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March 29, 2017

The Failure of the Center

In The Ship of State is Taking on Water, I warned that increased rocking means we’re in danger of floundering from water coming over both rails as we lunge from side to side. Reader comments have shown both that my metaphor suffers from assuming there’s a strict left-right dichotomy and that failures of the center have much to do with our current instability. Interestingly the two commenters I’ve extracted from below probably don’t agree on much except the failure of the center.

Daniel Berninger wrote (in response to a later post):

The usual left - center - right decomposition misses the more powerful vertical dynamic driving politics across the planet today - elite (up) versus the people (down) aka globalism versus populism/patriotism responsible for a President Trump, Brexit, et al.

The populist energy reflects two things:

  1. Incompetent (actual competently self-serving) stewardship of government by a uni-party power elite. The $48 trillion burned across two R terms and two D terms since 2000 in the US produced a dramatic decay of prospects for the common man (and via similar numbers in the EU) across every category of government activity.
  2. Massive expansion of Internet enabled communication options after 1995 makes it extremely difficult for elites to control the usual narrative - aka everything is fine and we are doing a great job. The government apologist forces control 100% of traditional media channels (and 90% of top 100 news websites), but the existence of direct public to public channels (like this comment) make it impossible (for the moment) to hide reality of utter and complete government failure.

The comprehensive vilification of Trump by punditry can not[sic] dissuade the people of things directly experienced in daily life. The various polls point to pessimism about the prospects for the next generation for the first time.

I defy anyone to name a single aspect of government intervention since 2000 improving daily life. The list of degradations is endless - cost of healthcare & associated insurance, accomplishments of military interventions, median income, labor force participation rate, cost of college and student debt, home ownership and equity, along with an explosion of public and private debt and on and on without end…

John Fairbanks wrote:

…While I would agree - this is the easy part - with the idea we need more thoughtful, evidence-based comity in our public policy discussions, I take exception to other points. While, from your point-of-view, Obama went too far left, he was and is a moderate-to-liberal Dem with a strong sense of social justice. His foreign policy was a mess, but it wasn't coming from the left. The ACA/Obamacare, which you deride as a "Ponzi scheme" (which seems to have become the favored term-of-art on the right for any tax-payer-funded social program), was born at the Heritage Foundation and field-tested by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. Had Obama been a leftist, he would have pushed for single-payer, if not national health insurance, or at least added the public option to his program. He did none of those things, perhaps out of political utility, but also perhaps because he doesn't see things from the left perspective. (I might add that deriding the ACA as you do, while not snarling and shouting, is neither an example of civil discourse.) Similarly, Obama did not send the Justice Department after the bankers, who not only wrecked the economy and cost millions of Americans, me included, our jobs, savings, and retirements. Anyone from the left would have, at least, done that. The largely-tax-deductible settlements the banks made with the federal government and other plaintiffs scarcely made a dent in the costs of repairing that damage…

Both of their points are well-taken. The anger of both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party originated in the massive bank bailout called TARP (see It Was TARP that Boiled the Tea and The Occupiers and Tea Partiers are Both Right). Bernie Sanders got the Occupy votes; Trump got the Tea Party votes (grossly generalizing). Had it not been for the (pretty realistic) public perception that Hillary Clinton represented a continuation of non-partisan wealthfare, she’d probably be President today.

TARP originated in the Bush administration and got even worse under Obama; last outbreak of bipartisanship we’ve had. Not what we want to go back to. The coalition in the middle used to be more civil – but it hasn’t recently been constructive. Compromise has meant I’ll give a handout to your contributors (let’s say oil drillers) if you give one to mine (say “green” energy investors); and let’s both not forget our bankers. Compromise has meant massive funding for public works so tied up in regulation that practically nothing gets built (see We Need Infrastructure, Not Another Stimulus Bill). Compromise has meant fighting undeclared wars while not actually giving our troops the means to win.

My suggestions for a new center are here.

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