American Fascism in the World

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“President Trump, MAGA rally, Wilkes-Barre, Penn – 1” by The Epoch Times is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As a country we normally don’t care much about foreign affairs.  We’ve had five Democratic debates with almost no questions about it.  International issues always come out low on the lists of what people care about.

However, the time has come to care.  It’s nothing new to identify the rise of fascism in this country as a problem.  But for some of the worst consequences you need to look outside the borders.

Fascism is many things but it is above all a world view.  The mother country is God-certified superior, under assault, and fully-equipped to teach everyone else a lesson.  That feels great; life is good when you’re on top of the world, and you don’t have to care.  But it is by definition blinding in its assessment of reality.

Our current foreign policy is predicated on the idea that we’re running things and can dictate to the rest of the world.   We don’t need allies or international institutions, because we can simply tell everyone else what to do.  Allies are people you shake down because they need you, and adversaries are just waiting to get defeated by irresistible national power.

That world view might have had some reality at the end of World War II (when we were sensible enough not to pursue it), but it has little to do with reality today.  The longer we resist reality, the worse for us.

First of all our military power is strictly bounded.  Nuclear weapons are such that for now no major power can be defeated.  We can’t even do anything about North Korea.  So we shouldn’t believe that counting bombs says anything meaningful.

Our economic power is also limited.  Our declared economic war on China has thus far been anything but “easy”.  There is no sign that China is ready to capitulate, and their resulting push for national self-sufficiency has many negatives for us—in particular reduced access to the markets we think we’re opening.  That’s in addition to an overall slow-down of international growth and much of the recent intellectual property theft.  The blindness of the belief in our power is such that we systematically ignore consequences.  It is truly dangerous to believe—as a principle—that we don’t have to care.

Why do we have allies?  If you believe what’s coming out of Washington, the answer is that we have allies because, out of the goodness of our hearts, we choose to defend our friends.  Since this is pure beneficence, they had better pay up and to hell with them if they don’t.

In fact (of course) we have allies to increase our strength.  NATO came into existence, so that a next world war with Russia would be fought in Europe and not here. That role may have diminished, but it’s not gone, and Europe allies are also assets in dealing with middle-eastern terrorism and with the economic strength of China.  South Korea and Japan are similarly counterweights to the rising power of China.   Again, they are the ones on the front lines.  Shaking them down increases China’s dominance in the East.

Why do we have international institutions?  Those were created by the US as a means of increasing stability (to the benefit of our economy) and of exercising power.  The UN is imperfect institution, but its role as an international forum is essential.  The WTO is the best means that exists to push for labor and environmental standards in international trade.  Make no mistake that world trade has been good for the US economy.  If it hasn’t done as much for the population as a whole, that’s because—as in many other areas—rich donors have controlled our own objectives.  That’s our problem to fix.  International institutions are the way we, together with our allies, can exert decisive power without conflict.

Fascism is a major impediment to the exercise of US power.  Relations with China are a case in point.   Nothing says this is easy, but we certainly should be playing with a full deck.  As it is, we’ve already strengthened the hands of hard-liners, and it will be work to walk that back.  That’s still worth the effort, because conflict is a good option only in fascist fantasy.  A defined “victory” is highly unlikely, and at the very least we’re talking about:  a new cold war, lower economic growth, no access to the Chinese market, an uncontrolled and expensive arms race, no leverage on Chinese behavior, a real chance of war.  Rational national interest says forget the fascist dreams, strengthen our hand, and work on a real future.

There are other aspects to this as well.  Fascism has many other destructive tendencies, we’re promoting them worldwide, and they come back to bite us.  Racial intolerance is built-in to the world view.  We’re excusing it domestically and normalizing it elsewhere.  Modi’s anti-Muslim policies would probably have happened anyway, but our influence has damped down international outrage.  Similarly we may decry China’s treatment of Uighurs, but the impact of our outrage is weakened by our own actions.

Even more important, our fascist disdain for international cooperation has seriously hobbled the worldwide effort to combat climate change.  The US-led unanimity of the Paris Agreement was the basis for the world to make progress.  Once we broke that and encouraged others to follow, it has been more than difficult to assemble the global good-will necessary to make progress.

After World War II it was easy to believe fascism was something special with roots in German or Italian culture.  We now know better.  It is a tendency than needs to be fought everywhere.  It is a mindset that takes over from rationality and hurts most severely those who fall prey to the disease.

We’ve had more than enough of it already.  For our own sake we’d better learn to fight back.

The End of Democracy

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“STATUE OF LIBERTY” by airlines470 licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Who knew it would be so easy?  In Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here,” he needs real violence for a fascist takeover of the country.  In fact it took almost nothing at all.

We were lulled into complacency.  The institutions setup at our founding had lasted hundreds of years.  They weren’t perfect, but at least we had regular changes of power.

It turns out there was much we overlooked.  It’s easy to make a list now:

–  The Constitution functions only as it is interpreted by the Supreme Court.  A Court majority willing to exercise power can do almost anything.  For starters:  corporations are people; the first amendment precludes any control of money in politics; voting rights are not guaranteed.  Appointments are for life, and reasons for decisions are arbitrary and non-reviewable.

– The President and Senate have complete power over lifetime appointments of judges.  There are no controls on job requirements or procedures for appointment.

– The Attorney General is a creation of the President and can interpret laws in any way that the Supreme Court allows.  He, together with the Court, can quite legally be the President’s enforcer.

– Going one step farther, the impeachment process has laid bare the biggest threat of all, that there is no Constitutional check on a President whose party controls the Senate and will support him as a matter of principle.  Who is left to enforce the law?  In such a case the Constitution becomes a dead letter, supplanted by the whim of the dictator.

There is an old and probably apocryphal story that the mathematician Kurt Gödel, on reading the Constitution to prepare for his US citizenship interview, told Einstein that he was shocked to discover a path for a fascist takeover.  Einstein told him to shut up and get on with it.  It seems Gödel was right.

However institutions are only a part of what we missed.  Apparently the founding fathers were well-aware that in human history democracies have been rare and short-lived.  However as creatures of the Enlightenment, they were rather optimistic about the workings of the human psyche.

With that too there is much to go wrong.

– It turns out that people aren’t terribly rational.  They are intensely tribal and unwilling to change opinions based on facts.  Both advertising experience and economic theory have shown that there are many techniques to successfully manipulate opinions.  Two examples:  the brain confuses ease of access with truth, so that repetition works great; people process issues in bunches, so that opinions about abortion translate conveniently to opinions about tax rates.

– It turns out that even perceptions of factual reality are easily manipulated.  We no longer directly perceive reality; reality is what we glean from the information streams around us.  In the US we already made a terrible mistake (deliberately pushed through under Reagan) to remove the fairness doctrine on television—clearing the way for Fox News and other propaganda channels.  Now we have an even more serious problem with social networks.

– Finally and most fundamentally we’ve misjudged people’s commitment to democracy and fairness.  What we’ve found is that there may have been a commitment out of habit, but it was no more than skin deep.  If you can be sure of winning all the time, why even consider giving it up?  Democracy is just one more item on the list of things where “I just don’t have to care.”

Is there a way back?

Based on history, it seems we need two things:

– A unifying figure as President, to function as a creature for change.  It helps if the person is not too directly tied to factions.

– A renewed commitment to the non-legal underpinnings of democracy.   That is, to the unstated rules of cooperation that made democracy work for 200 years.  Much as you might like to, you just can’t legislate everything.

We like to think about Athenian democracy as a model (ignoring that Athens was in fact a quite unrecommendable imperialistic power).  After the rise of demagogues, they did in fact take the first step back, but they never managed the second.

We’ve been a much more successful democracy than they were, but we’re now at the same juncture.  The 2020 election is perhaps our last chance.

This is not just about an abstract idea of democracy.  With Athens it was the end of economic dominance and everything they stood for.  Same for us too.

Waiting is Losing in China and North Korea

Foreign policy these days has been drifting along.  Negotiations with China have gone up and down for many months.  Nothing is happening with North Korea.  (Kim has given some kind of threat for the end of the year, and we’re wondering if we care.)   It’s easy to assume all is sort of okay while we’re working on it.

That’s false.  With trade wars as with other wars, if you’re not winning you’re losing.  That’s true in spades today.

Let’s start with China.

As we (and Nancy Pelosi) have pointed out for some time, we began the trade war by giving up a good chunk of our leverage.  We and the EU each represent 18% of Chinese exports, so we gave up half the leverage for a Trump-style exclusive deal.

That was bad enough.  What’s worse is that the leverage goes down every day.  That involves both Chinese imports from the US and Chinese exports overall.

On the import side, China has been forced by the trade war to develop new sources for strategic products, since the US can no longer be considered a reliable supplier.  The last Huawei phone, for example, has replaced all US components.  Additionally, China has developed alternate sources for products that it restricted in retaliation for the US tariffs.   It’s now sourcing soybeans from Brazil and Argentina, relationships that are expected to survive any US trade agreement with China.  In other words our leverage as a strategic supplier to China is decreasing dramatically.  What’s more, this gives a pessimistic picture of what is to be expected of US exports to China even after a deal!

For Chinese exports, there’s no question that the Chinese economy took a hit from the  US tariffs.  However they have looked to beef-up exports elsewhere and also to stimulate their own domestic market.  After the initial hit their balance of payments has shown resilience:

china_balance

Another round of US tariffs would hurt again (at the expense to us of a very visible and regressive tariff tax), but there is no sign that the Chinese are going away.  As they continue to work on replacing the US market, time is on their side.

With North Korea, even with the continued sanctions, production of nuclear weapons and missiles is continuing unabated.  The threat posed to the US by those weapons should not be taken lightly.  The destructive power of nuclear weapons is such that only a few are necessary to assure victory.  Japan was defeated by two, small-grade weapons and a faked threat of more.  In theory a successful cyber attack combined with a nuclear threat could defeat anyone.  North Korea is a world leader in cyber attacks.

What’s more, the strategic value of those weapons is going up all the time.  As we threaten to withdraw support from Japan and South Korea, the regional status of North Korea grows.  Do we really think Kim will give it all up?  (And can we deny that other countries will want to follow his example?)   It’s not what Kim might or might not announce in December that’s the issue, it’s what has been going on all along—while he’s been Trump’s buddy.

So in neither case are we working quietly toward a solution.  We’re just plain losing.

Depression:  Yes or No

Donald Trump inherited a country on the upswing.  Unemployment was low and decreasing, and GDP was growing at a healthy clip.  The following charts show remarkable continuity.

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However we’ve let that continuity hide a more sinister reality.  The $1.5 T tax cuts represented a huge transfer of the wealth of the country to the rich investors of Wall Street.  The money did not go to wages (which have only barely kept pace with inflation), nor to business investment (no significant rise), nor to bonuses (negligible one-shot deals).  It went to artificially-enhanced corporate earnings that turned into stock buy-backs.  A double win for Wall Street.

There are a lot of things that could have been done with that money, but now that it has gone into stock prices, it’s not coming back.   In fact, chances are that it’s gone for good.

1929 was a long time ago, so the world has had plenty of time to think about it.  A major factor in the crash was that inequality had risen to the point where it undermined continued growth.   Speculation pushed stock values to a point that was not sustainable by the buying power of the population.  Furthermore, the Depression was caused not just by the crash, but by mismanagement of the economy by the business-fixated Republicans in power.

Let’s tick off the items.  We have inequality that has now reached levels unheard-of since the roaring twenties.  We don’t have wild speculation on Wall Street, but we do have stocks pumped up to artificially high levels by the dual effects of enhanced earnings and corporate stock buy-backs.  Trump is still working on schemes to push Wall Street higher.

Two questions:

  • Is it sustainable?

As corporate profits move back down to reality, it seems pretty clear that once again domestic buying power isn’t going to do the job.  Foreign markets might have offered some hope, but there the trade wars get in the way.  That’s why the market has gone up and down with rumors of a China deal.  However, much damage there has already been done.  Trump wants another tax cut before the election—an admission of where we are.  So the answer to the question is simply “No”.

It’s a matter of time until all that money that pumped up the stock market is gone.  Poof.

  • What’s going to happen?

It’s hard to predict what’s going to pop the bubble.  In 1929, reality just set in.  That may be the case today, but there are plenty of other possibilities:  wars (particularly in the Middle East), climate catastrophes, unanticipated tariff effects, debt crises elsewhere.  Election of a Democrat won’t do it (no matter how many times Trump says so), because the problem is beyond party.  No one, Republican or Democrat, can keep pumping debt-funded artificial profits into the stock market forever.

It’s what happens next that matters.  Democrats understand the importance of stopping contraction by supporting the population.  That’s what kept us all out of depression in 2008.  Republicans didn’t understand that in 1929 and hadn’t learned the lesson in 2008.  Trump himself has done everything possible to weaken safety nets for the benefit of Wall Street.  He’ll do everything he can to protect businesses from the “losers”.

So the 2020 election is simple.  Depression:  YES or NO?

On Climate—We Have to Beat Trump or Nothing Else Matters

Our piece on Inslee’s climate proposals included a video clip from MIT professor Henry Jacoby on the international side of climate change.  That clip deserves more than a passing reference, because its implications go far.  In its own way this is truth-telling for a story that has been largely ignored

 

Just to repeat the obvious, there is only one atmosphere.  All the carbon dioxide from everyone gets mixed up.  Since we represent about 15% of the world CO2 production, we only control 15% of what happens to us.  We can feel good or bad about how well we’re doing with our 15%, but the other 85% comes from everyone else.

For that other 85% it should be emphasized that there is no world government to deal with it.  The only way to make progress is for all of the world’s nations to unite on a process that makes sense, on a national basis, for each country involved.  That was the achievement of the Paris Agreement—there is no other mechanism for going forward.  (We’ve talked elsewhere about justice and economic impact.)  US withdrawal means we will be stuck with consequences of that other 85%, regardless of what we as individuals or cities or states can do.  Let’s see what that means.

US involvement created the Paris Agreement after decades of international squabbling.  Obama’s active intervention also raised Chinese consciousness to stop their rapid increase in CO2 production—as seen in the following chart:

s11_2018_Projections

The Paris Agreement is not a single step, but a process.  The path to success involves regular revisions of national targets according to a succession of 5-yearly updates.  The next such update is in 2020.

Progress won’t happen by itself.  It only works if everyone keeps on-track—and US withdrawal undermines it all.   Now that we’re out, the Germans and the Japanese are replacing nuclear plants with coal, and the Chinese (while retreating from fossil fuels in their own country) are pushing coal and oil elsewhere with their Belt and Road initiative.  With the US committed to (and encouraging) cheating, the 2020 updates are in jeopardy, and there is a real question if the poor countries of the world will be in any position to deal with the 75% of CO2 emissions reductions that Professor Jacoby notes must come from the developing world.  Rich countries like us are only going escape the consequences of climate change if they can get back in the game to make progress with poorer ones.

As long as Trump is the US President, we are giving up on what happens with most of the sources of the CO2 in our atmosphere.  That means, regardless of what we do for ourselves, we are committed to a national disaster.

So it’s important to keep things in perspective.  It’s good for the US to commit the effort necessary to meet our climate objectives.   But we should not delude ourselves about what controls our destiny.  The highest priority for climate action is to defeat Trump.  Between now and the election there is no other climate priority that comes close.

Warren’s Medical Plan Competes with Climate Action

Nursing Stock Images NIH

“Patient Talking With Doctor” by NIHClinicalCenter is licensed under CC BY 2.0

There is nothing complicated about this conclusion, but we ought to be clear about it.

Warren got herself boxed-in on medical care.  She repeatedly said she wouldn’t raise medical “costs” for the middle class, but other candidates and the press accused her of using “costs” as a smokescreen to hide taxes.  That forced her hand—to defend herself she had to make medical care free, a position quite different from where she started.  The middle class would pay neither premiums nor taxes.

That meant coming up with an awful lot of money.  The Warren proposal is a highly optimistic exercise in finding taxes and cost-savings to make it fly.  As opposed to all the other proposals—which involve some form of participant contribution—this one takes all the participant payments from general tax funds.  And it needs so much money you have to say that the well is now largely dry.

That has consequences for everything else.  For climate this is particularly sensitive, because there is every reason to believe that current cost estimates are decidedly on the low side.  What’s more, the costs included in the Inslee climate plan (which Warren now supports in principle) come to $9T over ten years, whereas the taxes from Warren’s own climate plan only cover $3T.   The rest is yet to be done.

Healthcare is too expensive to expect it just to fit it in.  It’s fantasy to believe it doesn’t matter.

 

Inslee’s Plan in the Green New Deal

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Inslee’s 200-page climate plan is the most detailed document any candidate has put together to address climate change.  Elizabeth Warren has said she will adopt it as is.  Many people would like to view it as a first fleshing out of the Green New Deal.

As such, it is important to recognize what the Inslee document does and doesn’t do.  Here are a few points.  (For context, this note builds upon our other recent points on climate change.)

  1. Inslee’s document is very good at documenting areas of government action necessary to address climate change.

– Undoing Trump’s many areas of damage within the executive—environmental planning and regulations of all kinds

– Reestablishing links to international organizations—the Paris Agreement and many others

– Identifying topics to be included in a plan—electric grid, carbon pricing, protecting affected workers

  1. However that is different from a plan of action.  Two issues:

– There isn’t yet a concrete plan for the core electric grid and power sources

This is completely controllable and in the critical path for everything else.

It is a strategic necessity—our generation’s interstate highway system.

It has to be planned nationally, with roles determined for renewable sources.

It will push the envelope on technology.  The Chinese are already deploying the highest capacity links ever.  Management and control software may be our strength.

– Inslee covers many topics, but doesn’t systematically prioritize sectors or work.  The following chart is key:

consumption-by-source-and-sector

                Where is lowest-hanging fruit both initially and as we go?

               What are technological and other barriers to success?

               What sequences of steps will be necessary?

               How does carbon pricing fit in?  What do we do about carbon capture?

  1. Transition costs are greatly underestimated.

– Inslee talks about protecting unionized coal and oil workers from loss of income.

– Far more affected people will be outside that core:  automobile mechanics, manufacturing value chains, service stations, etc.

– Most American car manufacturers risk being left behind—today’s cheap electric cars use South Korean technology.

– We will also—for the same reasons—need to protect workers losing jobs from other technology changes, such as AI.

  1. International aid requirements are also greatly underestimated.  This chart shows the problem:

s11_2018_Projections

– Many “All others” countries will be unable to do it alone—we will have to contribute.  That’s not just for them; it’s our atmosphere too!

– Inslee focuses on investment, but we will also need to provide financial aid and active assistance.

– MIT Professor Henry Jacoby gives a broader summary of this little-discussed truth:

 

 

  1. Inslee doesn’t cover everything in the Green New Deal.

– No claim to provide jobs for everyone (mostly high-skill jobs)

– Many claims but little detail about aid to “front-line communities”

– Minimizes management challenges of a huge undertaking—e.g. preventing corruption

  1. The technology picture is fanciful.

– We do need to develop new technologies or be left behind

– We’re not going to be world-dominant in everything—we’re not the only ones trying.

– We’re also not going to bring back the good old days of manufacturing—not any more than we did with iPhones.   Most climate jobs will be in deploying technology.

– Market opportunities are enormous, and we can expect success in our areas of strength.   But employment and equality of opportunity are part of a bigger story.  Fighting climate change by itself won’t bring nirvana.

  1. Inslee’s tariff and sector protection story is exactly what we’re forbidding the Chinese to do.

– When we need worldwide cooperation, the last things we need are trade wars and tariffs!

– Rules for fair trade have got to worked out in the WTO as part of the Paris Agreement process

– We have to accept the reality of fair competition—whether we’ve paid for the research or not.  That’s a necessity for climate and ultimately beneficial economically.

  1. Inslee’s document—like Green New Deal itself—declares an unnecessary culture war.

– We’re deploying new energy sources to replace fossil fuels.

– For the most part, we’re changing how things work, not what they do.

– The transition will involve everyone, but it’s not a culture or lifestyle question.  People will continue to drive (electric) Chevy Suburbans.

  1. We still need a program of initial major steps.  This should include items such as:

– Blue ribbon team on electric grid and power sources with dated deliverables

– Specifics on carbon pricing (why not just take CCL?—it’s progressive)

– Commit to supporting all people hurt by technology transition (& try to scope it)

– Spend real money on test systems to productize carbon capture

– Get serious about what will be needed (by year) to completely change transportation.

– Business roundtable to address application needs

– Back to a leadership role in moving forward on Paris Agreement commitments.

– Fix WTO rules to be consistent with Paris objectives.

– Better understand what will be needed from us (and others) for third-world countries do their part.

– Organize to make the most of climate jobs for the whole population.

Reasons For Pragmatism

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“COD Volunteers Give Back to the Community During COD Cares: Roll Up Your Sleeves Service Day 103” by COD Newsroom is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ideology can be inspiring, but it’s never the same as a plan to get a job done.  For now it’s getting in the way on many issues.  Here are a few examples:

  • Healthcare

ACA is an imperfect compromise with known issues—in part because it was a non-final version enacted in the wake of Scott Brown’s Koch-funded victory for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.  All attempts since then to improve ACA have been blocked by anti-healthcare Republicans.

That being said ACA has enabled tens of millions of people to be covered for the first time, and it is supported by a non-regressive tax—the ACA surcharge.  It also attempts to get around some of the worst problems private insurance by covering pre-existing conditions and regulating how much of premiums must be paid out in benefits.  In fact insurance profit margins in healthcare are well-below margins in every other insurance category.

The most critical issues today are to improve coverage, pricing, and the range of offerings for ACA plans.  Some of this is just a matter of rolling back Trump efforts to destroy ACA.  The rest is more complicated, but nonetheless well-studied.  This needs to happen independent of long-term plans.

“Medicare of All” is an ideological choice—to get healthcare away from the insurance companies.  It’s a good slogan but something of a misnomer, because the changes from Medicare are decidedly non-trivial.  The Sanders bill optimistically assumes all private insurance will be gone in four years, but without a real plan to make it happen.  While virtually all developed countries have some form of universal healthcare, the systems are dramatically different from country to country, and many keep some form of private insurance.  Even current Medicare has many roles for private insurance.

Focusing on Medicare for All does nothing for current problems, and puts us in an ideological battle for the future.  As Krugman recently pointed out “Not many people love their insurance companies, but that doesn’t mean that they’re eager to trade the coverage they know for a new system they don’t.”  Additionally—for current Medicare recipients—Medicare for All is easily posed as a threat to Medicare itself.  That worked (using ACA) in the Scott Brown election and could well work again.

The long-term objective is affordable, universal coverage.  And the first steps start now.

  • Climate Change

If anything should ever be non-ideological it’s climate change.  Facts are facts, and the solutions are primarily matters for science and engineering.  The main political issues are how much money to spend and who is going to pay for it.

Both sides, however, have turned this into a culture war.  That the Kochs have dishonestly challenged the basic science is by now almost beside the point.  “Bad science” is just an epithet thrown out in the culture war.

We need to stop the culture war and make sure we take care of the people who will be hurt as the economy goes off fossil fuels.  Green New Deal makes some things better and some things worse.  There’s so much political deal-making thrown into it, that it can’t possibly be viewed as anything other than a left-wing grab bag.  Maybe that helps in defeating Trump—which is of course necessary for any progress—but there are too many distractions from the climate change goal.

We need to make sure that everyone realizes that the new post-climate-change world is a good world for all—even people who want to drive AV’s and Chevy Suburbans.  And we need to commit to protect everyone—coal miners, car mechanics, people hit by carbon pricing—who might otherwise be hurt in the process.  That’s the objective.  We can refuse to play the Koch’s culture war game.

We have to get away from the notion that we need to create a kind of “socialist new man” of conservation.  We’re not repealing the industrial revolution.  We just changing the technological underpinning of how things work.  That’s not to say there aren’t other environmental issues, but they’re not the same.  We shouldn’t expect fixing climate change will put the EPA out of business.

  • Jobs

This whole area is filled with so many wrong and misleading ideologies that we can start with a catalog of wrong ideas.

Manufacturing is the basis of economic strength.

The Chinese have gutted manufacturing in the US.

Balance of payments is a good measure of economic strength.

A strong private sector will provide everything necessary for economic success.

Tariffs protect and strengthen the domestic economy.

Low business tax rates build national competitiveness.

Taxing businesses hurts everyone.

Strong unions and strong anti-trust enforcement will preserve the middle class.

Public sector jobs aren’t real jobs, they just pull money out of the private sector.

In the future there just won’t be jobs for everyone.

From the list it’s clear this isn’t a matter of left versus right (even if you discount the lunatic fringe running things today).  The world is moving into new territory (more and more companies with 0 cost of production, tighter and more automated international links).  So the challenge is to see things as they actually are.

Ideologies can get in the way of understanding.  No candidates seem willing to talk about the transition from a manufacturing to a service economy.  Unions and antitrust enforcement are still good ideas, but they buy less than they used to.   As the last of the points indicates, futurists tend to provide more ideology than reality, so nothing beats experience and pragmatism.

For ourselves we see government challenges as:

Supporting education and research to keep ahead of technology change.

Managing the continuing transition from a manufacturing to a service economy.

Taxing and regulating dynamic international corporations with monopoly power.

Building and maintaining a bigger public sector to provide necessary services the private sector won’t.

Maintaining quality of life for all who live here.

Consciously working at creating and managing the international institutions that make the world work.  We used to recognize this responsibility (and avenue to exercise power), and no one else is stepping into the gap.

Overall we need to recognize the problems we do have—not the ones of the 1930’s—and look what will actually be effective to fix them.

There are many other areas where the same kind of story plays out—where an ideological war masks a more tractable, practical problem.  I’d even put immigration in that category.

It’s hard, given the daily atrocities of the Trump era, to focus on anything less than epic changes.  But if we’re going to put the pieces back together afterwards, it’s pragmatism that will get the job done.