August 27, 2018

Bernie era will continue Reaganite Gilded Age, as Lincoln era continued inequality of Jackson era

As if the upcoming Second Civil War were not enough to deal with, at least we can breathe a sigh of relief after it's over, and go back to the New Deal days under a realigned Bernie-style party, right? That's certainly what people want, but not necessarily what the elites will do.

The closest parallel to the Bernie era is the Lincoln era that came after the Jacksonian era, which was like our current Reaganite era. The Lincoln Republicans made a lot of improvements over the Jacksonian Democrats, like ending slavery, tipping the balance toward manufacturing rather than agriculture, investing in infrastructure, and dialing down militarist expansion. Those kinds of changes seem entirely possible under the new era led by the Bernie followers' agenda.

At the same time, the Lincoln era saw the continuation of several negative trends that had begun under the Jacksonian era -- rising immigration, falling standard of living for ordinary people, rich getting richer (thus, widening inequality), partisan polarization, minimal civic organization, a laissez-faire approach to business, and the absence of a national or central bank to regulate the banks away from excessive risk-taking, which caused wave after wave of panics and depressions.

Those negative trends only began to reverse in the 1910s, well into the Progressive Era, and the reversal lasted throughout the New Deal / Great Society era. Here are two charts from Peter Turchin's work here and here on political dynamics, the first showing inequality and well-being (things like real wages, health, and marriage), and the second showing political stress and well-being:

Just because Bernie himself and his followers want the New Deal as their model for when America was ever great before, does not mean that's what they'll be able to deliver when they start re-shaping society. Whatever constrained the Lincoln era to continue some of the corrosive aspects of the Jacksonian era, will probably constrain the Bernie era to continue these same corrosive aspects of the Reaganite era.

I don't see the Bernie people closing the floodgates of immigration that the Reaganites opened, the two parties acting on a largely bipartisan basis, the rise of civic organizations like we saw during the Progressive and New Deal eras -- since there is barely the seed of such groups right now, on the cusp of the Bernie era -- the imposition of all sorts of controls over business, a strong central bank that will keep the finance sector from inflating and then popping one bubble after another, or narrowing inequality between the rich and poor.

Why? Because the underlying causes of these problems were not addressed by the Lincoln realignment -- it was primarily a shift in power from one group of hyper-competitive elites to another. That did undoubtedly bring about good things, since the elites in the former dominant party were the worst -- dependent on slave labor for their plantations, mindless expansion for military elites, and low tariffs and no infrastructure.

Shifting power to a different bloc of hyper-competitive elites -- like the manufacturing magnates -- meant the dominant coalition now had no material interest in slavery, low tariffs, minimal infrastructure, or militarist expansion. But that simply meant that the trend in inequality would continue widening, only replacing the plantation owners of the South with the manufacturing Robber Barons of the North. These Robber Barons didn't mind hordes of cheap labor immigrants flooding our shores, which meant the factory owners didn't have to pay as much in wages. And why would the Robber Barons make bipartisan peace with the plantation owners, after all the hell they had caused just yesterday?

What are the underlying causes that must be addressed? Turchin has another good summary of the structural-demographic model of societal instability, where three major factors cause instability to rise (and their reverse, to fall):

1. Over-supply of labor below the elite level, whether by soaring numbers of aspiring workers or vanishing jobs to meet that supply.

2. Over-production of elites (including aspiring elites), and their rising competitiveness with one another.

3. Deteriorating health of the state, especially its fiscal health.

Read his summary for how these all interact with each other, and how they combine to influence societal instability.

Here, the main point to make is that most of the people today who would be re-shaping society under a Bernie realignment are not working to do much about these factors. Indeed, if you brought them up explicitly, the Bernie leaders would probably say what's the big deal? That strongly suggests that these negative trends will continue even under an era whose dominant coalition is a Bernie style group.

(I'm distinguishing Bernie leaders from Bernie voters, who are more likely to support reversing these negative trends, but who won't have much power to re-shape society.)

First, they say little about the role of immigration in causing a drastic spike in the supply of labor overnight at the sub-elite level of workers. That could not happen through endogenous demographic forces, such as a baby boom in fertility among natives. They insist on never reducing immigration, when asked directly about it.

On the other side of the standard-of-living equation, they say little about "bringing good jobs back" to this country. Little of the vanishing jobs story has to do with automation -- maybe at some point in the future, but the immiseration of working people during the Reagan era has mainly been caused by off-shoring decent jobs to cheap labor colonies like China, Mexico, and India. The Bernie people say very little about industrial policy, other than they don't want further good jobs to leave through additional free trade deals.

Are they proposing draconian punishments on greedy anti-American corporations, unless they de-industrialize the cheap labor colonies and re-industrialize America? Not really, so good jobs will probably not come back even under the Bernie era.

So there will be little progress on fighting cheap labor policies -- hence their far more prevalent emphasis on a more generous welfare state, to ameliorate the pain dealt by the greedy corporate bosses, rather than to force them to provide workers with deservedly high-paying jobs in the first place.

Second, if anything the Bernie people are ratcheting up the over-production of elites by calling for debt-free college tuition, since going to college is the primary channel by which aspiring elite members try to gain access to the upper stratum.

That will send the higher ed bubble into overdrive, turn everyone into an aspiring elite member with an entitled attitude and lifestyle, and place even more of the population on the "not working-class" side of the class war. Bubble degree mills don't provide anything of value in skills or training, so again their focus is on providing a more generous welfare state to soften the landing of people who just figured out that getting a degree per se doesn't get you into the elite stratum.

To her credit, Ocasio-Cortez does make sure to qualify her endorsement of the "debt-free college" talking point by adding, "or trade school" -- something actually worth a damn, not part of the higher ed bubble, and not an intensification of status-striving elite wannabes. That would actually be a recognition that we have to stop goading everyone into striving to join the elites, and take up something useful and humble instead -- and as an added benefit, something that will lead to an actual job paying actual money!

Reversing the over-production of elites requires popping the higher ed bubble once and for all, letting 10-15% go to college (cheaply by nature, with a dramatic drop-off in the demand for college admissions), and everyone else getting cheap or free training through vocational classes in high school, trade school, apprenticeships, etc.

Apart from the career angle to elite status, most of the Bernie people don't seem interested in reversing the trend toward urban residence in only the most rarefied of metro areas. They are embarrassed about living in Milwaukee or Detroit -- major metros, but not major enough -- and must transplant themselves to Seattle or New York. This falls under lifestyle striving and persona striving -- you're just too cool to have the stink of Milwaukee rubbing off on you, and can only be cleansed as your awesomeness deserves to be in Brooklyn. Courtier living is no different just because it comes in a hipster flavor.

To reverse hyper-competitiveness, people need to stay where their roots are, or re-populate small towns rather than feed the Moloch of major metros.

And third, the Bernie people seem openly dismissive of the national debt being a problem -- $20 trillion, $100 trillion, who cares? That's just how things are paid for -- we're simply going to re-direct that debt-fueled flow of goodies away from the Reaganite welfare addicts like the military, and toward Bernie patronage recipients like grad students working at Starbucks who can't afford to live in Williamsburg without some kind of help.

I'm a little more hopeful on this one, since the Bernie coalition will still have the finance sector as its senior member, just like today's Democrats, and they are heavily interested in keeping the debt down. If it explodes, then their financial assets, mostly denominated in US dollars, become worthless (either through inflation, or debt default destroying trust in the dollar). And their elite schemes are not as costly as the military, and actually have some chance rather than no chance of providing a return on the investment (all our foreign military adventures are pure wastes of money, with no loot, booty, or spoils to bring back).

And I'm not talking about how Medicare for All would require debt to finance it -- it's still cheaper than the way we do it now. I mean their overall attitude that worrying about the debt is one of those corporate Republican attitudes -- when it obviously is not, as proven by the Reaganites exploding the debt through the roof for 40 years, reversing the period of stable debt under the New Deal Democrats (done at the behest of the banks who controlled that coalition).

I don't see this as a gloom and doom outlook on the Bernie era that will follow the upcoming civil breakdown. It's just a realistic assessment of how political and economic dynamics work, as shown throughout history, including our own. We are not at the phase that immediately precedes a New Deal kind of phase, so it's going to take us longer to get there than people are hoping for -- but it doesn't mean we'll never get there, that our nation is done for, etc.

It just means buckle up for a longer haul than you were expecting from the thought of reversing history one era backward, when cycles only move forward. If you've fallen from a recent peak, you just have to push through the upcoming nadir to start rising up the next summit as fast and as painlessly as possible.

August 22, 2018

GOP will keep House, similar to midterms before first Civil War

An earlier post looked at the history of midterms during disjunctive, end-of-an-era administrations. Unlike the standard pattern of midterms swinging control against the incumbent party of the White House, these midterms almost always began and ended with the White House party in control of Congress as well.

A couple clarifications are in order, though. First, we can ignore the results of Cleveland's midterms, as his admin was more of an interregnum between the Lincoln and McKinley eras, both of which saw the Republicans as the dominant party.

I put Cleveland as an end-of-an-era president because he was the last of the pure laissez-faire presidents before McKinley became a trailblazer against that orthodoxy. But Cleveland was from the opposition of his era -- the Democrats -- and so does not really qualify as a disjunctive president, who must be from the dominant party, representing the disintegration of the dominant coalition of the era. The fact that Cleveland's final midterm saw his party lose control of Congress is more likely due it its status as the opposition party of its era, hence always vulnerable to getting demoted back to second place.

More importantly, I only looked at the disjunctive midterm under Buchanan at the end of the Jacksonian era, when I should have included Pierce's as well. He was the first of the disintegration presidents before the Civil War: the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act under his watch in 1854 was a clear signal of the breakdown of the dominant coalition and the coming end of its rule. It broke the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (before the Jacksonian era, during the Era of Good Feelings), which limited the expansion of slavery in the new territories out West. By allowing slavery in the new territories, all bets were off on the pro and anti-slavery states maintaining their uneasy truce.

Going into the midterms, the disjunctive Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. You might think that the catastrophe of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was signed on May 30, would have dealt the dominant party a severe blow by midterm time. And while the Democrats did lose seats in both chambers, they still held the Senate outright, and held the largest number of seats in the House, albeit a plurality rather than a majority, as the non-Democrats fractured into a number of opposition parties.

Among these, two basic groups cohered -- a realignment coalition that wanted to check or abolish slavery, lead by the Republicans, and a pro-status quo coalition that wanted to emphatically ignore the slavery question, lead by the Know Nothings AKA the American Party. With such divergent goals on the major issue of their time, as the nation was building up to civil war, it was truly as though three factions were vying for control -- the anti-slavery Republicans, the increasingly unhinged Democrats who were now allowing slavery anywhere, and the status quo American Party that wanted to avoid the issue altogether.

In two earlier posts, here and here, I showed how the Russiagaters today are like the American Party (Know Nothings) of the final terms of the Jacksonian era. Their obsession with blaming an external leader -- Putin or the Pope -- for their own electoral failures, was just a rationalization. Their real issue was maintaining the status quo instead of going along with a long overdue realignment, rejecting the extremists of "both sides". The American Party saw both the abolitionists and the secessionists as extremes to be avoided, just as the Russiagaters view the Bernie and Trump camps as extremes to be avoided.

Another parallel is that the American Party initially drew lots of Democrats, who were the dominant and incumbent party, rather than being a pure splinter group from the opposition Whig party. Today, that's like the Russiagaters having a good number of Republicans on their side -- not so much among voters, but among politicians and officials, who are the ones who ultimately allow or delay a realignment. Their shared fixation on Russia is superficial -- they really join forces to prevent Trump from delivering on his populist campaign promises, and to prevent Bernie from doing much the same thing if he were to take over.

And yet, with all those defectors from both the dominant and opposition party who poured into the American Party in the 1854 midterms, they still couldn't crack a majority. In 2018, that may not take the form of separate parties, but there will be a surge in anti-realignment politicians hailing from both the dominant and opposition parties -- Russiagaters from Democrats, and Never Trumpers and anti-tariff Republicans.

Just as in 1854, that won't knock the dominant party into a minority in either house of Congress. Back then, they only had a plurality in the House (but majority in the Senate) because the defections were at the party level, whereas this time around when the parties have stabilized more, it will be more at the sub-party level. That means the GOP will keep both the House and Senate, even though they will lose members in the House and do about even in the Senate.

Why? Just look back at 1854, which is where we're at now in the cycle. There was a disastrous act passed that opened the door to civil war over slavery, and yet the American Party's main campaign theme was to ignore it and try to preserve the status quo? During these kinds of crises that only explode during a disjunctive phase, the opposition must offer radical change to realign the system. But they are too hidebound to offer that much change, at least during a midterm season without a national presidential candidate to spearhead a major realignment movement.

So, while voters remove support from the dominant party, it's not enough to remove them from power because the alternative is not offering major change to a major crisis.

If that seems unlikely, remember that during the disjunctive Hoover admin, the GOP began with full control of government after the 1928 election, and despite the Great Depression exploding during late 1929, they still held onto full control of the White House and both houses of Congress after the 1930 midterms. After the Great Depression! The opposition Democrats were not offering the New Deal programs just yet, so what good were they going to be in saving the country from the collapsing economy? The GOP lost plenty of seats, but not enough to lose majority status.

This year's opposition Democrats are not offering enough of a radical change to counter the escalation of militarism, the record widening trade deficits and de-industrialization, soaring numbers of cheap labor immigrants, falling real wages and deteriorating standard of living, and last-ditch inflation of the bubble economy by cutting taxes without paying for them, leading to yet another record year for our national debt. So while voters will not be pleased with the GOP's performance so far, they will not transfer power to the Democrats.

The big story is the rise of the Bernie candidates, just as 1854 saw the first-ever explosion of the realigning Republicans. They began with no one in the Senate before 1854, and picked up 3 (out of 62). And they began with only 4 in the House and ended with 37 (out of 118). Whether they're affiliated with Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, the Democratic Socialists of America, or are their own economic populist and anti-imperialist, these candidates are the clear wave of the future.

The bad news is that it's looking more and more like we're headed for the Civil War parallels, where there will be two disjunctive terms instead of only one. Just as there were Pierce and Buchanan, we're going to have to suffer through both the Trump and the Pence/Haley admins before populist realignment. The opposition Democrats are just as fragmented as the Whigs during the 1850s, and it is the psychotic centrists who will spoil the election of 2020 just as they did in 1856, by running a former big wig of the opposition whose sole campaign theme will be preserving the status quo and ignoring the big issues that are coming to an explosive head.

In 1856, the "ignore the big problems" campaign was led by a former president of the opposition party, Fillmore, but technically he was only elected to the vice presidency, and ascended to the presidency on the death of his senior running mate, Taylor. If history repeats itself, that leaves the last guy who got elected vice president for the opposition -- Joe Biden, whose sole campaign theme will be "Why can't we just go back to 2012?"

In a three-way battle between Bernie, Biden, and whoever the Republican is, the GOP will win by an even wider margin than in 2016, owing to the vote-splitting effect among the opposition, just as the disjunctive Democrat Buchanan won by an even wider margin in 1856 than his predecessor did in 1852, again due to the psychotic centrist splitting the vote among the opposition.

For now I'm keeping the chances of this "two disjunctive terms" scenario below 50%, but when the Democrats fail to pick up either house of Congress in the midterms, I will raise it above 50% if the psychotic centrists double down on ignoring the major issues and offering only the status quo, at a time when it is rapidly disintegrating. When the status quo was strong, during the '90s, it was feasible to offer their take on the status quo and win. But by now, Reaganism is dead, and they must offer a wholly different system -- at least as radically different as the system that Trump campaigned on in 2016.

This is not a general feature of disjunctive phases -- every other time there was a shift of regimes, the disjunctive phases lasted only one term. But at a time of soaring partisan polarization, as we last saw during the 1850s, the stubbornness and hyper-competitiveness applies even within the party, not just between them. Not only is bipartisanship dead, partisanship itself is coming undone -- now political solidarity and collective action only scale up to the level of a faction or wing within a party.

August 18, 2018

Bannon's firing, one year on: "I Put a Ban on Their Visas" (Tropical House Remix)

On the anniversary of Steve Bannon's expulsion from the Trump administration, I present a song about the tragic rise and fall of the would-be master strategist for transforming the GOP into a populist and anti-globalist vehicle, when the party has become too sclerotic to reform and redeem itself.

To the tune of "I Took a Pill in Ibiza" by Mike Posner (Seeb Remix):

* * *

I put a ban on their visas
To show 'em Trump and I could rule
And the Pentagon's order
Let Saudis through the border
But fuck it, it was making the news

I'm working outta DC
To see that NAFTA gets removed
I protect blue collars
Make the wealthy pay more dollars
And we'll spend it on bridges and schools

But you don't wanna war-cry like me
Never gonna say die like me
You don't ever wanna step out that Oval Office
And be all alone

You don't wanna self-combust like this
Never using antitrust like this
You don't wanna be cucked on global trade, singing
Cucked on global trade, singing

All I know are swan songs, swan songs
Darling, all I know are swan songs, swan songs

I'm just a thinker
Who's already an afterthought
I disgust fine diners
Gotta find a realigner
'Cause the party keeps losing the plot

And I can't swing the Dem vote
'Cause as soon as the platform's up:
"In Iran, a million troops
And tax cuts for groups
That the bankers gave trillions of bucks"

But you don't wanna war-cry like me
Never gonna say die like me
You don't ever wanna step out that Oval Office
And be all alone

You don't wanna self-combust like this
Never using antitrust like this
You don't wanna be cucked on global trade, singing
Cucked on global trade, singing

All I know are swan songs, swan songs
Darling, all I know are swan songs, swan songs

August 15, 2018

Populists and anti-globalists still rising among Dems, GOP doubles down on elitism and globalism

Another series of primary elections, another outcome of zero Republicans running -- let alone winning -- on Trump's 2016 campaign themes of populism and anti-globalism. In case there was still any doubt, the GOP is not realigning one millimeter. At best you'll get a few candidates who promise to crack down on immigration -- same ol', same ol'.

With absolutely no progress on The Wall -- no construction, no plan, no funding, no support, despite total GOP control over government -- immigration has now taken the place of abortion for Republicans. Some candidates will promise to do something about it, single-issue voters will turn out on their behalf, nothing whatsoever gets done in office, if anything it gets even worse, and the voters alleviate their cognitive dissonance by saying "next time" forever. They'll start building the wall right after they overturn Roe v. Wade.

On the opposition side, there are now going to be not one but two members of the Democratic Socialists of America in Congress, after Rashida Tlaib won her safe Dem district in Detroit. Like her fellow DSA Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she will be taking the place of a supposedly safe Democrat Establishment icon -- John Conyers, the longest continuously serving member of the House before he got booted by Me Too last December. Younger would-be members of his dynasty were shut out from taking over his seat.

Ilhan Omar, from another safe Dem seat in Minneapolis, will not be a net gain since she's replacing Keith Ellison, one of only 10 Congressmen who endorsed Bernie back in the 2016 primary. But it still shows that the Bernie wing is not losing members from government, and is only adding to them.

She's described as Somali, but is half, and also half-Yemeni -- and not from one of the jihadist factions there, given her opposition to the Saudis' war in Yemen and our military's role in it. Identity-obsessed hacks on both sides will underscore her being Somali, refugee, Muslim, etc., but it's clear that Minnesotans voted for her based on populism and anti-globalism.

See this list of her positions on foreign policy and trade policy, and tell me how different it is from what Trump ran on -- and periodically reiterates, even if no one else in the GOP government will deliver what he wants. Trump nearly won Minnesota by convincing people that he was not a real Republican, and would pursue policies that their Representatives like Keith Ellison or Ilhan Omar could totally get on board with. But after allowing himself to be captured by the GOP Establishment, he's lost most of the unorthodox appeal he used to have.

With Paul Ryan retiring, a realigning GOP would vote for anyone other than Paul Ryan's aide as his replacement. But since realignments are never carried out by the dominant party of a historical period, it falls to the Dems to put someone more populist in Ryan's place. Randy Bryce won the Dem primary on a platform of Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, and other Bernie-style policies. This district is not a safe blue one, but is at least up for grabs with the incumbent Ryan retiring, and leaving his butt boy to fill his empty suit.

So far, it looks like the Bernie revolution is going to do best in the Snow Belt and worse in the Sun Belt, as they had little to show in California, Hawaii (Tulsi Gabbard remains, but Kaniela Ing lost big), Missouri (right-to-work rejected by referendum, but Cori Bush lost her primary), and Kansas (James Thompson won his primary, but the district is deep red and he offered no way for Republicans to switch sides).

It's not racial differences, since Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Omar are all women of color who ran in districts with large minority populations. It looked that way during the 2016 primary, where Bernie won big with whites but got destroyed by blacks and Hispanics at the individual level, and from there to the state level. Now it looks more like a split between the left-behind Snow Belt and the boomtown Sun Belt -- mirroring Trump's appeal to "the forgotten man and forgotten woman".

Even Ocasio-Cortez's district, seemingly in a prosperous metro like New York, is filled with downwardly mobile transplants who thought they were going to get a nice job and live in Manhattan, then revised their expectations down to Williamsburg, then to Astoria, then to wherever else next. Not to mention the victims of gentrification in this district. No one there feels higher and higher expectations over time, whether they're would-be elites or would-be working class kings.

As we head into our Second Civil War, the old battle line between North and South is rearing its ugly head again. Disturbingly, that may apply all the way out West this time, with California resisting both the Bernie realignment and the GOP at the same time, struggling in vain to stay neutral before an obvious civil conflict, while the Pacific Northwest goes along with changing climate. But that's a historical analogy that'll have to wait for another post to explore.