A Trump Presidency begins

There has been much concern, both inside and outside America, at the result of the American election – but it is now a fact that has to be lived with.  It is time to look forward.  Many people were taken by surprise, but there were warning signs in the depth of feeling expressed by angry American voters and in Hillary Clinton’s failure to connect with them.  Donald Trump’s success came despite a campaign focus on personalities.  Both candidates were unpopular.

Donald Trump’s victory came from his handling of three key themes: anxiety over the loss of jobs to globalisation, resentment against a neoliberal political class that has placed the interests of rich people above those of everyone else, and latent racism in the so-called ‘alt-right’.  The election of a non-politician is a slap in the face for the political establishment.  Donald Trump presented his candidacy as self-financed and he was clearly distanced from the Republican Party (although he was its nominee).

He now needs a chance to deliver on some of the economic promises he made during the campaign.  His commitment to spend $500 billion on infrastructure would create jobs, but he might find that his ideas on protectionism would result in retaliation, inflation and ultimately a loss of jobs.

He needs to avoid some of the obvious dangers inherent in the racist passions that he awakened.  It is to be hoped that the very real risk of fascism can be averted.

Donald Trump cannot reform the political establishment, which needs to reform itself to regain legitimacy and support.  Congress is tainted by its dependence on wealthy donors, who have used their influence to become even richer – as described in Richard Hasen’s book, Plutocrats United.  If politicians want to recover their credibility, they need to reduce their dependence on political donations; they should completely change the rules on campaign financing.  And both political parties need to regenerate themselves and define policies which will be acceptable to the electorate.

Naomi Klein has articulated her vision for reforming the Democratic Party.   Her antipathy to neoliberalism – the unqualified supremacy of commercial interests – would gain the approval of those who have been damaged by it.  Mariana Mazzucato’s essay, on “why it’s time for progressives to rethink capitalism”, also has ideas on what can be done.  The party needs to recover the support of working people.

Republicans also need to find a way of recreating their badly-fragmented party, whilst improving the position of the poor.  For example, Milton Friedman’s libertarian vision of a flat tax combined with a ‘negative income tax’ would guarantee benefits for the poor whilst preserving an incentive to work; it would close many tax loopholes for the rich, would be transparently fair, and could be compatible with Trump’s promise to reduce corporation tax.  With a Republican Congress, Trump has a golden opportunity to transform America’s broken tax system.

The two parties cannot afford to ignore their loss of support.  They would naturally come up with different policies, but they should nevertheless be able to reach agreement on some necessary measures; American Presidents of both parties have historically increased the minimum wage, for example.  American voter anger must be addressed, to avoid a descent into chaos.

The Politics of Immigration

The political posturing on immigration in Britain isn’t based upon detailed analysis of what would be best for the population.  It is an example of the impact of pressure on politicians (6.4.6), which in this case can be summarised as balancing their need for popular support against the needs of business, with the media adding more heat than light to the discussion.

Impending elections are focussing politicians’ minds on their need for popular support – but what is popular seems to be more influenced by media reporting than by research findings.  A recent survey showed that 77% of the population want immigration to be reduced and that 47% believe that it is bad for the economy, reflecting the impact of popular newspapers which selectively report stories which put some immigrants in a bad light.  Stirring up popular indignation, against immigrants claiming benefits or committing crimes, sells newspapers – but it leaves a misleading impression that can wrongly be applied to all immigrants.  Academic research suggests that immigrants have benefited the economy – they contribute to economic growth and are less likely to claim benefits than are British citizens.

The government is delaying the publication of information which is favourable to immigrants.  It isn’t showing leadership.  It should explain the valuable contribution made by many immigrants, such as students who pay high tuition fees and the seasonal influx of people who pick fruit.  Targets for net immigration are mere posturing; they are unworkable.  Britain needs policies that allow beneficial immigration but prevent abuses.

The Conservative party is trying to match UKIP’s rhetoric because it fears losing support in the upcoming European elections in May.  It is more worried about keeping its own right wing satisfied than attending to what is best for the British people.

There are legitimate concerns about accommodating an increase in population – and there is already a need for more housing, irrespective of immigration.  It would be possible to reduce immigration, but the Office of Budget Responsibility (as quoted in The Economist) has forecast that the national debt would almost double over the next few decades if Britain shuts its doors.  In the words of The Economist:

“The country truly faces a fundamental choice. In the next few years it could lapse into isolation, or it could succeed in combining a smaller, more efficient state with a more open attitude to the rest of the world. So, Britain, which is it to be?”

Answering that question requires thorough analysis and mature political debate, not pre-electoral posturing.