If you haven’t already noticed it, my world view and, consequently, my way of expressing myself tends to be highly syncretistic. Basically, I look at it as pragmatic. It’s been called “eclectic”. I try to include anything that yields good explanations, not just including traditionally American views but those of classical economics, John Maynard Keynes, the Fabian Socialists, even Karl Marx. Two of Marx’s ideas that creep into my writing are “internal contradictions” and “superstructure”.
Twenty-five years ago it looked as though Japan’s rapidly growing economy would yield Japan the global hegemony that its military failed to give it 75 years ago. If you don’t believe me, look at movies like Gung Ho (1986) and Rising Sun (1993). I, armed with even a little knowledge of Japan, attempted to assuage the concerns of my friends and colleagues by explaining to them that Japan’s internal contradictions would prevent the dire consequences they feared. Shortly thereafter, largely for the reasons I’d cited, Japan entered its “lost decade”, its economy has never really recovered, and their demographic problems will give the Japanese people more than enough to worry about for the foreseeable future.
I’m not really worried about China’s rise for much the same reasons.
Even as I write this our own two major political parties are frozen by their own internal contradictions like Buridan’s ass. The Republicans’ internal contradictions are the easiest to identify. You can’t reconcile a conflict between people who don’t believe there’s a legitimate role for government in just about anything except the military and those who depend for their livelihoods (like many elected officials) on the government.
The Democrats, too, have internal contradictions a-plenty. An embarrassment of riches. They’re the party of Wall Street and the party of the little guy. The party of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg and the tribune of the poor.
That was my reaction to Steve Malanga’s post at City Journal:
Democrats knew after 2014 that they had serious problems. A party task force examining that year’s election results acknowledged the stark losses. But the group’s recommendations for revival were bland at best, focusing largely on organization and infrastructure rather than on ideas that might appeal to the electorate. Recommendations included expanding voting rights, working harder to control redistricting, and building an “open and accessible” party. The resulting document said almost nothing about policies except in the broadest terms, and ignored the fact that Republicans were winning in many states with an agenda that included fiscal restraint and a pro-business approach to economic growth. And the task-force report made no acknowledgment that the increasingly leftward drift of the party had driven away many of its traditional blue-collar constituents. As early as 2013, trade unions whose membership once formed part of the Democratic Party’s core were in revolt against the Affordable Care Act, the growing power of public-sector unions, and the increasing influence that the environmentalist, no-growth agenda had on the party. Many of those trade union members defected to Trump in 2016.
The Democrats’ latest effort to craft an electoral comeback concedes, in a new op-ed by Senator Chuck Schumer, that “Americans are clamoring for bold changes.” But the prescriptions that Schumer offers can only be described as bold if you ignore Clinton’s 2016 campaign platform. The new, “better deal” Democrats propose includes, for instance, a $15 minimum wage, a key Clinton proposal. That’s not only new packaging for an old idea but also an unusual proposition, considering that even Democratic economists worry that boosting mandatory wage floors so dramatically (the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour) will undermine the economy, especially in light of a new study showing that Seattle’s $15 minimum is destroying low-wage jobs. The new proposals also include limiting the ability of pharmaceutical companies to raise drug prices—another Clinton proposal—and thwarting mergers that consolidate power among big companies, a policy that Clinton backed as far back as October of 2015.
Strikingly absent from the new agenda are any ideas that might appeal directly to the party’s defecting blue-collar voters. Trump won a majority of votes among those without a college degree, and so far he’s governing like he’s mindful of those voters. Since taking office, Trump has greenlighted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline project, an initiative that the Obama administration blocked for years. He’s touted a $1 trillion infrastructure-building program, and on the first day of his presidency, he invited union leaders to the White House to ask their support in getting it through Congress. Trump rolled back Obama-imposed regulations on coal mines that would have significantly raised operating costs for mining companies. Indeed, Trump’s outreach to blue-collar workers has been so extensive that he’s even worried many traditional Republican constituencies with his plans to rewrite trade pacts to slow the seepage of American jobs overseas, potentially at the cost of higher prices at home.
The basic contradiction that both parties have is between their rank-and-file members and their donors, whose interests frequently barely intersect let alone coincide. And yet the two political parties retain such a firm grasp on the electoral process that either one of them losing their grip on power entirely is inconceivable. And so we twist in the wind.