Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Silver Lining?

This was not my least bad among the possible electoral outcomes. But now that it has happened, it is worth looking at whether anything good might come of it. I see three possibilities:

1. Trump might turn out to be better than I expect. Judging by the campaign, he is a skilled demagogue with no particular political principles of his own, which makes him a high variance actor. Looking at his list of what he plans to do in his first hundred days, it is a mix of things I am strongly opposed to, such as restrictions on trade and immigration, and things I am strongly in favor of, such as support for school vouchers and legalizing the sale of health insurance across state lines. Trump might decide, for reasons of politics or ego, to act mostly on the ones I like. One can always hope.

2. One of the problems which I think partly explains Trump's victory is the arrogance and condescension of the coastal elites towards "flyover country." In one online exchange, someone responded to that point by explaining that they were just acting that way because the people they treated that way were all racists and misogynists (by memory, so not verbatim), thus nicely illustrating the problem. Arguing climate issues online, I am struck by how poor the scientific understanding is of most of the people on both sides, including the ones who imagine that they are the upholders of science against the deniers thereof.

With luck, Trump's victory will jolt some of those people into rethinking their self-image as the ruling elite. For a first step in that direction, from just before the election, consider Cass Sunstein's proposed reading list for liberals, books intended to let them see that there exist serious critiques of their views. I will forgive Cass for not including anything of mine since he starts the list with Seeing Like a State, a good and interesting book by someone who makes it clear that he isn't a libertarian–while writing things that libertarians will very much like.

3. If, contrary to my hopes in 1 above, Trump continues with the positions that won him the nomination and the election, that will mean a Republican party less friendly to libertarian views. That plus Trump's victory might make the Democrats willing to think seriously about how to pull libertarian voters into their coalition, something I have been hoping for for a long time.


At 5:26 PM, November 09, 2016, Blogger Attempting to be a Skeptical Thinker said...

Being a libertarian and supporting free markets, I too generally thought ill of most of Trump's trade proposals. I accept the economic arguments that trade makes (most of) us wealthier by lowering costs for goods we desire. But lately I've been thinking about that (most of) caveat. The question for me is how do we bring about a purist vision of trade that allows for specialization and providing the lowest cost goods without cannibalizing certain sectors of the workforce too rapidly for them to easily migrate to other productive activities? One of the things I believe we have done very poorly in this country, individually and collectively, is to prepare someone like a mid-west manufacturing worker whose job is being displaced by globalization. How has the individual and society prepared for the disruption faced by workers who must be displaced so the rest of us can save money on washing machines? My libertarian impulses tell me that it is the individual's job to discern their future and prepare for change, but how as a society have we helped prepare for the disruption that innovation and job migration brings about? I don't think the answers are more job training programs either. I think we need an approach that unshackles capital and business creation to enable risk takers to do what they need to do in our capitalist system. I think that we need to apply some type of "friction" to trade deals that slow the migration of jobs and gives people time to adjust if they are willing. We can't simply chase perfect economic theory and ignore the carnage that can be wrought from creative destruction. Politics must be accounted for.

At 9:21 PM, November 09, 2016, Blogger Jeff Dorsai said...

oh good lord ... could you tone down the virtue signaling for a while ? we get it, you are above it all and hated to soil your soul by voting for Trump ...

At 12:29 AM, November 10, 2016, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor Friedman,

Did you end up voting at all? I completely understand if you wish to keep that information private but I find it quite interesting how divided libertarians are in this election cycle.

At 12:55 AM, November 10, 2016, Anonymous Max said...

There was a lot of dissatisfaction with the major parties. 3rd party voting was way up versus 2012 (though still small). If "none of the above" were on the ballet, perhaps we could have had a do-over.

At 1:03 AM, November 10, 2016, Blogger David Friedman said...

I voted for Gary Johnson.

I can't think of anything I do that would count as virtue signalling. I explained my preferences for this election here some months back:

At 6:57 AM, November 10, 2016, Blogger Bravin Neff said...

"The question for me is how do we bring about a purist vision of trade that allows for specialization and providing the lowest cost goods without cannibalizing certain sectors of the workforce too rapidly for them to easily migrate to other productive activities?"

I think this is the single biggest question facing economic theory concerning the benefits of globalization and trade, as it relates to the future. Eric Schmidt has publicly worried about this: that while Google and related information automation displaces traditional workers, the fact that the rate of change of information advance is exponential implies the speed of the displacing can outpace the speed of the displaced to adjust, which could lead to runaway wealth inequalities. In fact any technological growth that follows similar trajectories implies the possibility anywhere. To my knowledge, there is nothing in standard libertarian thinking that accounts for this possibility, when claiming trade is always net beneficial.

I think this is a major part of Rodrik's position that "sand in the gears of globalization" might be necessary and prudent, which is obviously contra-libertarian.

I certainly don't have an answer, but Trump's "answer" doesn't seem the answer either.

At 7:06 AM, November 10, 2016, Blogger August said...

I think he could be like Lee Kuan Yew.

I also think a 70 something billionaire has desires that are fundamentally different from normal politicians- and for that matter, the many commentators who appear to not have enough money, power, or sex, because they keep imagining that's all Trump wants. Perhaps it would be worth it to study wealthy Roman leaders, and see what they wanted. Probably has something to do with having name, reputation, and family last for a thousand years.

But it's also worth remembering we've had solid decades of poor management. Things are very likely to go off the rails regardless. Trump just introduces a small possibility of hope, because of the many things he will likely do differently from normal politicians, he may actually do something that works.

At 7:15 AM, November 10, 2016, Anonymous Bill Walker said...

I voted for Johnson, voted for Republicans for state offices (here in NH, Liberty Alliance Republicans write and pass the drug legalization bills, Democrat governors have blocked them seven times), and donated to Democrat and Republican state rep campaigns. So I have no brief for Trump, severely dislike his anti-immigration and trade war propaganda.

BUT: the media will actually report on him. Democrats will protest his wars, if any. None of that has been true for 8 years of Democrat corporate welfare, undeclared wars of conquest, and the all-time-record deportations of Obama. The Trump win makes the country much better. (And it makes NH better yet, since we finally got an R governor who will sign school choice and drug decrim bills... in a state that voted for Hillary, and 4.2% for Johnson).

At 7:20 AM, November 11, 2016, Blogger TheVidra said...

Isn't it more libertarian (or less un-libertarian) to give some sort of welfare to those who cannot adjust to the changing marketplace, rather than hurt everyone by "putting sand in the gears of globalization" - with implied tariffs, price controls, and further regulation of the economy?

At 9:18 AM, November 11, 2016, Blogger Dan said...

You forgot to list the newly popular California secessionist movement:

At 9:58 AM, November 11, 2016, Blogger Bravin Neff said...

"Isn't it more libertarian (or less un-libertarian) to give some sort of welfare to those who cannot adjust to the changing marketplace, rather than hurt everyone by "putting sand in the gears of globalization" - with implied tariffs, price controls, and further regulation of the economy?"

Probably. Maybe. I don't know.

My main takeaway from the insight in the first post is the libertarian orthodoxy doesn't accommodate the possibility of the runaway displacement effect. The simplistic libertarian thinks free trade is simply always good. The more sophisticated libertarian thinks free trade is almost always for the better, all things (including many bad) considered. The truth is that there probably exist multiple dimensions where free trade produces a net bad outcome, once you factor in things the more traditional economic models ignore: speed related time lags for adjustment, losses of untraditional forms of capital (social standing, dignity, etc.) uncompensated for on the side of the winners, and so on. But I am not ranting against free trade, as I accept the libertarian view of its overwhelmingly positive effects. For my part, I think the worry (as alluded to above by Eric Schmidt) mostly applies to the future, but I think its a legitimate worry.

At 10:34 AM, November 11, 2016, Blogger Attempting to be a Skeptical Thinker said...

Bravin Neff presents it much more eloquently than I did...

At 3:09 PM, November 11, 2016, Blogger Roger said...

Libertarians want open borders. Open borders would be national suicide. If you ever elected a Libertarian, the immigrants would immediately vote him out.

Voting for a Libertarian is the most anti-libertarian thing you can do.

At 12:50 AM, November 12, 2016, Anonymous Anton said...

Roger, David's an accelerationist.

At 3:41 PM, November 12, 2016, Blogger TheVidra said...

Roger, you are oversimplifying. I think the libertarian stance is an expanded guest worker program which would replace the current illegal immigration problem. Just like repealing drug prohibition would destroy the incentive of a black market for drugs (and presumably allow us to better track their quality) , so would legal immigration destroy the black market for illegal immigration. The sponsor would be legally responsible for the guest worker, and the worker would not have voting rights.

At 6:20 PM, November 13, 2016, Blogger Andrew Hallman said...

I'd like to hear more about the role of condescension from the coastal elites in helping Trump, because I don't see it as being very influential. Here are the major influences I see at work:

1) Trump was already a celebrity before the race began, something we should not downplay. It's the reason that Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger were able to become governors.
2) Though Trump held a mixture of liberal and conservative beliefs before the race (Here I wonder if David is exaggerating how left-wing Trump used to be since Trump's most noteworthy political stances were against free trade and for bringing back the death penalty), he proved his allegiance to the conservative movement by saying Mexico is sending rapists to America, something a liberal probably wouldn't say.
3) Trump's celebrity and his outrageous comments garnered him hours of free advertising.
4) Trump had numerous detractors within the GOP but they could not unite behind a single challenger and split the anti-Trump vote in the early primaries.

I believe those four things mostly explain how he won the GOP nomination, which is really the greater mystery than how he won the general election. His winning the general election is mostly a testament to the power of partisanship. *Any* of the GOP contenders would have received about 50 percent of the vote simply by virtue of being Republican.

To Roger's comment about immigrants being anti-libertarian: the fact that the GOP nominated a man whose main campaign promises were about *expanding* government power suggests that the real threat to liberty is closer to home.

At 7:08 AM, January 06, 2017, Blogger Reed Erickson said...

Well said !

At 3:30 AM, February 02, 2017, Blogger ulula said...

As a libertarian I actually very much liked a book Cass Sunnstein co-authored "the Cost of Rights, why Liberty Depends on Taxes". I liked the book because it does a good job of explaining how positive and negative liberties are complementary. Erich Fromm, one of the creators of the concept, thought they were complementary. I do get a little annoyed by libertarian purists who insist the two are antagonistic and there should never be any provisions for positive liberties.
The Democrats would do well to heed people like Sunnstein and Robert Reich who take a nuts and bolts, pragmatic approach to creating a more egalitarian society. Clinton's unwillingness to discuss or explain domestic policy details ( the sausage being made according to the Podesta leaks) was one reason voters saw her, fairly, as elitist and secretive.
It's not enough for the Democrats to just stop being elitist and snobbish towards rural states. They must discuss policy and economics in a transparent way which includes people. And they might need to jump on a big, egalitarian idea that Fromm, Reich and some libertarians have supported: Basic Income. It was rather sad that over the Summer ,Johnson was at least open-minded enough to consider Basic Income, and carbon tax as a possible funding mechanism, while Clinton smugly disparaged the idea as "undemocratic" theft from the productive by the presumably lazy.
Aren't Democrats supposed to be to the left of the Libertarians?
(-Kelli Williams )


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