Saturday, July 23, 2016

Do Sanders’ and Trump’s Electoral Success Signal a ‘Middle Class Revolt?’

In a recent New Jersey Star-Ledger article, Mark Di Ionno argued that the electoral success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is a sign of middle class revolt. He writes:

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump voters are like first cousins in an estranged family. They say they don't like each other, but they share the same DNA.

Anger. Frustration. The sense that the American dream, or the America they dreamed of, is slipping away.

The seeds were flung with the scattered formation of the tea party in 2009, followed by Occupy Wall Street. Different political views, yes, but same viewpoint:That America was no longer a place by the people and for the people. That it favors politicians and their corporate/special interests financers, and chews up and spits out the little guy. [sic]

When campaign workers at both Sanders and Trump headquarters described their demographic yesterday, they sounded identical.

"We have teachers, police, firemen, union guys. They all say the middle class is falling apart."[sic]

"Trump and Bernie supporters come from the same line of frustration," said [NJ state Assemblyman John Wisniewski. "They see bankers engaging in reckless behavior and destroying the economy, and never punished. They see a culture of political corruption."

There may be some truth to this line of analysis. But the question is, is this really a middle class revolt? What, exactly is the middle class? What are its roots? One of the biggest beefs, referenced several times in the article, is the issue of “good-paying manufacturing jobs going overseas.” What do these Sanders/Trump supporters demand? That it be stopped, freezing the status quo? Did stagnation build the middle class? Is ‘middle class’ synonymous with an entitlement mentality and government favoritism?

I left these comments:

How did we get to the point where the American Dream is threatened and diminished by a system that “favors politicians and their corporate/special interests financers, and chews up and spits out the little guy?” [sic]. In short, the mixed economy, regulatory welfare state—now at its vastest, most intrusive size ever.

Politics is the realm of government force. Economics is the realm of voluntary cooperation and exchange. Politics and economics should not mix, for the same reasons politics and religion should not mix. When they do, what do you get? In religion, you lose religious freedom and the opportunity to live by your own conscience, religious or non-religious. Likewise, when government force into the economy grows, voluntarism diminishes, along with freedom and its corollary—economic opportunity. And then you get a politically corrupted economy whereby the government becomes the tool of politicians and special interests—not just financiers—competing to forcibly impose their agendas by law; i.e., to “rig the system” in their favor at others’ expense. That’s how we got the 2008-09 financial crisis and Great Recession; the result of politicians, allying with a handful of mortgage lenders and eventually coercing the rest, employing the vast accumulated regulatory apparatus of the state to push “affordable housing” policies on the economy in the 1990s and 2000s, leading to a Perfect Storm of government intervention that triggered a monumental housing bubble, bust, and ultimately economic collapse.

The favoritism increases in proportion to government’s power over the people’s economic affairs. Make no mistake. The favoritism starts with government controls, not “corporate/special interests financiers.” The dollar is no match for a bullet. Without the government’s corrupting regulatory and tax powers, there could be no “rigging” of the economy by any private economic faction, be it the environmental, labor, business, or whatever lobby, and no incentive to do so. A private company can set its own $15 minimum wage, but it cannot outlaw all sub-$15 jobs by imposing it across the entire economy. Only government can do that. Likewise, a private financier can bail out any incompetent bank or auto company with his own money if he chooses, but he cannot force taxpayers to help fund it. Only government can do that. The same goes for all economic controls and favors.

Yet what do these alleged middle class rebels gravitate towards? Do they demand more economic freedom and less government control, the only kinds of reforms that can protect “the little guy?” No. They gravitate toward two authoritarians whose idea of “help” consists of continuing to expand the very regulatory powers that incentivize, enable, and feed the growth of cronyism and political corruption of the economy—one a self-described “democratic socialist” who would increase “public control of the means of production”—more government control over the economy—by stripping the individuals that comprise “the public” of the economic freedom to produce and trade for his own benefit; the other a nationalistic pragmatist who would subordinate the individual’s economic control to his shifting whims and deal-making skills.

The true middle class is marked by enlightened self-interest, self-reliance, respect for achievement, respect for the rights of others, and a self-sufficient attitude that doesn’t seek handouts or favors, but instead exploits the freedom to work and rise by voluntary trade with others. A true middle classer does not expect the entire economy to stagnate for his benefit. A true middle classer, for example, would recognize that a company has as much right to fire a worker as a worker has to quit a job; that a company has a much right to hire the workers of its choice as a job-seeker has to accept the best job offer he can find; that just as the worker is not a slave of a company, the company’s owners are not slaves of their workers; that each has the moral right to pursue their own economic self-interest, whether their interests align or diverge—and that any attempt to politically infringe another’s economic freedom for short-term gain eventually hurts us all.

I sympathize with the “Anger [and] Frustration” of the revolt, such as it is. I sympathize with “The sense that the American dream, or the America they dreamed of, is slipping away.” But not with the revolt’s misidentification of the causes or solutions. There are government policies that drive investment and jobs outside our borders for other than sound economic reasons. But the policies—e.g. the corporate income tax—not the global economy, is the problem. Xenophobia on trade is not the solution.

These pseudo-middle class rebels more resemble the clueless inhabitants of Animal Farm than the enlightened middle class rebellion we really need. If Trump and Sanders are the extent of the rebellion the middle class can muster, the American Dream—which is really nothing more than the political and economic freedom to pursue your dreams without any coercive human impediments—is in deeper trouble than anyone imagined.

Related Reading:

Trump’s Antitrust, Tax Attack on Bezos Still Not Enough Reason to ‘Dump Trump’

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