Tuesday, May 31, 2016

America’s forgotten poor whites.

Brookings' Carol Graham
"I love the poorly educated."

--Donald Trump

Carol Graham at the liberal Brookings Institution has summarized her research on “Unhappiness in America.” Graham's work contains noteworthy insights:
  •  poor and near-poor whites suffer more from unhappiness, stress, and lack of hope than do traditionally-discriminated-against minorities. 
  • blacks are the most optimistic about their futures (three times more optimistic than poor whites).  
  • Poor whites are 18% more likely to experience stress in the previous day than middle-class whites. 
  • While gaps in achievement and proficiency have widened across income groups, they have narrowed between blacks (and Hispanics) and whites. 
  • The overall black-white wage gap has also narrowed, from 69% of the median wage for white males in 1970 to 75% by 2013. 
  • the life expectancy gap between blacks and whites is down to just 3.4 years -- 75.6 years for blacks and 79 years for whites. 
  • poor and middle-class blacks compare themselves to parents who were worse off, while blue-collar whites face far more job competition than did their parents. 
  • mortality rates from opioid addiction, suicide and other preventable causes are up among uneducated whites, but not among blacks and Hispanics. 
Up against such a stark and clear picture -- big government is advantaging minorities at the expense of poor whites and the whites know it -- Graham then shoves a deliberate diversion in our faces, writing instead about the gap between rich and all poor.

She ends with her prescription; a progressive litany of big government activism designed in her mind to help whites and other poor:
long-term investments in public health and education. . . new forms of social assistance -- and language -- which encourage hope rather than stigmatize poor recipients . . . reducing the distance between the lives of the rich and the poor, so that attaining success . . . is not something that seems forever out of reach for the poor.
Right. Big government, big government, big government.

“Finally,” Graham says:
tracking well-being as a complement to GDP, as many countries are already doing, would provide an important gauge of the happiness and health of our society in the future.
My oh my oh my. Here we have it. Graham and who knows how many of her colleagues quietly giving up on economic growth and GDP measurement of it.

Growth that progressive government can’t seem to provide. Why not then substitute the “Bhutan is #1 ‘Happiness Index’” for the GDP, especially since blacks seem relatively happy with their current state anyway? Graham’s “many countries” pushing the “Happiness Index” are poorer than the U.S., so let’s forget about job creation, forget making America great again, and instead follow the no-growth path to peace, hope, and less stress.

Intentionally or not, Graham’s article helps us understand why poor whites respond well to Trump’s message.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Trump: Conservative Agonistes

Trump won the Republican nomination. He won in large part because his behavior separates him from polite society. Those in the Republican primary who gave Trump their votes dislike the establishment. They want to send the establishment a message. The more Trump is a bad boy, the more Trump’s army embraces him.

Not surprisingly, the establishment's Republican wing struggles with Trump’s win.  Even Walter Russell Mead has a tough time accepting Trump.  Mead, in my opinion, is one of conservative America’s most astute analysts. Mead several years ago realized the progressive elite has failed our nation. So he has a soft spot for Trump voters and in the end, Mead has sided with the Trump army, if not Trump himself:
Clinton[‘s] praetorian guard—Wall Street, the upper middle class feminists, the African American establishment, the Davoisie, the institutional power of the great foundations and educational bureaucracies, Silicon Valley, Hollywood—have defeated their intellectual and political rivals in their spheres of interest and influence. Supporting her is a massive agglomeration of power, intellect, wealth and talent. Her candidacy is the logical climax of the Baby Boom’s march through the institutions of American life. . . The American Right for all its earnest efforts has been unable to construct a counter establishment that can compete with the contemporary liberal behemoth.
Yet . . . in the eyes of many Americans [the Boomer elite has] not done all that well in the real world. Foreign policy, financial policy, health policy, support of the middle class, race relations, family life, public education, trade policy, city and state government management, wages: what exactly has the Boomer Consensus accomplished in these fields? Many Americans think that the Consensus is a scam and a flop when it comes to actually, well, making things better for the average person. . . This is where Trump comes in. His supporters . . . are united in opposition to the status quo. They believe that the emperor has no clothes . . .
To Mead, Clinton stands for competent management of “an unsustainable status quo,” and “a pair of safe and steady hands on the wheel” of a ship slowly gliding “toward the reefs.” By contrast, the Trump movement has “the social instinct of revolt and rejection” that is “a sign of social health.”

The single most thoughtful conservative voice is probably that of Charles Murray. Murray has documented how America’s cultural wars -- the loss of post-war unity, the decline of religion, and consequent rise of secular progressiveism -- has damaged working and lower classes. You might therefore expect Murray, like Mead, to identify with Trump's working class-based movement.

Yet as a true credentialed elitist, Murray can’t stomach Trump:
Trump makes strategic decisions about what useful untruths he will tell on any given day — it looks as if he just makes up stuff as he goes along. . . That he deals so heedlessly in those misrepresentations makes it impossible for an opponent to conduct an authentic policy debate with him.
It’s one thing when a candidate knowingly deceives the public on a few specific topics. Hillary Clinton has knowingly tried to deceive the public about her flip-flop on gay marriage and her misuse of her e-mail server. That’s bad. It should be condemned. This aspect of her character should affect one’s deliberations about whether to vote for her. It’s another thing entirely when a candidate blithely rejects Pat Moynihan’s (attributed) dictum, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.”
To bury Trump, Murray quotes fellow elitist and New York Times anti-Trump commentator David Brooks, who wrote:
Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out. He insults the office Abraham Lincoln once occupied by running for it with less preparation than most of us would undertake to buy a sofa. . . . He is a childish man running for a job that requires maturity. He is an insecure boasting little boy whose desires were somehow arrested at age 12.
Murray advises fellow establishment conservatives:
I cannot end without urging you to resist that sin to which people with high IQs (which most of you have) are unusually prone: Using your intellectual powers to convince yourself of something despite the evidence plainly before you. Just watch and listen to the man.
Comment: We wrote earlier about the liberal elite’s “smug style,” a “knowing” meritocracy happily superior to “stupid hicks.” Murray, a Harvard grad and author of books that separate people into classes -- even races -- by IQ, seems to be rejecting Trump because he isn’t smart enough to base policy on facts. Apparently use of facts, book knowledge, is the decisive measure of the man.  Murray's elite snobbery shows in his asking “people with high IQs” not to betray their “intellectual powers” by endorsing Trump.

Here’s what smug liberals and conservative Murray miss: the unwashed masses are unimpressed with “the best and the brightest” running the country, and are perfectly happy to make a mess (Trump), if it will produce real change. “You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.”

We don’t yet know whether the Trump movement is strong enough to overpower the status quo liberal elite and their “identity politics” allies in the classes below. We do know the fight is underway.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Democrats live and die with identity politics. (III)

As we have said, in the coming election Democrats plan to drown out bad economic news -- the party presides over low growth and declining median income -- by emphasizing identity politics, discussed here (Part I) and here (Part II).

But some conservatives argue identity politics isn’t the game changer progressives hope it will be.  The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel writes:
In 2014, the GOP won in states they were expected to lose not with minority “outreach” but with “inclusion.” A recent GOP report derides “outreach” as “when the old order makes a decision and then calls the community leaders to inform them:”
Compare that with “inclusion,” when “the community is in on the discussion before the decision.” The report explains: In every campaign it studied, “successful Republicans built minority events into their schedules, created advisory groups from leaders in the communities, developed internships for young people,” and generally showed they wanted to be involved in these communities.
Also Fred Barnes, in the conservative Weekly Standard, quotes Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski saying Trump's speeches aren't "designed to speak to one demographic." Trump delivers the same message to everyone.

Barnes adds:
Gingrich's daughter Jackie Gingrich Cushman, a columnist for Creators Syndicate . . . noted that Trump has no interest in leading the Republican party. That's a positive trait. "Trump is interested in leading the nation—for all Americans. He happens to be a Republican, but his goal is to win the presidency—not to manage the party." When Trump says "America First," it means he's putting the country "above party, above other nations, and that's why voters love him."
Comment: Little question Trump has separated himself from the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan standard conservative agenda of smaller government (he wants more infrastructure spending), tax reductions “across the board” (he would raise taxes on super-rich), entitlement reform (he protects existing social security and Medicare benefits), free trade (renegotiate job-killing deals with China, Mexico), “comprehensive” immigration reform (favors sealed borders and deportation of illegals), an adventurous foreign policy (calls Iraq "big mistake"), and a no-exceptions, pro-life abortion stance (praises Planned Parenthood). Unlike most conservatives (Romney excepted), Trump supports universal health care.

Most of all, Trump slams the crooked elite. Trump has emerged as populist, not conservative. Trump makes it difficult for Democrats to call him a right-wing nut out to strip identity group victims of their security blankets -- big government goodies.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

China’s Cultural Revolution and Today’s Cult of Personality

Cult of Personality: Hitler, Stalin, Mao
May 16, 1966: “Bombard the Headquarters!”

Chairman Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution 50 years ago today, telling China his Communist Party was corrupt to the core and must be overthrown.

The Cultural Revolution convulsed China until Mao’s death 10 years later. It was Mao’s often out-of-control response to the humiliation Mao’s party colleagues inflicted on him, following the “Great Helmsman’s” disastrous “Great Leap Forward” (1958-61).

One Mao (1893-1976). One New China (1949), followed by Two Spectacular Failures.

After Mao died, Deng Xiaoping’s pragmatic leadership produced what the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Browne calls “the greatest economic progress in human history.”

Chairmen Xi & Mao--Wall Street Journal
But technocrat Deng’s success isn’t enough for China’s current leader Xi Jinping. Xi, concerned about the emptiness of China today -- material progress without belief, without faith -- is responding by partially restoring Mao’s Cultural Revolution cult of personality.

Following the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution disasters, the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre became China’s third political earthquake. In that year, Deng’s reform effort came close to bringing democracy as well as capitalism to China. Democracy is a belief system that undergirds capitalism. Faith in democracy is faith in the people’s ability to rule. Democracy parallels capitalism’s faith in people’s ability to create wealth. Both democracy and capitalism need the oxygen freedom provides.

Democracy, however, threatened many Chinese leaders, even though the leading political reformers were themselves Communists. Popular support for democracy spun out of control, recalling the Cultural Revolution’s disorder. The Soviet Union in 1989 was itself pushing political reform and threatening its status quo elements. It was too much for most Chinese leaders. But by suppressing the Tiananmen democracy movement, the Party left China soulless.

So now Xi is falling back on 20th century dictators’ favorite path to mass communication-generated popular support: the cult of personality. Xi doesn’t center the cult on himself, but rather deflects it toward a cleaned-up image of Mao, scrubbed free of Mao’s blemishes.

Given the Cultural Revolution’s continued unpopularity in China, Xi’s effort contains a hint of desperation. Xi has to know that in the end, personality cults didn’t work for Hitler, Stalin, or Mao.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Democrats live and die with identity politics. (II)

(This entry isn’t about transgender bathrooms.)

Identity politics begins with blacks. Identity politics came out of the civil rights era pitting blacks (and liberal whites) against Southern segregationists. Blacks won and today make up roughly 20% of the Democratic vote.

To keep blacks Democratic, and more importantly to keep them voting, Democrats must keep alive a black sense of victimhood focusing on the (white) Republican enemy. Even when victimhood comes at the price of black progress.

Affirmative action helps maintain black consciousness. In a recent Wall Street Journal “Saturday Essay” entitled, “Hard Truths About Race on Campus,” scholars Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim digested a series of studies that show race is far less important when individuals share some other prominent social characteristic, like membership on a team. According to Haidt and Jussim, “If you set things up so that race conveys less important information than some other salient factor, then people pay less attention to race.”

Haidt and Jussim found that when different groups face a common threat or challenge, it tends to replace enmity with a “one for all, all for one” mind-set. But when groups compete with each other, people shift toward hostility.

One sees that in universities today. Affirmative action, a key piece of black identity politics:
automatically creates differences in academic readiness and achievement. . . [S]tudies have found that Asian students enter with combined math/verbal SAT scores on the order of 80 points higher than white students and 200 points higher than black students. A similar pattern occurs for high-school grades. These differences are large, and they matter: High-school grades and SAT scores predict later success as measured by college grades and graduation rates.
As a result of these disparate admissions standards, many students spend four years in a social environment where race conveys useful information about the academic capacity of their peers.
In non-academic language, non-blacks tend to see blacks as dumber.

So if black identity politics succeeds in doubling the number of black students, universities will have to reach deeper into the black applicant pool, admitting those with even weaker qualifications. That increases the racial gap, and strengthens the negative stereotypes that blacks find when they arrive on campus.

Haidt and Jussim further report that students tend to befriend those similar in academic achievement. So achievement or its absence contributes to campus racial and ethnic self-segregation. Expanding affirmative action as favored by black identity politics, therefore, will yield more self-segregation, fewer cross-race friendships, and even stronger feelings of alienation among black students.

Another study found that for black (also Asian and Latino) students, “membership in ethnically oriented student organizations actually increased the perception that ethnic groups are locked into zero-sum competition with one another and [it expanded] victimization by virtue of one’s ethnicity.”

Nor does microaggression training, designed to overcome commonplace daily indignities that make people of color feel denigrated or insulted, seem to work. Microaggression “covers everything from asking someone where they are from to questioning the merits of affirmative action during a classroom discussion.” Black consciousness protesters also demand that microaggression training be coupled with anonymous reporting systems and “bias response teams,” which means keeping track of everyone by race.

As suggested, when people of different races mix together and get to know each other, prejudice goes down on all sides. But these benefits depend on having common goals, a sense of cooperation, and equal status. The benefits disappear when microaggression creates anxiety instead.

Maybe black identity politics, which thrives on division, helps Democrats. But it seems to do so at the expense of its black victims.

Haidt and Jussim point to a more positive example of black progress:
the U.S. Army escaped from the racial dysfunction of the 1970s to become a model of integration and near-equality by the time of the 1991 Gulf War [by investing] resources in training and mentoring black soldiers so that they could meet rigorous promotion standards. But, crucially, standards were lowered for no one, so that the race of officers conveyed no information about their abilities. [emphasis added]
Race would become less powerful as a social cue if schools shifted their attention away from the raw numbers of students in each category and focused instead on eliminating the gaps between the races, as the Army did.

But then black identity politics, which thrives on victimhood, would consequently suffer.

Democrats live and die with identity politics. (I)

The American economy, going back to 2000, hasn’t worked well through two adminis- trations, one Republican, one Democrat. But it’s Democrats who face the problem today.

Democrats captured Congress in 2006, controlled everything in 2008-10, held the Senate until 2014, and still run the executive branch and the Federal Reserve.

According to Gallup, the American people consider the economy our top problem (40%), followed by dissatisfaction with government (13%). Voters see America moving in the wrong direction by 67% to 26%. Government is failing to build the economy, to help the middle class, to create jobs, and bring prosperity to American families.

Democrats have historically been an interest group coalition that includes organized labor focused on the economy. But now public sector unions dominate labor, and government workers need Democrats in office -- good economy or no.

Other interest groups dependent upon ruling Democrats sending money their way are crony capitalists, the academy, nonprofits, and trial lawyers. Big media thrives when Democrats are in power -- reporters and Democratic leaders went to the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods, and share progressive values.

This national elite, this educated, meritocratic Democratic superstructure, needs votes to stay in power. Enter identity politics. As long as people see themselves first as women, youth, blacks, Hispanics, and homosexuals -- organized to obtain benefits from a sympathetic Democratic government -- the votes are there to hang on even through bad economic times.

But when the economy underperforms, it’s more challenging to keep disparate groups in line. Identity politics must take over.

For Democrats today, “It’s NOT the economy stupid.” Group identity comes first.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Quinnipiac Poll Shock: Trump Catches Clinton in 3 Crucial States

The New York Times jumped on the news here: Quinnipiac's tracking of the three crucial general election states of Florida (29 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20), and Ohio (18), shows Trump leading Clinton by 4% in Ohio and trailing her by just 1% in Florida and Pennsylvania.  Obama won all three in 2012.

If these three states flip to Trump and he retains all the states Mitt Romney carried in 2012, the final map will look like this (click to enlarge):
 Trump wins.

Of course, Trump isn't likely to carry all Romney's red states.  He is most vulnerable in North Carolina (15 electoral votes), which is 21% black, home to many relocated liberal whites, and where Romney won by just 2%.  Georgia (16) is another "New South" state similar to North Carolina; Romney won there by 8%.

Romney carried Arizona (11 electoral votes) by 9%.  Arizona is 5% Mormon and they mostly voted for fellow Mormon Romney, but Mormons have no comparable affinity for Trump's lifestyle.  Moreover, Arizona is 30% Hispanic, that is, Mexican-American, and Trump will do very poorly among Arizona's Hispanic population.

If Trump loses any one -- any -- of Romney's 2012 states, Clinton wins even if Trump carries Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Trump the Underdog

Clinton progressives are delighted with Trump’s nomination. Clear-eyed conservative Ed Rogers, in the Washington Post, sums up why:
Trump’s . . . problem is obvious: He’s wildly unpopular. Specifically, he’s unpopular with two critical voter groups, women and Hispanics. He needs to earn support from these groups, but all the evidence suggests it will be very difficult for him to do so. Trump is the living manifestation of a chauvinistic, belittling attitude that repels many female voters. And, according to Gallup polling, 77% of Hispanics view Trump unfavorably, and it’s not hard to see why.
But . . . will it be as easy as the Democrats think to finish off Trump, and how much will he help through his own performance and behavior?
How much will Trump hurt himself? He’ll like that we’ll all be watching. And Trump is equally delighted with Clinton’s impending nomination.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

“Creative Destruction,” the Bloody Sox, and 0.5% Growth

Boston Red Sox Curt Schilling's Bloody Sock (2004)
The 1981 Warren Beatty film “Reds” was a triumph. Beatty won his “Best Director” Oscar, and “Reds” scored nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Beatty), and Best Actress -- the Big Four. Based on John Reed’s book Ten Days that Shook the World, the movie successfully captured the exhilaration of “Reds” (Communists) winning the 1917 Russian revolution.

In 1991, ten years after “Reds” appeared, the Russian revolution was over. Communists were out of power after only three generations. Revolution had turned into just hanging onto power, to corruption, decay, and finally defeat.

It was ever thus. Idealism carries new leaders to the top. The next generation begins caring more about hanging on while securing a better life for self and family. Growth slows, the people become restless, the elite counters with bread, circuses, and suppression. Decline and fall.

So it is with America’s meritocratic elite. Rising to power in the name of ending the Vietnam War and equality for blacks and women, promising that America’s best would deliver prosperity for all, our establishment now exists to enrich themselves and their families, preserve the status quo and divert the people from their current economic plight with bread, circuses, and fixation on identity politics.

It also increasingly practices coercion toward its enemies.

The TV sports empire ESPN, owned by the Disney Corporation, is an integral piece (circuses) of our meritocratic elite. ESPN first suspended, then fired, baseball hero Curt Schilling for inappropriate comments on his personal Twitter account, not for anything said on air. So much for “freedom of speech.”

Here’s the Schilling Tweet that got him suspended last year:

Yes, it’s both inaccurate and offensive to compare the Muslim ummah to the 1940 German population. Schilling apologized and pulled down his Tweet, but ESPN nevertheless punished Schilling by suspending him for the rest of 2015.

A few weeks ago, Schilling offended ESPN again. This time, the sports network fired him for Tweeting:
A man is a man no matter what they call themselves. I don’t care what they are, who they sleep with, men’s room was designed for the penis, women’s not so much. Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic.
Fired for saying that on his private account? The guy’s a conservative!

But ESPN hasn’t stopped there. Now, in a gesture the conservative New York Post accurately called “Stalinist,” ESPN completely edited Schilling out of its 2010 film on the epic 2004 American League Championship Series between Schilling’s Boston Red Sox and the rival New York Yankees, who had won six of the previous eight such championships. The Sox came back from being down 3 games to 0 in the 2004 series, and down 4-3 in the 9th inning of the 4th game facing ace closer Mariano Rivera, who was set to wrap up yet another Yankees series win.

The Yankees, Rivera pitching, managed to give up a 9th inning run, lose the game, lose the next 3 as well, and become the first baseball team ever to blow a 3-0 advantage in a 7-game series. The Yankees have won only one league championship series since that crushing defeat, while Boston has gone on to win three World Championships.

In the epic 2004 series, Schilling won the 6th game, heroically pitching with a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle, sutured in place in an unprecedented procedure by Red Sox team doctors so that he could play (see bloody sock above). Schilling’s heroics covered 17 minutes of ESPN's original film. ESPN removed all 17 minutes. That makes ESPN like Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin; each time Stalin purged one of his colleagues, he removed all traces of the victim from the state’s photographic record.

Such tactics -- in the end -- didn’t save Communism. They won’t save today’s “politically correct” elite either, no matter how hard the establishment seeks to turn popular attention toward perceived injustices visited on transvestites and other identity groups, and more importantly, away from America’s unsolved economic problems.

In this year’s first quarter, the U.S. GDP grew by only 0.5%. John H. Cochrane, writing in the conservative Wall Street Journal (subscription), documents the pain caused by growth slowing from 3.5% between 1950 to 2000 to only 1.7% since:
By 2008, the average American was more than three times better off than in 1952. Real GDP per person rose from $16,000 to $49,000. And those numbers understate the advances in the quality of goods, health and environment that came with growth. But if U.S. growth between 1950 and 2000 had been the 2% of recent years, instead of 3.5%, income per person in 2000 would have risen to just $23,000, not $50,000. That’s a huge difference.
Over the next 50 years, if income could be doubled relative to 2% growth, the U.S. would be able to pay for Social Security, Medicare, defense, environmental concerns and the debt. Halve that income gain, and none of those spending challenges can be addressed. Doubling income per capita would help the less well off far more than any imaginable transfer scheme.
Given the importance of income growth, Cochrane asks: “Why are growth-oriented policies resisted?” His answer:
Growth comes from productivity, which comes from new technologies and new companies. These displace the profits of old companies, and the healthy pay and settled lives of their managers and workers. Economic regulation is largely designed to protect profits, jobs and wages tied to old ways of doing things. Everyone likes growth, but only in someone else’s backyard.
After all, capitalism IS “creative destruction” (Joseph Schumpeter, from Karl Marx).

So what do we do? People want security and are threatened by change. Tyler Cowen, an economist writing in the liberal New York Times, surprisingly advanced religion as one way out of our current difficulties:
Mormons have done relatively well in economic terms, perhaps. . . because their religious culture encourages behavior consistent with prosperity, such as savings, mutual assistance, family values and no drug and alcohol abuse. . . it seems reasonable to observe that changing social norms, sometimes associated with religion, can help improve living standards. . . Technology, trade and even religion may help restore prosperity to the middle class.
Such emphasis on sound values is consistent with the recommendations of Charles Murray (Coming Apart), whose response to the gap he documents between the meritocracy and America’s lower class includes a working class return to religious values.