Analyzing "Inteligent Trumpism"

PmMeExistentialDread - [original thread]

I'm going to undertake a rather lengthy analysis of what people frequently term as the "intelligent defense of Trumpism", quotes not for mockery but for repeating the name people give it.

This ideology is espoused by Tucker Carlson, and as I was exposed to this week on Ezra Klein's podcast, Michael Lind, editor of American Affairs (the "Trump journal").

Lind, Carlson, etc., hereafter referred to as "INTers" (what would you call them? NRATAIPLCs for non-reactionary anti trade anti immigration pro labor conservatives?) undertake a rather Marxist analysis of class. They argue the following narrative :

After World War Two, labor and capital agreed upon a series of settlements. Strong unions and social programs allowed capital and labor both to thrive. Since that time, the Professional-Managerial Class (PMC) has eroded those settlements. The PMC is found on the left and the right, and it has undertaken actions that have systematically destroyed the power of labor and asserted the power of capital, increased income inequality, and generally led to worse outcomes for most people in (Western Liberal Democracies? The Anglosphere? Take your pick).

They argue that the methods by which the PMC have accomplished this include weakening the power of unions directly (via legislation) and weakening the power of local laborers/unions indirectly (via outsourcing/free trade & immigration).

As a solution, INTers propose chiefly : limiting immigration and limiting or altering trade agreements with other countries. They seem somewhat divided on domestic policy questions (should the workers get healthcare via state or insurance company?) but are fairly united in a foreign economic policy outlook.

I think this argument has some merit, and that's why I think it's worth addressing. I will outline first where I believe it has merit, and then go on to disagree with its proposed solutions.

INTers are accurate in stating that the PMC, or upper classes generally, have favored their own interests in political action above those of other classes, and that this has transcended the traditional left-right divide. Clinton signed free trade agreements, Reagan & Thatcher broke unions.

It's worth noting that the specific breakdown of what's included in free trade agreements is itself a contentious issue of class. For example, it's a political choice to allow cars produced in Mexico to be sold in the United States, but not for Doctors from India to prescribe medicine via Skype, or for appropriately trained British Lawyers to give legal advice via the telephone. Furthermore, these trade agreements have benefited the PMC insofar as they generally protect intellectual property rights, extending and continuing western ownership of ideas and corporations while screwing the original employees out of the job. It was a political choice to not include caveats on free trade regarding minimum compensation for workers in other countries, thus leading to a proliferation of cheap goods, but some suffering of the working class in the west in regards to wage growth.

INTers claim that immigration has weakened unions by adding to the pool of western labor individuals who will accept on average lower wages, thus reducing the bargaining power of any individual worker in the west, as well as the strength of their unions.

I'll move now into disagreement, as that's where I find these INTers fascinating.

What the INTers are here describing is one of the crises of capitalism Marx described. Capital, in seeking profit, attempts to devalue labor, and then finds that its customer base has dried up.

The INTer solution, upon finding that a globalized society where transporting goods across vast distances is cheaper and easier by the day, where instantaneous cheap communication technologies allow seamless cross-continental collaboration, is incompatible with capitalism, have chosen to attempt to rescue capitalism instead of attempting greater trans-national co-operation and control. This is in my view, Neo-liberalism 2.0.

Imagine for example, that the workers of Cincinnati are poorer and thus demand lower wages, than the workers of Cleveland. Upon an influx of new wage earners to Cleveland, wages stagnate. The INTers find this completely acceptable, because they say

A) Cleveland and Cincinnati have agreed to be held to the same laws, standards, and governance.

B) Cleveland and Cincinnati aren't so different, the people look and talk the same, they like the same food and the same God, they just have different football teams.

In regards to A), that is the great task of the next century. I understand full-well why INTers don't trust the PMC to implement it in a fair fashion and sympathize, but see more opportunities for that to be true of El Salvador and Honduras as it is for C&C coming from the left than the right.

In regards to B), here I find this argument a little suspect, both on internal and external grounds. Firstly, INTers generally assert the primacy of class identity on political identity, but in this section, they assert that there's something different about being Indian versus American that would lead us to conclude that people from Mumbai & Memphis don't or can't live harmoniously together. I don't see this as being a reasonable assertion. Class identities are material reality under capitalism, and other identities are socially constructed. Social construction is not a synonym for "not real", or "not important", but INTers believe that despite PMC/Prole being the most important political identity, individuals can't see past their other identity in order to work together. Taking the INTers argument about PMCs at face value, there are millions of educated bureaucrats & professionals from Shanghai to Southampton who've ignored their religious & national identities in order to profit, so why can't the workers do the same?

The other dimension in which I find this view lacking is that I find when people believe they've discovered a good reason to use race or nationality as a proxy for something, they ought just use a metric that measures that directly instead. Why is it permissible for me, John Q Poorman, to join the Ford Union, when my idea of a good wage is 35% less than the average of the present employees at the plant? Wouldn't the Ford Union prefer Muhammed MiddleClass, whos idea of a good wage is exactly the average wage to me? Which one of us is more likely to weaken the Autoworkers union? I don't see why states ought limit immigration in order to prevent wage stagnation when strong unions could do that themselves. Even if there are more John Middleclasses and more Muhammad Poormans on average, if the INTers want unions to have more power, then unions could be given final say over hires on the basis of their individual wage expectations, or it could be a damned citizenship question.

Having analyzed immigration somewhat, let's turn to trade. Here, I have questions about what INTers believe again in terms of geographical distribution of economic resources & prospects, but also with the trends of economies generally.

Clearly at some level, there must be trade between individuals. You & I are both better off from the specialization of labor - if I hunt and you fish, I'll be a better hunter and you'll be a better fisher, we can become more efficient at it, and then both end up with more of each as we'd have if we both hunted and fished. This is the traditional "comparative advantage" view of trade.

There must also be trade in that Canada can't grow watermelons, but can grow Cannabis.

Must there be trade in that some people want to assemble iPhones in the Foxconn factory, and some don't?

I think here INTers stumble around and avoid concluding "there is no ethical consumption under capitalism". The present PMC consensus is that dangerous, shitty jobs should be outsourced to foreigners because their lives matter less and they'll do it cheaper. The INTer proposal on this issue seems to be either the same, or that Americans should do dangerous shitty jobs, but be paid more. I believe it is the case that many of these jobs would find little to no labor in the west, especially in an environment of 4% unemployment in the US. They're un-doable. Why is that?

Because while working on cars at Ford in Michigan isn't shameful, it's not what human beings are meant to do. It's not glamorous. It's not fun, or interesting. The American dream is that your kids have more interesting, fulfilling, richer lives than you, and that includes their employment. And so, America transitions to a service economy, following the same model that most economies do (resource extraction -> manufacturing ->service). Here, INTers mistake class identity of worker with identifying with your job. And if they read their Marx a little more, they'd understand how alienated the worker is from the product of their labor - that nobody really deep down believes that making cars at Ford is a good use of their time, their destiny, or "living their best life".

But INTers propose that we make more things in America, in order to ensure manufacturing jobs stay. They propose this over redistribution of wealth, or over other leftist solutions, because they are Conservatives. They're Conservatives undertaking Marxist analysis, but the solutions they've come up with do not fit the problems they identify. They've agreed that Capital has too much power, that it implements political ideology & practice to keep and extend that power, and that it wields that power for its own interests and not that of the workers. And the solution they've designed is "try to save capitalism" via methods impractical, uncertain, and poorly-targeted, rather than addressing the root of the rot. If the way of the world is such that capital and labor can communicate instantaneously and cross continents in hours through the air, I'm not sure they'll be successful in trying to keep them both from moving.