Beam Us Up, Mark

Professor of political economy Mark Blyth has been on a roll. The Brown University lecturer with the disarming Dundonian accent predicted that Brexit would pass, that Trump would win, and that Italy would vote No. So it makes sense to at least consider what he’s saying now. On January 4th he told the BBC that the European Union would fold in 2017. Wait, that’s this year:

“For all this… about Brexit and whether Britain should have left, it might be the case the EU ceases to exist before Article 50 is invoked.

“You have an election coming up in France. It’s entirely plausible the National Front will win the first round.

“At that point everyone in France is meant to organise a giant blocking collation to stop them being elected.

“That would mean everyone on the French left would have to vote for someone who basically wants to bring Thatcher’s economic policy menu to France, and that’s after eight years of stagnations – that’s going to be a very hard sell.”

Last week on NPR’s Marketplace (which is probably doomed to be defunded), earnest-sounding David Brancaccio interviewed Blyth:

Brancaccio: It’s interesting. President Obama had an industrial policy. He put federal dollars into, for instance, the alternative energy sector. He tried to promote robotics and advanced manufacturing and so forth. But one couldn’t imagine a Democrat, would you say, going as far as Mr. Trump has in terms of trying to pull the strings of the economy.

Blyth: Well, you can always invoke the “only Nixon can go to China” rule on this one. So let’s go back to the notion that what Trump’s trying to do is get at this collective action problem for capital by reassuring businesses, giving them incentives to stay at home. We’ve seen this before. It was in the 1930s, and it was called the National Industrial Recovery Act. Because what this leads to, if you follow it through, is very big corporations — a kind of oligopolistic structure. And that type of big, strong cartelized structure seems to be the type of economy that Trump and the people around him want to build. And that’s definitely an industrial policy. Whether it’s a feasible one is a different question. It didn’t work in the 30s and no reason why it should work now.

Yesterday in Paste Magazine, Ben Gran tried to summarize Blyth’s rationale in, Trump Is Not a Fluke: Why “Trumpism” Is a Global Phenomenon. After restating much of what Blyth has laid out in his lectures, Gran writes:

Mark Blyth is oddly optimistic about America in the age of Trumpism, especially compared to Europe. He says that America has an advantage over Europe because Europe is bound by the Euro currency, which Blyth says is a “disaster” because individual countries within the Eurozone (such as Greece vs. Germany) have different conflicting political agendas that cannot be addressed by monetary policy. Trump might turn out to be a flash in the pan, a Black Swan event brought on by a one-time bizarre confluence of events and a bad matchup with the Democratic nominee.

One might point out that “Greece vs Germany” isn’t that different than US Rust Belt vs US Research City right now. Yet we all pay about the same for food and other necessities.

Trump might even have some positive effects, in Blyth’s view, because the U.S. would benefit from a more isolationist foreign policy with fewer costly, unending military interventions in other countries. As Blyth says in this discussion on the 2016 election results, if Europe is left to pay more for their own national defense and find their own accommodation with Russia, without relying on American military power, that would not be a bad thing for the U.S. Blyth is skeptical that Trump will actually enact any of his trade protectionist promises, since U.S. voters won’t want to see higher prices for their iPhones (imported from China). It’s possible that Trump’s presidency will be less frighteningly radical than many liberals have feared.

I think the scary part will be what happens to us while the nationalists and neoliberals fight it out. Neither side is particularly concerned with what happens to ordinary people, except so far as we keep buying their stuff.

Aside from Trump’s immediate outrages, the broader challenge for America, and the world, is that the neoliberal political order of the past 30 years in the Western democracies is breaking down. We’ve elected a president who campaigned as a populist, but who’s likely going to govern as a traditional Reagan-style “trickle-down economics” Republican. Those Upper Midwest swing voters who voted based on economic populism and “bringing jobs back” are not remotely going to get the populist politics that Trump promised; so the question is, can the Democrats deliver a real populist alternative instead? Will the American Left be defeated by Trumpism, or can they co-opt Trump’s appeal to the middle-class and working-class, and create a new politics that truly speaks to the concerns of the people who have been left behind by globalization and our new era of wealth inequality?

I’d ask whether the Democrats will even survive as a party without neoliberal elites to back them. So far they’ve offered no real opposition to President Trump, and shown no clue about connecting with the working class.


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One response to “Beam Us Up, Mark”

  1. Lis says :

    But isn’t Trump already enacting his populist message? More and more US-based companies are deciding not to hire overseas. And, so far, Trump is making good on every one of his campaign promises, in a very short amount of time, and with a great deal of opposition. Perhaps all the talking heads didn’t think he could do it, but – other than NY and CA – Americans felt that he could.

    Just sayin’.


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