Friday, November 25, 2016

Sleazy Answers

Of course "Democrats Don’t Have an Easy Answer for the Rust Belt." Easy answers are vanishingly rare in politics, because all of the low-hanging fruit has been picked, shipped and made into pies already. And what that means is that most of the answers that either party will be able to come up with are going to be painful for someone who has enough clout to say something about it.

But part of the problem that politicians have is the belief that the decisions that leave various segments of the public in the lurch are easy, and so undoing them would also be easy. This is how Donald Trump managed to gain traction with the idea that he would strongarm American companies that moved jobs overseas into moving them back. Mitt Romney used a similar tactic to with the Republican presidential primary in Michigan back in 2008. When the straight-talking Senator John McCain basically came out and said that a lot of the old manufacturing jobs were gone for good, Governor Romney quickly swooped in to say that they weren't.Of course, bringing jobs back onshore will have costs, and the people who have to pay them wouldn't be very happy about it, which is why it's unlikely that any American government that resembles the one we have now would do the work (and the arm-twisting) required to actually accomplish it.

In the end, the problem is a simple one - we've failed to adequately adapt to the growing efficiency of the world around us. As late as the 1950s, it was understood that advancing technology would lead to a system where the labor force participation rate would stay the same (or even increase) and salaries would stay roughly the same but people would have more leisure time. Instead, you could describe what happened as the people who owned businesses, large ones, generally, converted the extra leisure time into liquid wealth, and kept it for themselves. And given how long it's taken us to dig ourselves into this hole, it's likely to take quite a bit of time for us to excavate ourselves out again. But that's a long and painful process, hence the siren call of "easy answers."

While economists are often faulted for finding easy (and fictional) answers to problems, as the "assume a can opener" joke often pokes fun at, there is a maxim of economics that's helpful to keep in mind, and that is, "There are no solutions, only trade-offs." But trade-offs rarely win elections, and so the easy answers will keep coming.

No comments: