What country music can tell us about Trump’s rural appeal
There's some good country music but I have just been listening to "Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum", sung by soprano Martina Serafin and written by Carl Zeller around 100 years ago. So amazing that such a wonderful song is now so little known. Anyway, back to country music and country thinking:
Like just about everyone with a background in economics, I favour free trade. It creates jobs as well as destroying them and it makes prices cheaper for everyone. And Trump has a degree in economics. So one would expect him to support the Trans Pacific trade agreement.
But on the other hand his base don't like such deals. They see only that it loses Americans jobs. So which way will Trump go? I am fairly sure that he will scrap the TPP. It's the only way for him to go politically and the TPP has fairly slender benefits for America anyhow. It only frees up trade slightly. It mostly benefits the fat cats and cronies of Washington DC and Wall St. So scrapping the TPP will be a splendid bit of tokenism. It will cost little but will confer great political credibility
Pundits in Washington are befuddled. Three weeks after the SEC primary and after the last southern votes were cast last week, they wonder: how did a brash New Yorker win the south? Save for Cruz winning Texas, most of the former Confederacy voted for Donald Trump. Rural America beyond the south is largely trending the same way.
More remarkable still is that Michigan, Illinois and even Massachusetts agree with their southern brethren. How often does the industrial north agree with the south in a Republican primary? These areas, north and south, have been fertile ground for an uprising because both are feeling the pain from bad economic policies; Mr. Trump did not plant the seeds of populism, but he is enjoying the harvest.
These places, particularly the south, have always had a populist streak, and country music has reflected it. From Merle Haggard merle haggardsinging about being laid off from the factory in 1973 in “If we make it through December” to its culmination in Celebrity Apprentice winner John Rich’s “Shutting Detroit Down” in 2009, rural America is not friendly to the globalization that it perceives is shipping jobs overseas. In the recent ALG-Pat Caddell poll, 59 percent of Republicans answered agreed that “Over the last two decades the free trade agreements signed by the United States with other countries were more a benefit to foreign countries.”
The chorus of Rich’s song captured the anger well: “Because in the real world they’re shuttin’ Detroit down, while the boss man takes his bonus paid jets on out of town. D.C.’s bailing out them bankers as the farmers auction ground. Yeah while they’re living up on Wall Street in that New York City town, here in the real world they’re shuttin’ Detroit down.” Does that sound like someone who would support the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact? After the bailouts and economic stagnation, is it any wonder rural America no longer trusts the government to negotiate on their behalf?
Rural America is still hurting, and globalization doesn’t have many rural fans. Why would it? According to the USDA, while rural unemployment has more or less correlated with metro unemployment, rural poverty is more prevalent than in metropolitan areas. Ostensibly, this indicates that the rural American is having a harder time bouncing back than his urban counterpart. Why would they to chance losing more jobs to a bad trade deal?
Compare the above U.S. Department of Agriculture map with county breakdowns in the GOP primary contest, and you’ll see that Donald Trump has done well in most of the states that have purple spots. The process of transitioning from post-agrarian to industrial and then to post-industrial has been an ugly one for rural America, and particularly the south.
If there is a place where the rural south and industrial north converge, it’s Missouri, one of the last true Border States; it is a sort of microcosm of Trump’s support base. On the map, you see the southern half of the state, largely removed from Kansas City and St. Louis, has more in common with Arkansas than it does with the northern half of the state.
In Missouri, the population centers tended to go for Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), including Kansas City, Springfield, Jefferson City, Columbia, Cape Girardeau and little Hannibal. Rural Missouri and St. Louis, which according to the St. Louis Fed was hit hard during the recession and lost a congressional district in the recent census, went to Donald Trump. Generally speaking, the western part of the state voted like Kansas, the eastern part like Illinois and the southern part like Arkansas; the former who voted for Cruz, the latter two who voted for Trump.
Even in the 1990’s and 2000’s when the nation had a better economy, this strain could be felt. It was expressed in songs like Alan Jackson’s “Little man” and Travis Tritt’s “Country ain’t country no more”. Both songs talk about the decline of small towns and farms, and drip with contempt about the new south’s developing their communities out of existence. This sort of “sentimental shame” as Merle Haggard called it, fuels the desire to hold on to what they have, and restore what they’ve lost.
Rural Americans have never liked the convoluted trade deals their politicians vote for; when they were polled about it in the recent ALG-Caddell poll, 72 percent, including 76 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement “The same political elite who have been rigging the political process in Washington are the same ones that have been rigging trade deals that hurt Americans, but benefit themselves.”
Instead, they are opting for the candidate that never held elected office, because they’ve had it with the insiders who rig trade deals against them. That sentiment isn’t just held in the south, but all over the nation.
Country music itself has changed. Many of the songs that now come out of Nashville are dirt road anthems that tend to be apolitical. On occasion, when country singers do engage in social commentary, the frustration with the economic status quo comes out. Listen close enough, and you can hear people who are tired of losing ground, and are fighting to preserve their way of life.
Hillary, Bernie, and the Fixed-Pie Fallacy
Both candidates argue for higher tax rates on evil rich people, as well as sinister corporations, ostensibly because bigger government will make America more equal.
For those who care about the real world, however, this isn't such a good idea. Larry Lindsey, a former Governor at the Federal Reserve, writes in the Wall Street Journal that leftist policies actually cause inequality.
"...when you look at performance and not rhetoric, the administrations of political progressives have made the distribution of income more unequal than their adversaries, who supposedly favor the wealthy.... inequality rose more under Bill Clinton than under Ronald Reagan. And it wasn't even close. While the inequality increase as measured by the Gini index was only slightly more during Clinton's two terms, the Theil index and mean log deviation increased two and three times as much, respectively.
Barack Obama's administration follows this pattern. The Gini index rose more than three times as much under Mr. Obama than under Mr. Bush. The Theil index increased sharply during the Obama administration, while it fell slightly under Bush 43"
Larry explains what drove these results.
"And two big factors are easy-money monetary policies that artificially push up the value of financial assets (thus helping the rich) and redistribution policies that make dependency more attractive than work (thus hurting the poor)
Democratic presidents presided over bubble economies fueled by easy monetary policy. There is no better way to make the rich richer than to run policies that push up the price of financial assets. Cheap money is a boon to those who have access to it.
* Transfer payments under Mr. Obama increased by $560 billion. By contrast private-sector wages and salaries grew by $1.1 trillion. So for every $2 in extra wages, about $1 was paid out in extra transfer payments-lowering the relative reward to work.
* the effective tax rate on the extra earnings-including lost government benefits such as food stamps, the earned-income tax credit, and medical support payments-is between 50% and 80%. This phaseout of the ever increasing array of benefits has created a "working-class trap" instead of a "poverty trap" that is increasing inequality and keeping the income of these households lower than they might otherwise be"
I especially like Larry's conclusion. He points out that statist policies have a long history of failure. The only real beneficiaries are members of the parasite class in Washington.
None of this should really be surprising. If the socialist ideal of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" worked in practice, the Berlin Wall might still be standing.
Redistribution through the political process is not costless-even in a perfect world there would be a large bureaucracy to feed.
Special-interest elites also emerge when so much money is being moved around. They take their cut, introducing even more inefficiency into the system... voters who think the progressives running today are going to reduce inequality are falling into the same trap as people entering fifth or sixth marriages-the triumph of hope over experience.
So why do our friends on the left have such an anti-empirical approach to the issue of inequality? Instead of fixating on inequality, why don't they focus on policies that will actually help poor people?
Some of them probably don't care. They simply view class warfare as a way of creating resentment and getting votes.
But many leftists are doubtlessly sincere and genuinely want to help the less fortunate.
The problem is that they suffer from the fixed-pie fallacy. My Cato Institute colleague Chelsea German explains this fundamentally flawed understanding of the world.
"The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer." Senator Bernie Sanders first said those words in 1974 and has been repeating them ever since. .A simple logical error underlies Sanders' belief. If we assume that wealth is a fixed pie, then the more slices the rich get, the fewer are left over for the poor. In other words, people can only better themselves at the expense of others. In the world of the fixed pie, if we observe the rich becoming richer, then it must be because other people are becoming poorer. Fortunately, in the real world, the pie is not fixed. US GDP is growing, and it's growing faster than the population"
And it's not just the U.S. data on how all income classes are climbing over time. Check out the "hockey stick" showing how the entire world is becoming richer.
Last but not least, Kyle Smith also addresses the topic of inequality in his New York Post column. He starts by explaining there isn't a problem.
"...there is no inequality crisis... The US is only 42nd (out of 117 countries measured) in income inequality, according to the World Bank. We're only 16th when it comes to the wealth held by the top 1%.
He then makes a far more important point, which is that it's good to have an economy and a society where people can become rich by providing goods and services that the rest of us value.
"Inequality is to some extent a residual effect of success: If there weren't any billionaires or millionaires, inequality would be vastly diminished. America attracts and breeds success so brilliantly that we nearly beat the rest of the world combined in some respects: 42% of the world's millionaires are Americans, and 49% of those with $50 million or more in assets. The American tendency to respect, and expect, success runs counter to the progressive plan to tax it away."
He basically reaches the same conclusion as Larry Lindsey. In other words the left's favorite policies help Washington insiders and hurt poor people.
"A cap on incomes above, say, $100,000 would massively increase both equality and poverty as millions of middle-class people whose jobs depend on the rich in one way or another found themselves unemployed.
People tend to suspect, rightly, that government intervention in the name of fighting inequality will lead to exactly what's happened in the Obama era: more inequality, with bureaucrats and their cronies standing to gain"
The President isn't the only leftist to have this spite-driven mentality.
Pretty boy is going to be a big problem for Canada
His brain is scrambled. I wonder what he is on?
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