On the rigged game, unhappy voters, and a disconnected elite

by Ryan Streeter on January 25, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Tim Carney’s essay today on angry voters is one of the best assessments of the Trump-Sanders phenomenon I’ve read. He writes:

After the two parties divvy up or fight over [racial minorities, religious conservatives, suburban families and college students], there remain the leftovers: mostly working-class whites who aren’t part of the religious Right — no college degree and typically these days not inside major cities.

That’s Trump’s market, and here’s his act: populism that includes protectionism and immigration restriction, with doses of nationalism and nostalgia. The wonder isn’t that Trump was able to attract so much attention and support with this message to this market. The wonder is that both parties left this market untapped for so long.

And Sanders “has found his own ignored slice of the electorate: along with the true-blue progressives put off by ruling-class, corporatist millionaires like Clinton are the blue-collar whites who resemble the old-school populists of centuries past.”

They are at odds with the Democratic establishment.

Sanders’ brand of socialism turns off the most powerful parts of the Democratic Party. The Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton wing of the party, Wall Street and K Street Democrats, dismiss Sandersism as obsessed with ideological purity. Who needs single-payer healthcare when we have subsidies for Big Pharma and private insurers? Why break up the big banks when you can instead put them on a leash with some subsidies and some protective regulations?

Read the whole thing. Carney has done a nice job blending on-the-ground reporting from Trump and Sanders rallies with survey and trend data.

Both parties’ ruling elites have been showing for months now just how out of tune they are with vast swaths of the electorate. When I said late last summer that the summer of 2015 would be remembered as the summer of Trump and Sanders because they had tapped into popular unrest, I think most of us figured other candidates would figure out what was going on and do the same. It’s amazing how incapable most of them – and the people advising them – have proved to be in this regard.


Want to understand those “angry voters” we keep hearing about? This helps explain their angst

by Ryan Streeter on January 15, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

This report kind of got swept under the rug this past week with all the State of the Union and GOP debate hype, but it’s worth a read. These data are pretty astounding:

More than six years after the economic expansion began, 93% of counties in the U.S. have failed to fully recover from the blow they suffered during the recession.

Nationwide, 214 counties, or 7% of 3,069, had recovered last year to prerecession levels on four indicators: total employment, the unemployment rate, size of the economy and home values, a study from the National Association of Counties released Tuesday found.

More than half of the states – 27 to be exact – did not have a single county that has recovered.

Of the 214 counties that had recovered, about a third were in Texas.

Many Americans really do feel like they are stuck in place, or that things have even gotten worse for them compared to a decade ago. If your salary is the same as it was ten years ago and your home worth less than in 2007, it’s pretty hard to listen to the political class talk about how the economy is moving in the right direction.

Urban dynamism: The Lone Star Model

by Ryan Streeter on January 15, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Texas cities dominate the “boom town” ranking that Joel Kotkin and Mark Schill published yesterday. Each of Texas’s largest four cities is in the top ten. The ranking is based on eight equally rated indicators such as income growth, domestic migration, and percentage of people under 45 with a college education.

Kotkin and Schill write:

Austin, Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth and San Antonio are very different places, but they all have enjoyed double-digit job growth from 2010 through 2014, well above the national average of 8.1%. They also all have posted income growth well above the national average.

But the biggest divergence from the pack may be demographics. The Texas cities have become major people magnets, with huge growth in their populations of young, educated millennials and households with children. The clear star of the show is No. 1-ranked Austin, which has become the nation’s superlative economy over the past decade.

Austin leads the pack in terms of population growth, up 13.2% between 2010 and 2014, in large part driven by the strongest rate of net domestic in-migration of the 53 largest metropolitan areas over the same span: 16.4 per 1,000 residents. The educated proportion of its population between 25 and 44 is 43.7%, well ahead of the national average of 33.6%.

Countering declining trust in institutions with a Tocquevillian revival

by Ryan Streeter on January 4, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

In keeping with the theme in this post, Joel Kotkin writes in TDB:

People don’t trust the very institutions that would be charged with carrying out their policies. Levels of trust for the dominant institutions like the federal government, Congress, the courts, big banks, media, and the academy are at historically low levels.

He continues:

Roughly half of all Americans…now consider the federal government “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.” In 2003 only 30 percent of Americans felt that way…Critically this blowback is not among conservatives or exurbanites. Much of the strongest opposition to the federal and state planning regimes are in areas such as California’s Marin County, north of San Francisco, where residents have objected to densification schemes that, they maintain, would undermine the “the small-town, semi-rural, and rural character of their neighborhoods”—the very qualities that attracted them there in the first place.

Kotkin calls for an alternative Tocquevillian response, which should be equally appealing to conservatives and progressives who have run into the buzzsaw of one-size-fits-all federal policies:

Simply put, there is no huge appetite for ever expanding federal power among the majority of the populace. What is missing, outside of nihilistic opposition to all government, is a strong movement advocating for more authority in the hands of local communities, families, and volunteer organization.

There is a lot to mine in this idea that has been largely absent in all of the late 2015 commentary on American dystopia.

More on the collapse of confidence in American institutions

by Ryan Streeter on January 3, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

It’s taken awhile, but political and cultural commentators have begun to shift away from explaining Trump in political terms to understanding him against an institutional backdrop. For months, political and media elites have focused on the politics of immigration and trade to explain what’s going on with Trump supporters, but it’s clear the issue runs more deeply than that.

It’s not just that voters are fed up with Washington. It’s not just that they’re fed up with party leaders selling them out. The deeper reality is that many people have lost faith in institutions which they used to regard as positive threads in the fabric of American public life.

Rod Dreher sums this up well when he writes that a wide range of institutions beyond government and banks – such as the police, the academy, and the church – express…

…a strong defensiveness, and an unwillingness to be self-critical, leading either to a denial of institutional problems, or a private recognition of problems, but a public unwillingness to deal with them out of fear of losing face. I suppose it has always been that way, and we are only now learning the truth of what has been there all along, given human nature. Maybe.

Still, there is no question that the public’s trust in its institutions is at a historic low. Gallup has been polling on this since 1993, and in 2015’s results, found that overall, confidence in US institutions is lower than it has been since ’93.

Where did the Trump phenomenon come from? Do we really have to ask?

This is the broader point I was trying to make in this Weekly Standard piece from last September when I wrote that Trump and Sanders “have pledged a fight against forces over which everyday Americans feel they have no control, while the majority of other candidates speak as thoughtful managers and policy wonks.”

Dreher’s point is that cynicism and disappointment about institutions more generally, and not just political ones, have come to define the American landscape, especially as institutional forces dig in and focus on self-preservation rather than reform. More and more, others are helpfully delving into this issue and casting the politics of the 2016 against the deeper, more historic shift happening beneath our feet: the social, economic and political consequences of the collapse of confidence in institutions.  

Americans distrust big government over big business and big labor by a long shot

by Ryan Streeter on December 26, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

What do Americans consider the greatest threat to their country? Big government, big business, or big labor?

Big government. By a long shot. Back in the mid 1960s, as the Great Society was launched, 35% of Americans said big government was the biggest threat, compared to 18% who named big business. Today, the figures stand at 69% and 25% respectively. What’s interesting is how the distrust of big government grew at an even pace through the Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton years.

What’s perhaps even more interesting is the partisan breakdown. You’d expect Republicans and independents to dislike big government at fairly proportionate levels, but you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see such a big spike among Democrats during the Obama years:

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These Gallup numbers came out just before Christmas and got lost in the shuffle.

Middle class families now a minority in America

by Ryan Streeter on December 10, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

For the first time since we’ve been collecting data, middle-income families are a minority in America, the land of opportunity.

This graph is truly astounding:

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These numbers come from a recent Pew study, which defines middle income as between $48,347 and $145,041 for a family of four.

Since I was born, upper income families have grown by more than 50%, and low income families about 15%.

This NPR article the study notes that the richer households “are increasingly likely to be headed by a married couple with higher educations.”

Drilling down a bit more, here’s a picture of who has won and lost since 1971:

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Liberate the self-regulation of the sharing economy to take over the job of traditional regulation

by Ryan Streeter on December 8, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

‘[R]egulators continue to operate as if Yelp, Google Reviews, and Angie’s List do not exist.” While reading this in this essay by Jared Meyer on how Internet 2.0 is (or should be) making some regulatory functions obsolete, I was reminded of this 2012 Wired article by Arun Sundararajan, which argues that a number of health and safety functions of government regulation are now being provided more effectively through the self-regulatory functions of the sharing economy. He writes:

The self-regulatory capabilities of the online sharing economy could permeate traditional commerce as well. Why bother with restaurant inspections, when we could put a camera in the kitchen to spot health violations and leave Zagat and Yelp reviews to “administer” the quality control? Do we even need hotel regulators any more, when we have TripAdvisor to give us instant feedback on cleanliness, service, noise levels, and several other dimensions?

He continues, pointing out that maintaining the status quo behavior of regulators will likely upend the benefits of commercial exchange that rules are supposed to protect:

With these mechanisms, centralized government intervention will continually become less critical. In a way, we’ve come full circle since the times of medieval trade: going back to our distributed roots. Overly enthusiastic regulators could stifle the very exchange their intervention aims to facilitate; and create the perception they are going after more than their fair slice of the new sharing pie. It’s useful to remember that one role of the Maghribi trader guilds was to prevent rulers of other governments from excessively infringing on their gains from trade.

Exposing the “quackish arts” by which some gain public attention

by Ryan Streeter on December 8, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page features a timely and fitting passage today from Adam Smith’s 1759 masterpiece, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which Smith describes the characteristics of a “prudent man”:

He neither endeavours to impose upon you by the cunning devices of an artful impostor, nor by the arrogant airs of an assuming pedant, nor by the confident assertions of a superficial and impudent pretender. He is not ostentatious even of the abilities which he really possesses.

That’s a pretty firm rebuke of Donald Trump, 256 years early. “His conversation,” Smith continues, “is simple and modest, and he is averse to all the quackish arts by which other people so frequently thrust themselves into public notice and reputation.”

Lest our elites gloat in their agreement with Smith, he has a few words for them:

[The prudent man] does not always think of cultivating the favour of those little clubs and cabals, who, in the superior arts and sciences, so often erect themselves into the supreme judges of merit; and who make it their business to celebrate the talents and virtues of one another, and to decry whatever can come into competition with them.

Prudential people, Smith concludes, defend the public against “the clamours, the whispers, or the intrigues, either of that particular society, or of some others of the same kind.”

War on the young update: Generational warfare without combatants

by Ryan Streeter on November 30, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

While half of millennials never expect to get any Social Security benefits, according to Pew, they have protected benefits for existing retirees. Millennials seem to have subordinated their economic and political interests to their parents’. Within a family, this may be admirable; for the country, it’s an exercise in avoidance. We’d be better off with a little less social peace and a little more generational conflict.

Robert Samuelson wonders why we don’t see more generational warfare given the gravity of the economic and fiscal situation facing millennials. He notes that the percentage of 18-34 year-olds living with their parents are at pre-WWII levels and argues that affluent boomers rather than young workers should bear the bulk of the responsibility for paying for Social Security and Medicare.

And yet, he asks, why do young workers seem uninterested in enlisting in the War on the Young? Unlike the boomers, who picked a fight with their elders, millennials seem uninterested in going to battle. Even though they are unhappy with the status quo, they are optimistic that their situation will improve in the future. The larger question is whether retiring boomers will open up enough employment and upward mobility prospects for millennials to keep this optimism afloat.