How Bad Economic Theory Helped Trump Win


In case you hadn’t noticed, America had an election last week. I was looking forward to the hysterical rhetoric settling down after the final count came in, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening anytime soon. Anti-Trump protestors are burning cars, burning products made by pro-Trump companies, and burning up the airwaves blaming everyone they can think of for Hillary’s loss and the end of democracy.

But several commentators that I’ve been listening to on NPR place the blame for our new president-elect squarely on those actually responsible – the voters. The polite ones blame “white working-class voters,” and the less polite ones blame “white uneducated voters,” but they are talking about the same folks: lower-income blue-collar types who have traditionally voted Democrat and were assumed to be Democrat-for-life. Long-time Clinton crony James Carville seemed utterly despondent about the future of the DNC after this treachery, but other democratss are optimistic, since they believe that working-class people will soon be a thing of the past.

After all, they pointed out, we live in the app economy now! The future of America is in super-liberal Silicon Valley, and all future voters are in liberal colleges and universities this very minute, getting the degrees that their idiotic, republican-voting parents never got. Actually, this week those students are demanding a break from studying so they can bemoan the horror of a Trump presidency, but they’ll get back to getting those degrees soon. While everyone else is trying to divide the vote into old and young, hateful and inclusive, uneducated and enlightened, white and unwhite, I’d like to talk about this crazy idea of a future without working-class people.

All economic activity can divided into two categories, and they have nothing to do with white-collar vs. blue-collar: activity that transfers wealth and activity that generates wealth. Proverbs 13:11 teaches us that “wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.” Other translations read that word “vanity” as hastily, or even fraudulently, emptily, or fleetingly. The best modern translation might be “wealth gotten by vaporware.” Clearly, not all economic activity is accompanied by increase in wealth… since it could just be empty activity.

So, when political pundits look forward to the glorious day when blue-collar work is a thing of the past, and all the dirty, old, hard industries of the red states are gone or outsourced or replaced by the digital revolution, we need to ask ourselves if that fanciful future economy is actually generating any wealth, or just moving dwindling remnants of it around.

Generating wealth is easy; it just takes hard work. A hard worker can make mere dirt yield food. Since humans need food to live, food has value. The farmer’s hundred acre corn crop that exists today was only a handful of seed kernels six months ago. The increase in corn is new wealth that has been generated out of soil, water, sunshine, and labor.

Transferring wealth is also easy; you just need to get wealth that already exists somewhere else to end up in your pocket. There is, of course, nothing wrong with transferring wealth, as long as it isn’t done fraudulently… but an economy needs some people to be doing the hard work of generating wealth so that there’s something to transfer in the first place.

Obviously, not all economic activity falls into these two categories in a clean and obvious way. The $25 billion that the U.S. Department of Agriculture spends on subsidies every year means that the $175 billion that U.S. farms generated last year is not completely new wealth (and it certainly isn’t accurate to count all that activity as $200 billion in economic growth).

Tech companies are even harder to categorize. Square and Uber (estimated value $68 billion), for example, definitely help small business owners to generate wealth by making parts of their work cheaper and more efficient, but not every one of their customers is a wealth generator. Snapchat, on the other hand, is supposedly worth $20 billion and it just sells goofy digital stickers and fake Groucho glasses.

Today, some of America’s biggest companies only make entertainment products, which is, in a way, proof of how rich we really are. Our parents and grandparents generated so much wealth over our nation’s history that some people can actually afford to just coast on it… for a while. So many people are employed in totally superfluous wealth transfer businesses that we’ve kind of forgotten that wealth needs to be generated in the first place.

Democratic political consultants have certainly forgotten that. Anyone looking forward to a future where everyone, regardless of race or creed, will major in Women’s Studies and work for Snapchat at an exorbitant minimum wage is imagining an impossibly dysfunctional workforce. Anyone who thinks we can replace all food, energy, and manufacturing jobs with toys and games has forgotten that nobody actually buys toys and games until they’ve already bought food, energy, and stuff that’s been manufactured.

This is like Marie Antoinette telling us that we don’t even need cake, we can just live on icing. And I think that’s the real reason that Hillary lost her last chance at the White House. Amid all the scandals and corruption and manipulation – on both sides – it became so obvious that the liberal elites had lost touch with reality that even those uneducated, low-brow, working-class voters noticed.

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