Saturday, May 28, 2016

Is Trump's Appeal Fueled by Resentment?

Those rallying to Donald Trump's standard seem to be divided into two camps.  One is motivated by hate and racism and a desire to go backward in time both in terms of restoring white privilege and unchallenged supremacy and to when progress had not shaken what was viewed as the status quo. The other camp, perhaps in a wild gamble seems to believe that Trump will usher in a new Gilded Age - long a goal of many in the GOP establishment, in my view.   Both camps want to under value progress and the benefits that modernity has brought.  This is especially true of Christofascists and blue collar workers who feel they have lost the deference and respect they believe they once enjoyed. A column in the Washington Post looks at this possible motivation - and the danger it poses for the nation.  1930's German's wanted to Germany restored to past power and prosperity and what they got was ultimately a nightmare.   Here are column highlights:
Some theories of Trumpism — or of Austria’s Hoferism or Britain’s Brexitism — emphasize voters’ misfortunes: conventionally measured, middle-class incomes are stagnant. But this theory of populism’s rise is not fully convincing. Standard measures of incomes leave out the eye-popping array of stuff we don’t actually pay for — the technocopia of free Internet searching, messaging services, selfie apps, exercise programs, YouTube videos and so on. What’s more, populism afflicts countries where even conventional measurement shows progress. Poland and Hungary have both seen gross domestic product per person roughly triple since 2000. But both countries are in the grip of populist strongmen.
A more convincing theory of populism is that it can sometimes be the product not of stagnation but of progress — particularly the sort of progress generated by the disrupters of techland. Like migration or globalization, fast technological change is both positive and disorienting; it clutters life with minor stresses, like bewildering TV remotes and dual-key passwords, but also with existential ones, like the specter of intelligent robots stealing all the jobs. Of course, the grumbling about these costs may be illogical, given technology’s huge benefits. But people aren’t logical. 
[T]he biases identified by behavioral economists tell you plenty about Trump. Why are his backers so resentful of a world in which incomes, properly measured, have probably done respectably? Well, a classic behavioral game involves offering a player $1 on the condition that another player gets $9. Even though a “rational” actor would accept the $1 gain in income, most real people resent others doing better, and they feel that resentment passionately enough to reject an offer that would make them better off.
Then there is the strange matter of people’s attitude to loss. Behavioral economics finds that people suffer “loss aversion” — they fear losing $10 more than they celebrate a gain of the same size. This helps to explain why Trump’s supporters fear threats more than they welcome opportunities — whether these arise from migration, globalization or technology. At the same time, however, “prospect theory” suggests that, once people have suffered losses, they will gamble recklessly to recoup them. This insight is usually wheeled out to explain why investors hang on to stocks that have lost value, or why losing football teams attempt “Hail Mary” passes.
There could be no greater Hail Mary gamble than voting for Trump. given the populist crisis, the world needs a response of an equivalent size. Policies that promote growth and efficiency must be balanced with policies promoting fairness and security. Just as banks now hold more capital, even at the expense of their return on equity, so society must be prepared to tax more progressively, curb runaway executive pay and fix the gaps in social safety nets. Schemes such as wage insurance, which pay subsidies to displaced workers when they move into lower-paying occupations, may seem dauntingly expensive. They are a lot less expensive than electing populist firebrands.

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