Friday, March 5, 2021

In which I disagree with Tam

Well, I actually disagree with P.J. O'Rourke, who she quotes:

"Populism is a lie and a logical sophistry. The very idea of the “struggle of the haves against the have-nots” presupposes the zero-sum fallacy that only a fixed amount of good things exist in the world, and I can only have more good things if I take them from you." -P.J. O'Rourke

Now O'Rourke is a smart guy so it's very interesting what he left out of his piece - because what he left out sets up a straw man for him to knock down.  Silly populists!  Don't you know that you're getting in the way of the march towards a history so bright we'll have to wear shades?

Except that's not how it's worked out over the last 40 years, is it?  Public policy has focused on a very specific set of preferences - environmental regulation, free trade, and open borders.  Each of these has had two consequences.  First, it has led to massive off-shoring of manufacturing to east Asia in particular, padding the bottom line of corporate America and leading to a lot of great high paying government jobs for Ivy League graduates like O'Rourke.  Second, it has hollowed out the working class and the towns they live in.  Not for nothing is it called the "Rust Belt".

This isn't an issue of mechanization and productivity reducing employment.  Rather, it was an explicit choice (by both political parties) that U.S. Government policy should encourage factories and their high paying jobs to be located elsewhere than in the U.S.A.

And now Mr. O'Rourke wonders, mystified, where all this populism came from all of a sudden.  And look at how cynically he phrases the issue: "I can only have good things if I take them from you" - when that's precisely what corporate America and O'Rourke's swell Ivy League buddies did to working class America.

They have made out very well financially on the destruction of industrial America.  O'Rourke knows this - after all, he hails from Toledo Ohio.

And so to "populism", by which O'Rourke no doubt means "Donald Trump".  I posted about this dynamic way back in the summer of 2016, when I linked to a post by the blogger who went by the nom de blog Archdruid.  The Archdruid posted what I thought was all you needed to know to understand what was happening.  This bit is most relevant to O'Rourke's rather pathetic strawman:

The result in both countries [UK and USA] was a political climate in which the only policies up for discussion were those that favored the interests of the affluent at the expense of the working classes and the poor. That point has been muddied so often, and in so many highly imaginative ways, that it’s probably necessary to detail it here. Rising real estate prices, for example, benefit those who own real estate, since their properties end up worth more, but it penalizes those who must rent their homes, since they have to pay more of their income for rent. Similarly, cutting social-welfare benefits for the disabled favors those who pay taxes at the expense of those who need those benefits to survive. 

In the same way, encouraging unrestricted immigration into a country that already has millions of people permanently out of work, and encouraging the offshoring of industrial jobs so that the jobless are left to compete for an ever-shrinking pool of jobs, benefit the affluent at the expense of everyone else. The law of supply and demand applies to labor just as it does to everything else:  increase the supply of workers and decrease the demand for their services, and wages will be driven down. The affluent benefit from this, since they pay less for the services they want, but the working poor and the jobless are harmed by it, since they receive less income if they can find jobs at all.

At this point I must point out that I'm a member of that salary class, and have done very well over the last 30+ years.  However, my chosen field (Computer/Network Security) sure doesn't seem to have taken away any working class jobs - and my upbringing leaves me infuriated by O'Rourke's sneering.  And even more so by his seemingly intentional blindness to the consequences of the policies he advocates.  This song brutally exposes what he can't be bothered to cast his eyes upon:

These people are our neighbors.  They are our fellow countrymen.  Are their dreams for the future of less import than our own?  Should public policy in this country crush those dreams?  Is there a reason why public policy should preference Palo Alto over Toledo?

I'm afraid this turned into a rant - that certainly is not directed at Tam.  But the smug self-satisfaction of folks like O'Rourke - people who listened to their professors telling them that they were "the best and the brightest" and who actually bought into that malarky - they are really just showing the world that they're a bunch of dumbasses.  Nice strawman, O'Rourke.  Be a shame if someone knocked it down, amirite?

And at this point if you do not understand what is driving populism in this country (both the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders versions) then watch that video again.  And read the quote from O'Rourke again.  Repeat as necessary.  You will know that you understand modern populism precisely when the hair on the back of your neck stands on end.

Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever

- Thomas Jefferson


Aesop said...

PJOR isn't smart as he thinks he is, nor as funny as everyone else thinks.
He had his 15 minutes, but it isn't hard to shine when you're the smartest kid at Rolling Stone, which isn't a particularly high bar to shuffle over.

Populism scares hell out of the upper crust (or those that think they are), leading them to embrace communism like every other intellectual dilettante retard since 1900, or try to tamp populism down with police nightsticks and military bayonets, like every tyrant class since at least 1500.

Eventually, folks have had enough of that nonsense, and the next time around in this country may resemble the French Revolution more than the American one. TPTB are trying to bootstrap the Russian one, but the spark is fizzlng in the pan due to wet powder.

If he had any wits, PJOR probably wouldn't be spouting so much along the lines of "Let them eat cake!" just about now, unless he's the only one that knows he has a terminal illness and six months to live, and thus will miss the upcoming intramural sportiness.

James said...

This criticism actually does reflect on Tam and it is why I seldom read her. I think that the only reason she gets as much notice as she does is that she gets a pass for being a woman. A guy with the same ego and attitude would be ignored.

Glen Filthie said...

Ugghh. Between Tam and Misfit, I am reminded of Uncle Bob's sage counsel: "women are fascists and socialists by nature. The founding fathers saw this and wisely forbade them the vote and positions of political authority." Bob (and I) posit that women are ruled by their emotions, and are thus easily manipulated by the unscrupulous. When left to themselves... they will bring the roof down on themselves and those around them. If we want to analyze the ridiculous hysterics and antics our our ruling class - the lion's (lioness's?) share go to the wahmen. America has produced the finest women in the world, but neither of those two are fit to shine their shoes.

When the culture war is over, and what's left of Americans are huddling around garbage fires in gutted cities wondering how to reconstruct the nation... dispensing with equality laws and the 19th amendment would make an excellent start.

Old NFO said...

Can't disagree with you. I'm even worse than you, I did a military career, THEN salary class schlub...

Borepatch said...

Glen, "fascist" or "socialist" is WAY off the mark for Tam. Anarcho-capitalist is closer to the target.

Richard said...

I am with you on this. Similar background with you as a government finance guy but I have definitely gone over to the populists. I know too much about how things actually work.

Unknown said...

When I worked for a Fortune 100 company, I was told our purpose was to keep the company share prices high. Not quality products, not innovative solutions, not expand market share, not customer satisfaction, just make sure the stock price increased.

One of the means of making this happen was to move a large portion of the manufacturing segment to Mexico and China. Corporate explained it as being closer to emerging markets but we all knew it was to decrease labor costs.
In reality neither plant operated at better than 40% of the US facilities they replaced and had large issues with quality when I left.

This drive to off shore production by our suppliers also impacted are ability to get electronics and plastic molded cases before I retired. One supplier could not produce a specialty component for more than 1 year that was critical to our own product line. Once COVID hit it got worse across the supply chain.

While I had issues with President Trump, encouraging domestic production was one thing I thought he did a great job with. If that is defined as populism, count me on board.


Tam said...

"...padding the bottom line of corporate America and leading to a lot of great high paying government jobs for Ivy League graduates like O'Rourke."

Speaking of straw men, did you read the linked essay or are all these paragraphs written to rebut that one pull quote from Miami U.* alum O'Rourke?

*No doubt overjoyed to be promoted to the Ivy League!

Borepatch said...

Tam, I did read his whole article. I wasn't impressed - I kept getting the sense that he flinches from looking at the class warfare that's going on and keeps falling back into libertarianish cliches. It may be that he has to do so - that he'd lose publishers if he actually addressed those issues. These days, who knows?

Oh, and he has an MA from Johns Hopkins which if it's not an Ivy per se, it certainly plays one on TV.

Ken said...

To be fair to O'Rourke, he doesn't have much use for elites either. One of my favorite books from back in the day was Parliament of Whores, and he doesn't seem to have moved off that position appreciably.

The statement I had the biggest issue with from the essay is this: "Every American citizen stands with the same height and strength, equal before the law to a degree remarkable by any world or world history standard."

Accepting O'Rourke's boundary condition " a degree remarkable by any world or world history standard" does not prohibit (nor even contradict) the critique that "equality before the law" has been sorely eroded in the last two or so generations, and that the trend is -- if anything -- accelerating.

(Additionally, the degree to which the House and Senate actually represent the views of the voters who sent 'em as opposed to, say, Davos or the CCP is a whole 'nuther question, and O'Rourke is certainly more sanguine than I am about that point, but it's scarcely a settled question. I'd like to see O'Rourke take up the critiques of Angelo Codevilla more directly, to cite one example.)

The point O'Rourke makes in Tam's pull quote is pretty accurate, as far as it goes. My own take on populism has always been it offers useful critiques, but too often questionable policy prescriptions.