attitude to women is any worse than, say, JFK’s attitude and behaviour were in private. Of all the things about Trump that Hague can think of, his frequent obnoxiousness is deemed the most serious.

Nothing to do with Trump having no functional knowledge of trade or foreign policy. That’s fine, according to Hague – President Trump can pick all of that stuff up on the fly. But God forbid that the next occupant of the Oval Office says off-colour, crass things about people (despite claiming to have “the best words”).

Hague even goes on to specifically mention some of Trump’s more outlandish statements on foreign and defence policy, so it is not as though he is unaware of them:

When Trump says that South Korea and Japan should have their own nuclear weapons, rather than rely on America, and that the US should stop funding Nato, what he is advocating is the collapse of the entire security architecture of the western world. But the people voting for him and such policies are telling us that they are fed up with paying for the defence of other countries who do very little to look after themselves.

[..] Trump’s other main policy with an impact on all of us is trade protectionism: he wants to impose swingeing tariffs on imports from China and Mexico, and withdraw from new trade agreements. This would be another disastrous act. It would result in widespread retaliation against American products, higher prices for consumers, and lower growth for the world. For Britain, the ninth largest exporter in the world, such policies would be very bad news indeed.

But apparently itching to provoke a trade war and undermining the security structure which has protected the West since the Cold War – with no clear plan for its replacement – is less of a disqualifying factor than Trump’s ongoing feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.

Hague’s broader point – that by supporting Donald Trump, his voters are sending an important message about longstanding, unresolved problems with the American economy – is a fair observation, though it is one which has been made by many other commentators (including this blog) for some time now and so hardly counts as original.

The awkward truth, of course, is that one of the primary drivers of the rise of populists like Donald Trump is the way that mainstream politicians have comported themselves, behaved in power and failed to govern on the platforms on which they ran for office. It is unsurprising that William Hague makes no mention of his, because he is a prime example of the kind of politician who pushes voters toward populists.

William Hague built a career and a reputation out of eurosceptic posturing. Yes, those who paid attention a little more closely could discern that Hague’s euroscepticism was not of the same nature or intensity of that of, say, Iain Duncan Smith. But Hague was nonetheless happy to hoover up eurosceptic support by making the right noises against Brussels and in favour of British sovereignty – right up until his stunning betrayal of the Brexit movement.

Similarly, the establishment Republicans now shunned and held in derision by Trump supporters also have a record of campaigning and posing one way, but acting in quite another. GOP voters have been let down in turn by cynical politicians cosying up to evangelical Christians and promising them the world, but then failing to prevent the enormous recent social changes in America. They have also been let down by the GOP’s brand of faux fiscal conservatism, which preaches the necessity of belt-tightening and cuts but often succeeds only in cutting taxes for higher-earners and exploding budget deficits.

Meanwhile, the Rick Santorum-esque wing of the Republican Party have either pretended that every American is a job-creating millionaire in waiting or talked about solidarity with the American worker while watching the American middle class getting squeezed and then decimated by the forces of globalisation without enacting a single proposal to help them make the adjustment to the new economy.

William Hague is right when he says “my experience of 30 years of elections is that when you think voters might have gone mad, they are actually trying to tell you something”. Unfortunately, what Trump voters are saying is that they are heartily sick of being lied to and peddled shiny promises of a New America which never come true.

Hague can focus on Trump’s abrasive and sometimes obnoxious personality all he wants, but it will not assauge his guilty conscience nor change the fact that his decision to support the Remain campaign in Britain’s EU referendum means that he himself has become just another flip-flopping politician of the type which feeds, not dampens, populist insurgencies like that of Donald Trump.

 

William Hague - Parliament

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Douglas Carswell Warns Against The Allure Of Protectionism

Container Ship - Cargo - Trade - Protectionism

Douglas Carswell makes the short and eloquent case against protectionism:

The prosperity we take for granted today couldn’t have happened without free markets and free trade. That doesn’t stop people – even presidential candidates – saying we’d be better off starting trade wars, and only buying goods made at home. But the fact remains: protectionism is the route to poverty.

Globalisation gets a bad press. When manufacturing moves from Britain or the US to China and India, it looks like we’re losing out. But the result is that we get our clothes, shoes, computers, phones, and televisions much more cheaply. And lower prices don’t just make us better off. They also increase demand, and create jobs.

As Adam Smith and David Ricardo realised 200 years ago, prosperity comes from specialisation. If each of us tried to be self-sufficient, we would all be living in prehistoric penury. Instead, we specialise in what we’re best at, and exchange the product of our work for what we need.

The same applies to countries. Today, Britain’s comparative advantage is in services. Other countries are best at heavy industry or agriculture. By specialising in services, we get more and better manufactured goods and agricultural produce than we would if we diverted our resources into making them ourselves.

Protectionism might seem like the solution for people who have lost out to globalisation. But its effect would be regressive – like the poll tax. It would force prices up, and employment down. That would hit the poorest hardest.

Carswell goes on to argue that protectionism does not bring prosperity, but rather leads to inefficient, monolithic corporations like British Leyland, churning out low quality product that nobody really wants – and even then, only at the cost of massive subsidies from the taxpayer.

The case against protectionism cannot be restated enough at a time when globalisation and free trade is under sustained attack on both sides of the Atlantic – by the otherwise polar opposite Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in America, and by the worst elements on both sides of the EU referendum debate in Britain, who believe that we should retreat either into mercantilist isolationism or protectionist euro-parochialism.

There is an important debate here to be had among advocates for smaller government. Clearly the state is presently far too involved in our lives in all manner of ways, but surely one of the things that a smart, lean and effective small government absolutely should do is watch out for its citizens when they are impacted by massive changes to the way that the world trades and communicates.

Labour’s solution has been to park people on welfare and then forget about them, which is remarkably immoral for a group of people who love to endlessly brag about how virtuous and compassionate they are. The intelligent Right should come up with something better. And that means doing something more than simply aping Labour policy by raising the minimum (or “national living”) wage to £9 an hour so that the most tedious of low-paying McJobs keep people just out of working poverty.

The new permanent majority will not be secured by the Cameron / Osborne strategy of enacting Tony Blair’s fourth term of New Labour governance. It will come about by radically rolling back the state in all manner of areas where it should be doing less, while also giving citizens the tools and opportunity to prosper in the new economy.

Less protectionism, less pretending that the old jobs will come roaring back if only we leave the EU, embrace the EU or otherwise throw up barriers to global trade. Less shooting for the middle all round, and more empowerment of British citizens to pursue high value-add, high-wage, twenty-first century careers.

Now put that on a bumper sticker.

 

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