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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bernstein: Odds and Ends [feedly]

Odds and Ends
http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/odds-and-ends-3/

 -- via my feedly newsfeed


–I continue to earnestly and ploddingly try to find the way back to Factville. Over at WaPo.

–More on the seriously botched decision by a Texas judge to enjoin/block the new overtime rule that should have gone into effect a few days ago (Dec 1). Over at Vox.

–Readers know my take on Trump's Carrier deal: smart politics, great for the <1K workers whose jobs were saved, but lousy economics in the sense that it's neither scalable nor a systemic way to push back on trade-induced job losses. As we speak, many factories, including the Carrier plant, are sending jobs abroad.

But I thought Steve Pearlstein's take was unique, smart, and very much worth reading. Steve argues that if presidents use the bully pulpit to throw serious shade on companies that disinvest in their workers, we might be able to move norms back to an earlier period where such behavior was widely viewed as not good capitalism, but bad management. I do think he needs to deal with the fact that, while Trump may be talking sticks here, he's giving carrots. That, it seems to me, blocks the norm-bending. But I still think Pearlstein's onto something.

–Finally, coming soon: re this Trump tax cut everybody's getting wound up about, allow me to ask: do we really need a tax cut??!!


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A few weeks back, I posted some thoughts here on how those of us in the facts business need to figure out the path back to Factville. Having discussed this issue with host Chris Hayes on MSNBC the other night — and given that in my experience, talking or listening to Hayes makes you smarter — let me delve a little deeper into the challenge of facts in the age of Trump.

Hayes teed off the segment with this precious little nugget from a former Trump surrogate and CNN commentator Scottie Nell Hughes, who recently asserted the following: "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore of facts."

At least she finds it unfortunate.

Her explanation, as I understood it, was that if Trump tweets something out and a bunch of people believe it, it's a fact. Those who say otherwise — the ones who label such "facts" as lies — are doing so because they "do not like Mr. Trump."

Okay, this "no-such-thing-as-facts" business is bat crazy. To the extent that it's at all useful, it would perhaps make a fitting epitaph to put on Earth's tombstone if that's where this ends up.

But then Hayes played a set of comments from another former Trump sideman, Corey Lewandowski, who explained that the "problem with the media" is that they "took everything that Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn't. They understood it. They understood that sometimes, when you have a conversation with people, whether it's around the dinner table or at a bar, you're going to say things, and sometimes you don't have all the facts to back it up."

Now, as a card-carrying member of the FMB (Facts Matter Brigade), this, too, is toxic to me, but there's something in there that is, I think, worthy of attention. After a year of listening with disbelief to our president-elect, a year in which I practically scratched a hole in my head trying to figure out how anyone could believe him or take him seriously as a presidential candidate, thanks to Lewandowski's comment, I think I finally understand what's going on here.

Trump speaks on a frequency that people like me do not adequately pick up. But Trump supporters have no trouble tuning into it. No question, some of that frequency involves ugly dog whistles. But not all of it.

During the campaign, when Trump would say the real unemployment rate was not the 5 percent economists such as myself claimed it was, but possibly 42 percent, I went ballistic and jumped all over that lie. I'm not backtracking an iota from that position and will, if anything, step up such monitoring as his team takes charge. We cannot manage an $18.7 trillion economy without an accurate read on unemployment.

But it's useful to consider what those tuning into the Trump frequency heard when he made this claim. It's not that the unemployment rate is X vs. Y percent. It's that the economy is rigged in favor of the wealthy, the establishment and the D.C. power-brokers. And, yes, many of these rich, established characters are about to form the president-elect's Cabinet, but in a world where facts don't matter, attacking Trump for hypocrisy won't bother him or his followers one bit.

Facts are, in this cosmology, of the mind, while emotions are of the gut, and a lot of people vote their guts, not their minds.

It's important to recognize how the death of facts feeds into this dynamic. If analysts such as myself cannot, using facts, prove that the Affordable Care Act is, in fact (there's that word again) providing millions with affordable coverage, or that Medicare is highly efficient and effective, or that the minimum wage lifts the pay of low-wage workers, or that Dodd-Frank provides essential oversight, or that big, regressive tax cuts squander needed tax revenue without generating growth, then the winners are not those with the best policies to serve most Americans. They're the ones who reach the guts of electorate (i.e., in swing states with the necessary electoral college votes).

Not to put too fine a point on it, but once facts are discredited, a fact-oriented Hillary Clinton is at a huge disadvantage to a gut-oriented Trump.

But, as I offered on the Hayes show, maybe there's a way to break this cycle. We, as progressives, must find the frequency a certain class of Trump votes are tuned into. Obviously, not the racists, misogynists or xenophobes. I couldn't get on their wavelength if I wanted to, and I don't want to.

I'm talking about the folks who justifiably feel as though government has ignored their plight. The folks who, when they lost their jobs to globalization, were offered yet another free-trade deal, this time with "adjustment assistance." Trump successfully courted the angry guts of these voters, but I strongly suspect that he, along with his Cabinet of wealthy elites and a Republican Congress that's set on repealing health care and cutting social insurance and the safety net so as to give GOP funders a big tax cut, will fail to help them.

This will anger them further. And while hypocrisy is of the mind, anger is of the gut.

If so, then progressives must combine facts with outcomes in a way that hits people in their guts. If my analysis is correct, Health Savings Accounts and buying insurance across state lines, for example, will prove totally inadequate in replacing Obamacare (in fact, they make coverage less affordable by shifting costs onto patients). Same for privatizing Medicare and K-12 education.

Those hurt by these sorts of changes will not be hard to find, and the media must play a role as well, making sure to put cameras in front of them. As Hayes suggested, team Trump will try to blame this on Obama, but when you're the president, it's you-broke-it-you-own-it.

Let me be clear. Like President Obama, I want our next president to succeed, and I truly hope my policy predictions are wrong. But from what I'm hearing and seeing, Trump's policy agenda is very likely to create a wave of painful outcomes. At that point, he and his team can claim that there's no such thing as facts, but if analysts and the media do our job, people will learn otherwise.