Procrastinating on July 4, 2016

Monday Smackdown: What Is Happening to Thomas Byrne Edsall?

For a long time I have listened to Thomas Byrne Edsall with great attention. But this seems to me to be very bad and very wrong indeed:

Thomas Byrne Edsall: The Anti-P.C. Vote: "The refusal of Democrats and the American left to hear...

...or to grant some legitimacy to--the grievances of white America as it loses power and stature to ascendant minorities and to waves of immigrants from across the globe undergirds the Trump movement. In the zero sum world of immigration politics, it has proved impossible so far to convincingly affirm the validity of the claims of both sides...

But "white America" is not losing "power and stature" to "waves of immigrants".

But "white America" is not losing "power and stature" to "ascendant minorities".

With few exceptions, immigrants are not gaining a seat at the table where white America sits, but rather a place on the floor--and the promise that their grandchildren and perhaps their children will gain a seat at the table. This is to the substantial benefit of white America: where do they think their home health aides--or their parents' home health aides so they can escape being tied to their parents 24/7--come from? Immigration economics is the most positive sum thing in the world. Immigration politics is only zero sum because bad actors make it so.

And "ascendant minorities"? Donnez moi une break.

It is true that for the past fifty years female white America has been feeling the dilemmas opened up by the coming of the freedoms made possible by feminism. And it is true that for the past forty years male white America has been, economically, treading water. But those who have taken the prosperity that male white America expected would be its are not the "ascendant minorities" or the "waves of immigrants". Those on the rise are, rather, the overclass--those at the top. In 2015 the top 0.01%--that's those making more than $11M/year--had 6.03 times the share of income they had in 1975, and 4.26%-points more of income. The rest of the top 0.1%--those with incomes between $2M and $11M/year--had 3.37 times and 4.07%-points more than their 1975 share. For the rest of the top 1%--those with incomes between $440K and $2M/year--their income shares multiplied by 1.76, giving them 4.82%-points more. And for the rest of the top 10%--those with incomes between $125K and $440K/year--their income share multiplied by 1.16, giving them 3.89%-points more.

2016 07 04 Updated 2015 Piketty Saez Top Income Shares numbers

And the Democratic Party has been listening. It has been trying to boost employment, increase investment in human capital, reduce income disparities, and expand opportunities for upward mobility. It has been hearing the grievances of white America. But it has not been willing to pander to them by either reinforcing or sympathizing about the erosion of caste barriers. And it has not been willing to pander to them by beating up on immigrants.

Edsall is taking demagoguery--that minorities are "ascendant", that immigration is "zero sum", and that white America's true grievances are not with the overclass but with people from abroad or with different complexions--for reality. And while it is true that social myth has a separate social reality of its own, there is a difference between myth and reality.

And whether the Trumpets are in any sense new or in any substantial sense a reaction to economic stagnation is greatly contested. There is an alternative hypothesis: (1) The 10% who are and have long been libertarian wingnuts who had long had a home with the Republican Party have been joined by the 15% who are and have long been racist wingnuts. (2) Before the 1980s the second group had been predominantly attached to the Democratic Party. (3) Now that they have migrated to the Republican Party they form a large intransigent and mobilized minority of it. (4) Thus they have managed to gain an ascendancy over today's Republican party, in a manner analogous to how the Slavepower gained an ascendancy over the Jacksonian Era Democratic Party. This alternative seems to me to be considerably stronger than Edsall's proposal. |