Friday, November 11, 2016

The costs of globalization in the American heartland ... by gimleteye

In processing how and where Democrats lost the 2016 presidential election, I returned to Bill Clinton's speech when he signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in December 1993.

A key sales point to the nation at the time was that low-paying manufacturing jobs that corporate America would send abroad would be replaced by higher paying jobs that offered economic security to the dislocated.

The way this would happen? Through education.

"Every worker must receive the education and training he or she needs to reap the rewards of international competition rather than to bear its burdens." That is what Bill Clinton said, and it was repeated often by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan; a promise Clinton, subsequent presidents and Congresses failed to deliver.

The inheritors of that broken promise -- educated or not -- delivered Donald Trump to the White House this week. This is what you get, they seemed to be saying with their votes, for lying to us.

In 2004, a little more than a decade after NAFTA was signed, I attended a meeting of progressive Democratic donors in DC. John Podesta, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff and administration point man on NAFTA with Congress, sat in the front row as Bill Moyers delivered a powerpoint presentation on the hollowing out of the Rust Belt.

Moyers included slides and video clips of bereft landscapes in the American heartland; of communities and joblessness. By 2004, a crisis triggered by Russian debt had come and gone. The boom had inflated and busted. 9/11, the pot that would cook the housing and financial bubble was on the burner, and George W. Bush had just been re-elected to the White House. Democratic donors had a lot to digest.

Bill Clinton claimed the White House with, "It is the economy, stupid." That was 1992. In 2004 Moyers was direct, succinct and directed his very public narrative straight at Podesta, who just completed work as Hillary Clinton's top campaign advisor.

Far from as advertised, globalization did not lift all ships. NAFTA, in fact, only memorialized in a trade agreement what corporate America was pursuing as a matter of free enterprise: chasing maximum profits through supply and demand and the cheapest possible costs. In the decades since NAFTA, the United States -- through both Democratic and Republican Congresses and presidents -- endured the greatest wealth divide in its history.

As for education, the promised bedrock of the new American economy? During these decades, public education was treated by as a piñata, pure and simple, by the majority party in Congress and the states: the GOP.

NAFTA was bitterly opposed by the nation's unions whose membership rolls have been crushed in the past twenty years. Unions are another piñata of the GOP.

By 2016, many former union members in the heartland and family members once protected by unions voted for Donald Trump. It didn't escape their attention -- because Trump hammered it -- that while they slipped from the middle class, the Clintons became centi-millionaires after leaving the White House, hobnobbing with the world elites and the Davos crowd while they stewed in Scranton, Detroit, Akron, Milwaukee and a thousand other cratered places.

Not to put too fine a point: the Bush political dynasty is also a money machine and did very little to protect jobs in the Rust Belt. In 2016, red state Republican voters sent their message about the GOP establishment loud and clear, when they boosted Donald Trump over the rest.

Resentments burn white hot and straight through common sense. Bill Moyers, a witness to history as a top staff person in the Lyndon Johnson White House, is a humanist who -- in that 2004 presentation -- pointed out that Democrats had to answer for the problems of globalization in the American heartland. In the 2016 presidential election, Democrats paid the price.

Can president-elect Trump bring back manufacturing jobs and job security to traumatized rural, middle America and decrepit, rusting cities? "Make America Great Again"? "Drain the swamp" of Washington, DC?

In little more than two months, Donald Trump has to fill thousands of political appointments in the federal government. Where can he turn, to help do that work except to the conspiracy theorists and crack-pots he enlisted to fire up suspicion, hatred and popular resentments, or, to the GOP establishment he railed against? (We experienced exactly how the template works with Gov. Rick Scott in Florida, who arrived in Tallahassee with suitcases and nothing else. The "outsider" created his own inside network from the same lobbyist class he had spurned.)

Trump is not a student of politics or economics. To the extent he has informed advisors, they are from the GOP think tanks -- funded by the Koch Brothers -- that supported policies leading to the great wealth divide in the first place.

Credit Trump, though, for finding the taproot of white anger in rural America at being left behind. It is a paradoxical achievement because in his own life, Trump shares nothing in common with America's lost and forlorn except a story line.

But let's be frank: globalization and technological advances eliminating human jobs is a genie that can't be put back into its bottle. Unless, of course, the planet burns up with war, famine and global warming.

In that case, no one will care about boxes, bottles or the packaging of economic expansion. We will all be living a version of "The Hunger Games", lead by entertainers who know how to create popular diversions, who present themselves like the man who lived high above the elites in a tower, in a germ-free atmosphere surrounded by marble, glass, and the trappings of empire, helicopters and big private jets, and only came to earth for photo-ops in the White House.


Anonymous said...

I second your sentiments,
Just finished a road trip trough Southern States and found the rural economy to be severely lacking. Small towns still had the divers business and stores, but the majority was shuttered and or in a pitiful state. Looking like forgotten movie back drops. Most towns lack food stores, but every two miles a church, announced by a road sign, in rural Louisiana.
No public transportation, so driving becomes a real privilege!

Anonymous said...

Those jobs won't come back unless they want to work for 25 cents per hour. Coupled with that as you so duly noted, is the loss of jobs due to computerization. This transformation has already begun; BofA cut 8,000 jobs; Walmart Cut 7,000 jobs; even the IRS is cutting 7,000 jobs, and there are other less spectacular ones, and many more on the horizon. And the way we think about computers will change. We now see them just as a box that can do many programmed things faster and better than humans. Remember HAL? Well at the cutting edge, they are thinking on their own, have distinct and interesting personalities, have unique and interesting ways of thinking about and solving problems, and are real entities. The competition between them and humans will become more acute over time. And no one is really talking about it.

Education is critical and Congress needs to move on the Clinton directive immediately. We are going to need as much human brain power as we can get to deal with the future and the elimination of work as we know it.

Anonymous said...

You got it right.....Middle and lower class America (rural and urban) have been surviving on cheap imports but that game has lost its spunk as incomes have not risen....Food is cheap in the US as is housing in rural areas...

The monkey on the backs of every family and business is the cost of health care....and the insurance industry which makes it more expensive with their legal 15% markup....

I give Washington six months to see if that can make it affordable....In a caring country it would be universally at part of the culture and economy and would paid for by the feds.....That would give relief to all, especially small business which employ the largest number of people.....Not holding my breath on that one.... Steve Hagen

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Trump fan, but I'm hoping his plan to "sprout" infrastructure includes plans to build high-speed rail that moves people (energy) efficiently, even economically thru the congestion that clogs major cities such as Miami.

Anonymous said...

Article on Saudi conceptualized transportation "pods". Wouldn't this transportation idea be ideal for cities like NY, Miami, LA?

Anonymous said...

I know the plight of those hurt by trade is a serious subject, but we just elected a weirdo to office. I'm sure our country will encounter the strangest possibilities - no one would have ever imagined without Trump, as imagined by Dan Howarth of dezeen: