How Far Back Do the Populists Want to Turn the Clock?

 

The old Heinz factory, now a combination of residential lofts and a manufacturing facility, sits among houses in Pittsburgh.

From Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times:

What western electorates seem to want is a correction of the liberal model, not its extinction. The marginal British voter, who braved EU exit, but only just, can worry that freedom — to migrate, to trade, to avoid taxes — has run away with itself since the millennium without pining for Ye Olde Worlde rigidities.

The question is how far back they want to reverse things. Consider some of the last century’s odd-numbered decades. Only someone who is trying very hard indeed can imagine a sequence of events that ends in a comeback for 1930s protectionism anytime soon. The 1950s is not much more plausible. No one can recreate the ethnic uniformity or the postwar deference to the state. 1970s corporatism might be nearer the mark. The decade liberals remember as an extended farce peppered with some notable pop culture was, for a household in Detroit or Coventry, the last age of rewarding manual work. All the same, who envisages the return of intrusive capital controls and ministries of state with a say in prices

None of these past-time paradises are recoverable or much desired outside the most aged and seething segments of the electorate. What might be is the 1990s. George Will’s “holiday from history”, as named by the conservative American writer for its liberal hubris, does not seem ripe for populist romanticisation. But look at the record. Britain was diverse but yet to taste the surge in migration from Europe (and the less famous flow from outside Europe at the end of the decade). The economy was strong without the great leveraging of banks and households that was, in both senses, around the bend.

At least in the United States, we just had a test of the political resonance of the “I love the ’90s!” theme. In the 2016 election, it was the decade that didn’t bark. A curious incident since Bill Clinton presided over a period of very fast, broadly shared growth.

Yet Hillary Clinton was not promising a bridge to that past as a major theme, at least not that I noticed.

Why not? Certainly the centrist Bill Clinton presidency seems out of fashion among modern progressives. And of course the ’90s boom was followed by the ’00s bust, dimming its attractiveness. Donald Trump, full of nostalgia for the industrial American economy of the 1950s and 1960s, reframed the Long Boom of the Eighties and Nineties as a time when bad trade deals drained America of its wealth. He talked about the ’90s as when Bill Clinton pushed and passed NAFTA, a trade deal Trump views as the worst ever. Finally, Team Hillary seemed to focus more on Trump’s unfitness for office than a compelling agenda that built upon her husband’s successes.

Still, most Americans probably don’t view the 1990s the same as working-class whites hurt by the impact of automation and trade on the manufacturing sector do. Bill Clinton remains a popular ex-president. Most are more positive about an open economy. Most think immigrants have made the nation stronger and don’t want to deport the undocumented. Broad views on trade seem more mixed, depending on the wording of polling questions. But policy that assumes trade isn’t a win for everyone might boost support for globalization. I also think some globalization fears are vacuuming up fears about automation. The point here is that you don’t have to go too far back to see a innovation-driven period of fast-rising living standards. More from Ganesh:

The despair of globalists comes from dwelling on the very angriest citizens. Swing voters, the ones who decide things, do not aspire to a far-gone idyll of their imagination. But they might prefer a recent past that is, with the limited levers of state, just about recoverable. Even if there was a clamour for the mid-20th century, no prime minister can catch time’s arrow in mid-flight and send it hurtling back so far the other way. Impersonal advances in commerce, technology and art put a curb on how much regression there will be. Things cannot be uninvented.

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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    James Pethokoukis: A curious incident since Bill Clinton presided over a period of very fast, broadly shared growth.

    That may be, but he presided over a period of fast, broadly shared corruption of the political process. I’d want to turn the clock back to a time before that.

    • #1
  2. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    I want it turned forward to a country without global elitists.

    • #2
  3. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Progressive government was just a new rationalization for centralized governance by a circle of elites, e.g. not monarchy or dictator, broader than an oligarchy, but a broad coalition of the elites of organized interests, which is what government always tends toward and why it becomes rigid and ultimately stagnates and dies.  We want it all gone as the founders intended.  It works.

    • #3
  4. Arjay Member
    Arjay
    @

    The Clinton administration is the one that gave China full access to begin strategically wiping out US industries, so that’s not the period to turn back to.

    • #4
  5. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    James should take Jon Gabriel’s bubble quiz.

    • #5
  6. TKC1101 Inactive
    TKC1101
    @TKC1101

    For an economist, he seems throw around a lot of imprecise terms like “most americans” as opposed to ‘working class whites’.

    A country that makes nothing becomes a colony of those that do.

     

    • #6
  7. Paul Kingsbery Thatcher
    Paul Kingsbery
    @PaulKingsbery

    TKC1101 (View Comment):A country that makes nothing becomes a colony of those that do.

    Can you give a single example to support this assertion?

    • #7
  8. El Colonel Contributor
    El Colonel
    @El Colonel

     

    America’s balance sheet tells the whole story; it is weighed down by debt and hanging weed, tipped to larboard, threatening to sink, founder, or capsize.  Below deck, passengers in steerage demand and multiply. On deck, too few struggle with the sails and at the pumps while elites bark orders.  We cannot stop they say.  Jettison the remaining guns!  Ration the victuals.  Sail into the wind!  It must be just ahead.

    But that is not how America was imagined.  Each man was to strive to have his own boat, his own crew, his own trade.  Some would have fleets, others just a single cathead boat, but it would be his alone, his source of pride.  These men would sail wherever they wished, taking advantage of favorable wind and surviving foul weather.

    We don’t need to return to any earlier time.  We need to ignore the elites, pull the passengers from steerage and teach them the nobility of work.  We need to acquire new cannons and bristle at those who threaten us. The great sea anchor that is the US Bureaucracy of Everything must be cut away and the bilge pumped dry.  Only then may we set sail, following favorable weather, known traditions, reliable maps and known trade, all while expecting everyone aboard to dream that one day he might well be captain of his own ship.

     

    • #8
  9. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    As an aside to your post I’ll give a little history of the Hienz plant you caption. Directly north of the plant was a building that housed a fourth generation company by the name of Pittsburgh Wool. For years Heinz wanted to buy the property to build a  warehouse . Pittsburgh wool wasn’t interested in selling at any price. Across the street was an office building of Heinzthat was under utilized. That is now the housing to which your caption refers . Heinz with the help of the then mayor of Pittsburgh threatened Pittsburgh Wool with an  and  eminent domain suit and they finally buckled under the pressure and sold. After getting the Pgh Wool building, Heinz sold the office building for condos. It would have been entirely feasible to build the warehouse there in the first place. Crony capitalism?

     

     

     

    • #9
  10. Tony Sells Inactive
    Tony Sells
    @TonySells

    TKC1101 (View Comment):
    For an economist, he seems throw around a lot of imprecise terms like “most americans” as opposed to ‘working class whites’.

    A country that makes nothing becomes a colony of those that do.

    If you’re talking about manufacturing, we make more “stuff” than we ever have.  http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-manufacturing-dead-output-has-doubled-in-three-decades-2016-03-28

    • #10
  11. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    El Colonel (View Comment):
    America’s balance sheet tells the whole story; it is weighed down by debt and hanging weed, tipped to larboard, threatening to sink, founder, or capsize. Below deck, passengers in steerage demand and multiply. On deck, too few struggle with the sails and at the pumps while elites bark orders. We cannot stop they say. Jettison the remaining guns! Ration the victuals. Sail into the wind! It must be just ahead.

    But that is not how America was imagined. Each man was to strive to have his own boat, his own crew, his own trade. Some would have fleets, others just a single cathead boat, but it would be his alone, his source of pride. These men would sail wherever they wished, taking advantage of favorable wind and surviving foul weather.

    We don’t need to return to any earlier time. We need to ignore the elites, pull the passengers from steerage and teach them the nobility of work. We need to acquire new cannons and bristle at those who threaten us. The great sea anchor that is the US Bureaucracy of Everything must be cut away and the bilge pumped dry. Only then may we set sail, following favorable weather, known traditions, reliable maps and known trade, all while expecting everyone aboard to dream that one day he might well be captain of his own ship.

    Es verdad, jefe…totalmente.  But, the elites need reminding, too, no?

    • #11
  12. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    It’s gotten to be mighty tiresome reading globalists arguing with their silly imaginations.

    It isn’t about “turning back the clock,” or some such nonsense. The question is what do we do to face the future? If you think things are awesome in the Western World, then I suppose you want to keep things the way they are. If you don’t, then you’ll look elsewhere for answers.

    The government has done essentially nothing to face the economic challenges of that foreign competition poses for the US economy, instead giving us everything-is-awesome platitudes, while relying upon the dollar’s reserve currency status to paper over the problems. My guess: the people running the US government actually think the US is the global hegemon, responsible for all the world. Thus any effort to favor the actual United States is bitterly opposed as an abdication of our sacred responsibility to the globe.

    I used to think that sort of thinking was tinfoil nonsense. But when the US has the highest corporate tax rate on the planet, endless onerous and stupid regulations burdening the economy, as well as a government that is completely indifferent to all that and both the departure of an enormous part of US economy and the de facto abolition of the US border, I think differently.

    So does a plurality of the American electorate, it appears. I want the US to compete- and win.

    Globalists, stop slandering us because we’ve noticed you’ve failed.

    • #12
  13. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    It’s a challenge. True. But as someone wiser than I once stated, The voters only have two answers. Yes or No. The hoi polloi have answered and by a close vote their answer is NO.* It is now up to the politicians we’ve hired to chart a path to the destination that best satisfies the voters. In other words, time for the leaders to use their persuasive skills.

     

     

    *They didn’t listen in 2010 or 2014.

    As an ace blogger is wont to say “That’s how you got Trump.”

    • #13
  14. TKC1101 Inactive
    TKC1101
    @TKC1101

    Paul Kingsbery (View Comment):
    Can you give a single example to support this assertion?

    See Greater East Asia Co_Prosperity Sphere, 1936-1945

    • #14
  15. Paul Kingsbery Thatcher
    Paul Kingsbery
    @PaulKingsbery

    TKC1101 (View Comment):

    Paul Kingsbery (View Comment):
    Can you give a single example to support this assertion?

    See Greater East Asia Co_Prosperity Sphere, 1936-1945

    I’m not sure how that supports your point.  Are you suggesting that Japan rendered itself a colony by moving manufacturing to the countries within the “Prosperity Sphere”?  Or are you suggesting that Japan attempted to lift itself up from its “colony” status by increasing manufacturing?  Or something else in mind?

    • #15
  16. TKC1101 Inactive
    TKC1101
    @TKC1101

    Paul Kingsbery (View Comment):

    TKC1101 (View Comment):

    Paul Kingsbery (View Comment):
    Can you give a single example to support this assertion?

    See Greater East Asia Co_Prosperity Sphere, 1936-1945

    I’m not sure how that supports your point. Are you suggesting that Japan rendered itself a colony by moving manufacturing to the countries within the “Prosperity Sphere”? Or are you suggesting that Japan attempted to lift itself up from its “colony” status by increasing manufacturing? Or something else in mind?

    Japan was a manufacturing nation who went after other countries who had raw materials an no other economy.

    That was an easy one. I am sure you can find more, try starting with the Roman empire and northern Europe and then move forward.

     

    • #16
  17. BD Member
    BD
    @

    “Reform Conservatives” control National Review and The Weekly Standard now.  RC’s favor Bill Clinton rather than Reagan or George W Bush on economic issues.  Pethokoukis voted for Hillary.

    • #17
  18. Paul Kingsbery Thatcher
    Paul Kingsbery
    @PaulKingsbery

    TKC1101 (View Comment):

     

    Japan was a manufacturing nation who went after other countries who had raw materials an no other economy.

    That was an easy one. I am sure you can find more, try starting with the Roman empire and northern Europe and then move forward.

    Do you think that Japan was a colony before it attempted to create its “Prosperity Sphere”?  At most, this example shows that countries with superior militaries dominate over those with weaker militaries.  Not really a strong economic point.

    I think the best you can say is that, at a certain stage of economic development, more powerful countries start out by specializing in manufacturing and exploiting weaker countries for natural resources.  I think the U.K. during the First Industrial Revolution is a good example of this pattern.  “Manufacturing” did not really exist in ancient Rome, which acted as a tax hub for its empire.

    But at later stages of economic development, when certain kinds of manufacturing shifts from a highly specialized and technical business into a less specialized business, the process flips.  Certain population centers shift to more highly specialized businesses, such as banking and trade, and commoditized manufacturing processes are pushed out to less influential territories.  I think the US during the Second Industrial Revolution is a good example of this pattern.  I would not say that New York City’s decline in manufacturing has rendered it a less influential or powerful state in the Union.

     

    • #18
  19. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    Tony Sells (View Comment):

    If you’re talking about manufacturing, we make more “stuff” than we ever have. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-manufacturing-dead-output-has-doubled-in-three-decades-2016-03-28

    Another strawman, blown to chaff. This is another in the endless stream of everything-is-awesome puff pieces that paper over the problems we face.

    I loved that nice picture of a Boeing aircraft, while of course the article made no mention of how much of it has been offshored, or how China forced Boeing to built a factory there, thus trading away the technical knowledge built up over the last century of American industrial development.

    Also, the light trucks- mentioned as the #2 product- of course didn’t mention the 25% tariff on imports.

    But thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • #19
  20. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    Paul Kingsbery (View Comment): I would not say that New York City’s decline in manufacturing has rendered it a less influential or powerful state in the Union.

    Wait, what?

    New York has rather infamously been shedding people and political power in recent decades. Once upon a time its governors became presidents. Not lately.

    The latest New Yorker to win political power- Donald Trump- is at odds with the politics of his home state.

    And the state outside NYC is a wasteland, or at least large parts of it. I grew up near Detroit, and the ruins of outstate New York shocked even me.

    The state is not on a trajectory of success, in my view, nor does it in any way approach its former influence.

    • #20
  21. Tony Sells Inactive
    Tony Sells
    @TonySells

    Xennady (View Comment):

    Tony Sells (View Comment):

    If you’re talking about manufacturing, we make more “stuff” than we ever have. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-manufacturing-dead-output-has-doubled-in-three-decades-2016-03-28

    Another strawman, blown to chaff. This is another in the endless stream of everything-is-awesome puff pieces that paper over the problems we face.

    I loved that nice picture of a Boeing aircraft, while of course the article made no mention of how much of it has been offshored, or how China forced Boeing to built a factory there, thus trading away the technical knowledge built up over the last century of American industrial development.

    Also, the light trucks- mentioned as the #2 product- of course didn’t mention the 25% tariff on imports.

    But thanks for taking the time to comment.

    So you’re point is that we are not setting records for manufacturing output?

    • #21
  22. Paul Kingsbery Thatcher
    Paul Kingsbery
    @PaulKingsbery

    Xennady (View Comment):
    The state is not on a trajectory of success, in my view, nor does it in any way approach its former influence.

    In terms of pure political influence in the federal government, I’m not sure how you can make this claim.  Both nominees for President were residents of New York this year.  Four of the eight Supreme Court justices were born in New York.  (It was five before Justice Scalia’s untimely death.)  The fact that Trump’s politics were not representative of a majority in New York doesn’t undermine my point:  he became famous in the US because of his reality TV show (filmed in New York).

    In terms of finance, New York is the center of gravity of the entire world.  It has lots of problems, don’t get me wrong.  But a colony of states with heavier manufacturing?  Any decline New York (especially the City) has experienced has nothing to do with its reduced focus on manufacturing here.

    The places in the US that have struggled are those that specialized in manufacturing but when that became economically infeasible, failed to adapt.  The theory that making cheap commoditized goods makes a country/state/territory stronger is bunk.

     

    • #22
  23. Paul Kingsbery Thatcher
    Paul Kingsbery
    @PaulKingsbery

    Xennady (View Comment):

    Paul Kingsbery (View Comment): I would not say that New York City’s decline in manufacturing has rendered it a less influential or powerful state in the Union.

    And the state outside NYC is a wasteland, or at least large parts of it. I grew up near Detroit, and the ruins of outstate New York shocked even me.

    This is factually untrue.  Where in “outstate” New York are you talking about, specifically?  Every state, regardless of its overall influence, has areas that are economically disadvantaged.  New York is no exception, but no “large parts” of this state are “wasteland.”  Moreover, that has nothing to do with the point that TKC1101 was making.  He is claiming that, by decreasing manufacturing, you become a “colony.”

    • #23
  24. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    Tony Sells (View Comment):

    So you’re point is that we are not setting records for manufacturing output?

    To put it mildly, yes.

    I think the dollar value of US manufactured products is a cherry-picked statistic intended to gloss over the terrible problems the US economy faces, carefully chosen and massaged by people who are unwilling to admit anything is wrong.

    Meanwhile the government keeps re-re-calculating the inflation rate, with the plainly obvious intent to pretend inflation isn’t happening. Living in the United States, I am dubious.

    In any case I note that you ignored what I specifically wrote, which inclines me to ignore what you may write in the future, if anything.

    • #24
  25. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    Paul Kingsbery (View Comment):

    This is factually untrue. Where in “outstate” New York are you talking about, specifically? Every state, regardless of its overall influence, has areas that are economically disadvantaged. New York is no exception, but no “large parts” of this state are “wasteland.” Moreover, that has nothing to do with the point that TKC1101 was making. He is claiming that, by decreasing manufacturing, you become a “colony.”

    This is more nothing-is-wrong platitudinal nonsense.

    If you haven’t figured out by now that something has gone wrong in this country then you’re probably waiting for Jeb Bush to take off and become the next president.

    Ain’t gonna happen. In the actual world the nothing-is-wrong crowd got obliterated by the guy who had never held political office before and faced bitter hostility from the roughly all of the US political establishment.

    There’s a lesson in all that, somewhere.

    • #25
  26. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Only some hack writing for FT (or the Economist) would see a rejuvenated US as being a turn back in time.  But then that describes so-called free market economists from think tanks as well, evidently.

    • #26
  27. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Hang On (View Comment):
    Hang On

    Only some hack writing for FT (or the Economist) would see a rejuvenated US as being a turn back in time. But then that describes so-called free market economists from think tanks as well, evidently.

    I wouldn’t call him a hack. I’m glad he’s here as a representative of a set of values that I don’t share. He usually makes his case well enough, given his value system. I don’t see any need to insult him.

    • #27
  28. Paul Kingsbery Thatcher
    Paul Kingsbery
    @PaulKingsbery

    Xennady (View Comment):

    Paul Kingsbery (View Comment):

    This is factually untrue. Where in “outstate” New York are you talking about, specifically? Every state, regardless of its overall influence, has areas that are economically disadvantaged. New York is no exception, but no “large parts” of this state are “wasteland.” Moreover, that has nothing to do with the point that TKC1101 was making. He is claiming that, by decreasing manufacturing, you become a “colony.”

    This is more nothing-is-wrong platitudinal nonsense.

    If you haven’t figured out by now that something has gone wrong in this country then you’re probably waiting for Jeb Bush to take off and become the next president.

    Ain’t gonna happen. In the actual world the nothing-is-wrong crowd got obliterated by the guy who had never held political office before and faced bitter hostility from the roughly all of the US political establishment.

    There’s a lesson in all that, somewhere.

    Xennady, I think you need to work on your reading comprehension skills. I never said that there was nothing wrong in the US. I’m saying the solution is not to try to “revitalize” our economy by implementing a mercantilist economic policy.

    If we are the “nothing is wrong” crowd, then you are the “nothing is right” crowd. And I think the fact that we’re even having this conversation over the Internet is a clear refutation of the idea that the development of a global economy has had only negative effects.

    • #28
  29. El Colonel Contributor
    El Colonel
    @El Colonel

    Paul Kingsbery (View Comment):

    TKC1101 (View Comment):A country that makes nothing becomes a colony of those that do.

    Can you give a single example to support this assertion?

    I hate to be philosophical, but man’s history of conquest has always been based on the makers (ships, technology, armaments) becoming takers.  The common thread here though was not manufacturing (though manufacturing and technology certainly play a major part), it was war-making.  The most formidable armies and navies were the key to both conquest and defense.  Natural resources (forests for ships, metals for weapons) certainly played a part as well.  In the 20th century, free commerce and technology allowed countries to thrive without the spoils of conquest.  Services, intellectual property, software, technology quickly evolved to become the more valuable, though transient, commodities.  Labor intensive manufacturing requiring limited skill migrated to less developed countries, especially to countries whose political systems inhibited free trade and commerce.  It’s too soon to tell where these trends take us.

    More disturbing, however, are the developments in countries that see humanity through a 4th or 5th century lens but who also have vast energy resources.  These countries can build militaries and yet remain truculent, repressive and tyrannical with little to no other commerce.  And one country, North Korea, that has neither significant natural resources nor commerce, has found that military technology alone can be developed and traded, while both repressing its people and with no real economy at all.

    When we rely on other countries to make things for us, especially key military hardware, I’d say that your bromide is true.  And there are certain things, essentials we import, the flow of which, if disrupted, could make our lives difficult.  But the US is a large and rich country, with incredible natural resources.  In fact, from a security perspective, recent vast discoveries of energy resources within our borders, makes us far less vulnerable to foreign powers than we have been in many decades.

    That’s not to say that we should not strive to preserve our commerce from foreign encroachment.  The bigger question for our economy however, is how do we coax our own workers back into the workforce?  How do we fill the jobs of skilled tradesmen when no one wants to get up early and go home tired and sweaty at the end of the day?  A great economy cannot be built on careers in part-time retail sales, bartending and coffee making.  Americans need to learn how to be ambitious again.

    • #29
  30. Karl Nittinger Inactive
    Karl Nittinger
    @KarlNittinger

    TKC1101 (View Comment):
    A country that makes nothing becomes a colony of those that do.

    Manufacturing is the largest sector of the US economy. Manufacturing output has doubled in the past approximately 30 years. Perhaps there are some who think that we are worse off because we don’t do a lot of gluing of flip-flops together in this country, but most of us don’t think that is necessarily a negative with respect to an indication of prosperity and standard of living.

    • #30

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