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Feb 03

It Wasn’t Them, Democratic Party, It Was You

Dean Baker - Democratic Part and Free TradeThomas Edsall has an interesting piece on the turn to right-wing populists in the United States and elsewhere in recent years. While he connects the turn to the right to economic hardship for the working class, he leaves out an important part of the story. The economic hardship for the working class was actually to a large extent the result of policies supported by the Democratic Party in the United States and social democratic parties across Europe.

In the United States, the Democratic Party supported trade, financial, and intellectual property policies that had the effect of redistributing income upward. In the case of trade, deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), were quite explicitly designed to put US manufacturing workers in direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world. The predicted and actual outcome of these policies is a loss of manufacturing jobs and downward pressure on the wages of non-college educated workers more generally. This policy was aggravated by the decision of the Clinton administration to push a high dollar policy that caused the trade deficit to explode.

At the same time, the self proclaimed “free traders” in the Democratic Party favored policies that protected doctors, dentists, and lawyers from the same sort of international competition. It’s not surprising that working class voters would not be pleased with a party that was working to take away their jobs and push down their pay, and derided them as stupid “protectionists” for opposing the policies, even while they personally were benefiting from protectionists policies.

In this vein, longer and stronger patent and copyright protections also have the effect of redistributing upward. Similarly, the regulatory policies directed towards the financial industry, including free too big to fail insurance, also have the effect of redistributing upward.

In Europe, the push for needless austerity, which has generally been embraced by social democratic parties, both directly and indirectly hurt the working class. The direct effect shows up in cuts in areas like healthcare, education, and pensions. The indirect effect is high unemployment and lower wages.

For these reasons, it is not surprising working class voters would not be happy with the establishment parties they have traditionally supported even if the right-wing populists may not offer a coherent economic alternative.

—Dean Baker
Democratic Party Policies Actually Hurt the Working Class

5 comments

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  1. Colin Keesee

    As despicable as ted Cruz is, his ad where he had Lawyers, CEO’s and Journalists crossing the Rio Grande was spot on. Elite would be far less sanguine about “free trade” if the World were “flat” in the News Room, the Surgery Room, the Board Room and the Judge’s chambers.

    If your senior management “talent” is so unimaginative and untalented that it cannot find and/or develop American programmers and engineers than your Board room and or C suites should also become international. If half of your workforce is Indian then half of your top guys have to Indian.

  2. Colin Keesee

    As despicable as Ted Cruz is, his ad where he had Lawyers, CEO’s and Journalists crossing the Rio Grande was spot on. Elites would be far less sanguine about “free trade” if the World were “flat” in the News Room, the Surgery Room, the Board Room and the Judge’s chambers.

    If your senior management “talent” is so unimaginative and untalented that it cannot find and/or develop American programmers and engineers than your board room and or C suites should also become international. If half of your workforce is Indian then half of your top guys have to Indian.

  3. FDChief

    The problem I spot with this is simple: Sanders.

    Sanders offered all the Trump populism, all the anti-free-trade, pro-working-class policies without the nativism, racism, xenophobia, and pussy-grabbing. He was a walking enticement for the “Reagan Democrats”, the “white working class” to return to the Democratic Party. In a real-Dean-Baker-world these people would have been mobbing to Sanders, the old-school New Dealer, in droves, pushing him over the top to the nomination and then to the presidency.

    Aaaaaand…did they?

    Because all those “economically anxious” Trumpeters didn’t WANT Bernie’s New-Deal-without-the-Jim-Crow. They LIKED the nativism, racism, xenophobia, and, presumably, the pussy-grabbing.

    So while I agree that the DLC Democrats did the party no favors, I have a hard time simply blaming them for the disaster that is, already, the administration of His Fraudulency. There was more than dissatisfaction with corporatist Democrats going on here (especially since even the dimmest Trumpeters had to realize that the GOP has been and is going to be massively plutocratic and corporatist to an order of magnitude beyond the DLC…); there was an active rebellion against 21st Century, push-one-for-English, multivariate America.

    The Trumpeters want to Make America 1951 Again. It’s really that.

    1. James Fillmore

      “Even the dimmest Trumpeters had to realize …”

      I like that phrase, Trumpeters. Keep using it. It’s funny!

      Honest to God, I don’t know if they have any clue. I’ve heard and read people saying they’re happy with Trump’s Cabinet nominees, because they’ll get rid of Dodd/Frank. These people have no idea what Dodd/Frank is. All they know is talk radio has been telling them for years that something called “Dodd/Frank,” crafted by those elitist Democrats, has been hurting the economy. They actually believe Republicans stand for the little guy. Because, you know, the President wears a trucker hat.

      I have been to car shows, and tractor parades*, with Black children. The old white folks are universally friendly. They’re happy to see ANY children interested in this old-timey shit. To a soul they’ll probably claim they don’t hate Blacks, just the welfare moms. Don’t hate gays, just the pushy ones who want “special rights.” Don’t hate immigrants, just the moochers and terrorists and so on. Didn’t approve of Trump’s comments about women, but couldn’t vote for Hillary because she’s a bitch.

      Remember the old “I Love Lucy” line? “Lucy, you got a lot of esplaining to do.” (Spoken, you’ll recall, by a Cuban immigrant, in the 1950s, to his white wife, and this was the most popular show on TV.) We got a lot of educatingto do. It’s not undoable!

      * — Yes, I shit you not, there are tractor parades here in the Midwest. Old folks restore old tractors and drive them in a line. A very slow line. And many people are mesmerized by this stuff. Old Midwesterners talking about tractors are like Trek fans debating Kirk vs. Picard, it’s that nerdy. God bless ’em, but it is nerdy. And there was a tractor parade at Trump’s inauguration! Naturally!

    2. Elizabeth

      It is nice to see someone else pointing out that it simply isn’t the economics. Because it isn’t.

      It is the racism and the sexism. Full stop. The Democrats may not have gotten card check during the 16 months they had the super-majority it suddenly required to pass literally anything but that isn’t why the voters ran to the polls to vote for the Tea Party people. They ran to say “no” to the black guy. They might be willing to elect him to assuage their racism (and that is mostly why they did) but they sure as hell weren’t going to let him get anything done. He would show up the white men.

      I almost never see the pundits talking about that. They always say “oh it was Dems not being good enough on the (white) working class.”

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