Bernie Sanders has been quenched, but populist passions still burn – in both parties.
By June 2016, Bernie Sanders appeared to have lost in his push for the Democratic nomination, and in early July, he formally backed the heir apparent, Hillary Clinton.
And HC is the nominee. This is due –to the fact of Super Delegates, chosen by the party leadership, and –to the coordinated efforts by the party and the “liberal” media to reject him and his issues.
Bernie Sanders campaigned to end the inequality that has grown in the American experience like a metastasized cancer spreading throughout the body politic leaving necrotic waste where once healthy industry flourished.
Inequality in opportunity and income is the basis of unrest that permeates American political reality. In these days following the BREXIT vote, it is apparent that such unrest underlies much of the developed world.
The social fires are not extinguished. When Sanders made his endorsement speech (2016 Jul 12), a large block of his supporters stood and walked out of the hall.
This spring and summer we has seen the populist rise of Bernie Sanders, the numerous deaths of black people by the police, the killing of the police on our city streets, and the apparent populist rise of Donald Trump (Il Duce wanna-be?) to presidential nominee for our very rightist Republican Party. Are these events related? Our viewpoint– probably yes. Certainly they bubble out of the same nasty brew that is our past history.
Of course the various events are not directly related, but the experiences of our present are correlated by common past happenings. Re-phrase this: The events that formed our reality during the past several generations are the preconditions that guide the determination of Now; current events become the prior events that shape the cloud of probability from which future reality precipitates. Past events create the conditions for future events.
With all that is happening, it is clear is that the leadership in both our parties “just don’t get it.” Social/Political elite do not understand why Sanders and Trump resonate with the population – young and old alike. But they had better learn!
Things have changed more than you may think
People in every generation have found that their struggles to succeed took each of them to the edge of endurance. So what is happening? Is our present generation a bunch of crybabies? As a man told me in the 1980s, if he could succeed, those kids can too (meaning his children). But this was not so. Each successive cohort (10 year interval) has found that the capability for success is a bit harder. Now, every semester, I have students in their mid to late 20s who are forced to live with their parents – and hate it. Over the past 30 years, avenues for success have been closing ever tighter.
My own generation had people who rioted because of the events then current. But those riots did not continue and did not tear society apart. Improvement seemed possible; things just calmed down. Young people today are responding in the same way but the situation is different. Life is not improving, just the opposite.
Opportunity loss is what the elite do not understand. The problems will not go away until people can envision a path that could lead to success; or until everything smashes and the entirely new way of living reassembles from the embers.
Just prior to WW-II the government changed social rules and stabilized access to opportunity. Thomas Piketty identifies the succeeding decades (roughly 1945-1981) as an unusual time, due partly to the unusual feature that each part of the population maintained its fraction of the wealth year after year. He calls them the golden years, but not because the light was more beautiful with love and softness to all. The positive nature of those tough, contentious years can only be seen through hindsight.
For example, during the golden time, black men and women developed the expectation that they could and should live as successfully as anyone else. Non-whites in general started to gain a foothold in national conscience, to the real upset by the disposable white faction this is the subject of Nancy Isenberg‘s book White Trash. Amazing things about the time– “White Only” signs disappeared from restrooms, and children of all colors sat in the school rooms. Full equality in opportunities became the expectation (if not the reality) in American society.
Today it is hard to comprehend the implications of these and many other events of the golden time. The feelings of change whispered hope. Yes, but they did NOT quell feelings of abuse, anger, helplessness, and disfranchisement. Instead, they kept the country from a violent eruption in its social structure.
Populist sentiment is so very strong because that hopefulness has been morphing into hopelessness over the past 2 generations. It will grow stronger.
We have posted many discussions on the data behind this observation. Data on how the top-earning bullies have been draining opportunity from the the majority of our population.
Opportunity inequality is reflected in income Inequality
This is a zero sum game The total income distributed in the United States adds up to 100% of the money flowing into households (if the reports are accurate and honest). This means that if a particular subset of that 100% gains income, it must come from the rest of the US distribution.
Imagine this– suppose the families earning the top 5% of all income find that this year they acquired 35% of the total money that flowed, and suppose next year they find their take increased to 36%. That extra 1% from those 5%-ers must be deducted from the other 95%-ers. Repeat for 30 years – each year’s net money is 1% more than the money received in the previous year.
This is not an imaginary process, it has been happening since the early 1980s. We have called the shift of resources from most people into the hands a few the USAmerican zero sum game. And we have been has been criticized as just plain nuts. Really? The fact of the process is unassailable. LastTechAge uses data from Emmanuel Saez with his associates at UCLA, and Thomas Piketty with his team.
Fig 2 shows the total income share for the earners in the to top 10% of the workforce and the bottom 20%. Data for the bottom 20% is not available prior to 1967. This is a modified version of our income distribution timeline. (Click here for the list of our posts.)
You can see the period of stability in the income shares during (approximately) 1945 and 1981. The trendlines are steady during this time, but accurate average values are hard to get due to the strong fluctuations. The shaded boxes indicate the regions where the “true” averages might lie.
- After 1980-1985, people’s mood began shifting from basic optimism to despair and finally to anger bordering on rage as companies offshored manufacturing, and jobs went with them. Companies then offshored their headquarters but still called themselves American. All job types (from cleanup crews to engineers) flowed offshore. For our workers new jobs were at lower, maybe much lower compensation.
The anger is growing. Since growth in anger is proportional to the current level of anger – it must grow exponentially. Restate: popular anger in this environment has to grow faster than a straight line increase. It must ultimately overwhelm all political rhetoric; anger management cannot win against explosive growth.
The anger will not go away
Fig 3 is perhaps the clearest explanation for the populist fury. Permission for non-commercial use, Dan Wasserman.
Boardrooms discovered a new meaning for the word efficient – “outsourcing and offshoring maximizes cash flow to top management.”
Establishment politicians (our pols) ignored the growing anger.
- Politicians of the Red Right have worked tirelessly to increase the “efficiency” of the top managers. Do we really want efficiency? Read Neil Irwin.They struggled against extreme right neo-anarchists who want to shatter the government – and they lost. Our American Reds have lost control of their party to to wild card ‘populist’ Donald Trump (Fig 4).
Politicians of the Blue Left are Democrats who work to achieve Reaganite goals – the shift political control from the rank-and-file to the hands of the moneyed elite. One can only speculate about their reasons.
A big contention is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). We call this the slow war. This trade pack will serve the interest of our moneyed elite, who take in $300,000 or more each year. But TPP will damage the well being and future of the vast majority who earn less than maybe $125,000.
These politicians suppressed the populist factions who want to level out the paths to success for all. For example, Bernie was dead set against TPP, as is Donald. But HC help construct the thing. Hillary won against won against insurgent Bernie Sanders, who actually had the best approval vs. Trump.
Even ultra-billionaire Charles Koch (left image in Fig 6) agrees it would be okay if Hillary became president.
There are many different pointers to the rise in inequality over the past 3 decades. The income pump is only one, but one that traces back to the political manipulations of all presidents since 1980.
The true burn will fall upon us if there is no actual change.
The issue of inequality in opportunity will not go away. It will only grow until the burning emotion becomes destructive reality.
[Note during final editing] Most of this was written prior to the Wikileaks exposure that Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the DNC, explicitly maneuvered the national party to work against Bernie Sanders – as though a child of 5 could not have recognized it happening. My personal big issue is that the final Democratic platform does not repudiate the TPP. HC had a big part in its terrible structure, since there is nothing negative about TPP at all at the convention, why expect her to follow her (earlier) weak statement against it? … Not that party platforms are anything except sound and fury.
Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2016 Jul 26
This is listed under Politics … a post in the Politics > 2016 thread
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