A Sea Change

The disparity between political conventions was striking.  The Democrats were in good shape. The Republicans were a mess. Yet, as New York Times columnist David Brooks observed on PBS television, a sense of loss, of grief, pervaded both. What is that about?

Much more than individual losses were at issue; the deaths of soldiers in combat, of police officers in the line of duty, of victims of excessive force, of sufferers from treatable diseases.  The new mood involves both parties in at least the tacit recognition of the existence of a series of limits – on trade, immigration, military force, inequality, atmospheric pollution.

For seventy years these limits often have been overlooked, ignored or even denied in favor of the pursuit of the overriding goals of peace, prosperity, and global poverty reduction, under the banner of “globalization.” At last these limits have become unavoidable.

The emergence of the Trump and Sanders insurgencies in the US, the Brexit vote in Britain, the formation of ultra-nationalists movements in Europe, are obvious markers of the new mood.  The sea-change presents itself in different ways in different places. ISIS is a protest too.

Writers on the left have been taking positions on these issues for years, not that a broad-based political platform has yet appeared. In Abdication of the Left, Dani Rodrik, of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, offered a short survey last month:

Consider just a few examples: Anat Admati and Simon Johnson have advocated radical banking reforms; Thomas Piketty and Tony Atkinson have proposed a rich menu of policies to deal with inequality at the national level; Mariana Mazzucato and Ha-Joon Chang have written insightfully on how to deploy the public sector to foster inclusive innovation; Joseph Stiglitz and José Antonio Ocampo have proposed global reforms; Brad DeLongJeffrey Sachs, and Lawrence Summers (the very same! [as earlier pressed for financial deregulation]) have argued for long-term public investment in infrastructure and the green economy.

The Economist recently added to the canon Alberto Alesina, of Harvard, and Enrico Spolaore, of Tufts, for their 2003 book The Size of Nations. Robert J. Gordon, of Northwestern, belongs there as well, for The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The US Standard of Living since the Civil War. And, on the eve of the Brexit referendum, Angus Deaton, of Princeton, last year’s Nobel laureate in economics, weighed in with a short essay, “Rethinking Robin Hood.”

As Rodrik wrote, “There are enough elements here for building a programmatic economic response from the left.”

So far the Right is flummoxed. The Wall Street Journal holds out for accelerated growth. The Economist sees mainly a schism between open and closed, whereas  the new cautiousness with respect to the disruptive effects of immigration and trade wants a more pragmatic, conciliatory metaphor.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is a one-man wrecking crew of Republican Party orthodoxies: immigration, trade, social issues, the Iraq war, Russia, NATO cohesion.  Who knows what will be left of the party when he is done?

Ten “battleground” states, according to the Website 270toWin: Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida.  One hundred days until Tuesday November 8. My guess is that Clinton will win them all. Then we can get on with the hard part, coming to terms with grief.

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