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Trump Earns a New Title: Terrorist-in-Chief

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He’s Sabotaging the Postal Service When a Real President Would Be Making It Work Better

Terry H. Schwadron

Terry H. Schwadron

OK, we’ve managed to find ourselves in another governmental tempest in a substantial teacup. Donald Trump is working overtime to undercut the U.S. Postal Service just as he is railing on mail ballots.

It’s a pairing that just makes no sense.

As The Los Angeles Times editorialized this week: “Attacking the U.S. Postal Service before an election is something a terrorist would do.”

Or, more politely, if there is something wrong with the post office that will keep it from working most efficiently in an election that will depend on mailed ballots, make it better, not worse.

There is no precedent or apparent authority for Trump to try to curtail the use of mail-in ballots by executive order.

Now we’re waiting to see only how much worse since it has become clear mail-in ballots is the vehicle Trump will be using to challenge the election results.

This week, Trump claimed authority to issue an executive order to halt the use of mail-in ballots. Their increasing use, he argues, could increase election fraud and uncertainty.

As threatened, his campaign sued Nevada, whose legislature just authorized sending out mail ballot forms to all voters to provide a safe method for voting in a pandemic. The suit claims the state is violating the Constitution by promising to count votes literally after Election Day, the postmark date for receiving mailed, completed ballots. That’s a pretty weak argument.

Of course, it is unclear what he could do to curtail the distribution of ballots, which is controlled by states, including those with Republican governors. “I have the right to do it,” Trump told reporters at the White House without explaining how.

Nearly all election procedures are governed on a state basis, with the remainder set by Congress or enshrined in the Constitution. There is no precedent or apparent authority for Trump to try to curtail the use of mail-in ballots by executive order.

The statement came days after Trump threatened, and then back down from, from trying to delay the November election. The concern was that Republicans will suffer more if more people vote.

Slowing the Mail

Actually, Trump’s campaign against mail-in voting may backfire, according to Republican political organizers who said they are concerned about losing too much of their own party vote.

But in the meantime, perhaps Trump is unaware that the pandemic has prompted a huge switch in mail altogether. Delivery of business-oriented mail is way down, but deliveries of on-line purchases is way up. In an economy which is changing to more and more digital business, the very thing that wrongly launched Trump’s ire – fees charged for delivery of on-line purchases — is actually increasing.

As people are stuck at home, they are buying more online and also getting medications, checks and other necessaries through the mail.

Trump repeatedly has attacked fees charged for delivery as inadequate. That falsehood is believed to be an expression of Trump’s anger toward Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, whose news coverage Trump detests. In truth, such fees are the biggest source of revenue for the USPS.

As a result, he named Louis DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser, to take over the top USPS job in June. DeJoy has taken several moves that actually are slowing mail delivery, including eliminating overtime for hundreds of thousands of postal workers and ordering that mail be kept until the next day if postal distribution centers are running late.

In other words, Trump’s administration is worsening the situation just as the pandemic is prompting vast use of mailed ballots.

Absentee Ballots, Yes; Mail, No

Enter Trump’s railing against mail ballots, though he reversed himself about Florida, where he votes remotely and where he says procedures are fine. Trump sees a difference between absentee ballots, requested by the voter, and mailed ballots, which are reviewed upon submission to guarantee validity.  Trump has called remote voting options the “biggest risk” to his re-election. His campaign and the Republican Party have sued to combat the practice, which was once a significant advantage for the GOP.

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting and the states that use it exclusively say they have necessary safeguards in place to ensure that a hostile foreign actor doesn’t disrupt the vote. Election security experts say voter fraud is rare in all forms of balloting, including by mail.

Indeed, the biggest problem to date is a lack of speed in counting the ballots. Some states count as they receive ballots, others only after the designated election day. So, “fraud” as seen by Trump seems to mean “delayed results” in real life.

Politico reports that private polling showed Republican voters have become overwhelmingly concerned about mail balloting. A potentially decisive slice of Trump’s battleground-state base — 15% of Trump voters in Florida, 12% in Pennsylvania and 10% in Michigan — said that getting a ballot in the mail would make them less likely to vote in November. The same is not true for Democrats polled. Politico said the poll was part of a flurry of research trying to gauge swing-state voter attitudes as the coronavirus pandemic accelerates use of mail ballots.

Meanwhile the House Oversight Committee has asked the new postmaster general to appear at a September hearing to examine operational changes causing delays in mail deliveries across the country.

USPS officials have warned they will run out of money by the end of September. The House voted more money for the postal service, as part of the overall coronavirus stimulus aid bill, which the Senate and Republicans have yet to embrace. Congress has approved a $10 billion line of credit for USPS, but it remains unused amid restrictions imposed by the Trump administration. The bipartisan leadership met with DeJoy yesterday to see if any of this makes sense.

If you wanted to screw up this election, this seems a pretty good plan.

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Y’all, we have to quit saying that Republicans can’t make the bar any lower.  They see that as a personal challenge.

Elliott Abrams, who was convicted of misleading Congress about the Iran-Contra affair, has been named.a special representative to Iran.

To refresh your memory.

He pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 1991 as a part of the Iran-Contra affair and was later pardoned by then-President George H.W. Bush. Abrams, who was assistant secretary of state at the time, admitted he had unlawfully withheld information from congressional committees in 1986 when he testified about the secret Contra supply network and his role in soliciting a $10 million contribution for anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua. Abrams also served in the George W. Bush administration and was an advocate of the Iraq War.

He should still be in jail.

As my friend Deb T says, “Next up,  Yogi the Bear: Secretary of Picnic Baskets.”


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I Surpass Keynes: 33 Years Plus One

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John Maynard Keynes served as Editor of the Economic Journal--the research journal of Britain's Royal Economic Society--for 33 years plus one issue. He was appointed to the position as a 28 year-old in 1911, and finished with the April 1945 issue. He did have joint or assistant editors for periods of time--Francis Edgeworth (1919-26), D .H. Macgregor ( 1926-34) and Austin Robinson ( 1934-45)--who must have played an especially important role when Keynes was off advising the government. But "for 33 years and one issue Keynes played the central role in the development of the Journal's character and reputation,"  as Donald Moggridge tells the story in "Keynes as Editor" (as chapter 7 in A Century of economics : 100 years of the Royal Economic Society and the Economic Journal, edited by John Denis Hey and Donald Winch, 1990, pp. 143-157). 

The timeline is meaningful to me because with the publication of the Summer 2020 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, I have now been Managing Editor of JEP for 33 years and one issue. For the first and in all probability the last occasion in my professional life, I have surpassed Keynes.  As I crack open a cold Diet Coke from the mini-fridge in my office to celebrate, the Moggridge essay also offers an opportunity to think about how academic journals and the role of their editors has shifted over time. To the modern eye, perhaps the most surprising aspect of a prominent economics journal from the first half of the 20th century is the informality and flexibility of the editorial process, 

Most modern economics research journals have an editor (or group of editors) who send the paper to be evaluated by "referees," who in turn offer recommendations of reject, accept, or revise-and-resubmit. In theory, at least, the process is "double-blind": that is, the authors don't know who the referees are and he referees don't know who the authors are. Modern journals brag if their turnaround process for these referee comments is measured in "only" a few months. But the revisions requested are often nontrivial, and the author has other tasks (like figuring out how to teach online classes), so it may take a few months for the author to respond. At this point, the referees may get another crack at evaluating the paper, which can lead to an additional round of revisions. If and when a paper is accepted, it may then sit for additional months before it actually ends up being published in an issue. 

The editorial process at the EJ under Keynes was much quicker and simpler.  Moggidge writes: 
Ultimately, however, Keynes made the overwhelming majority of editorial decisions himself. He did not regard the job as onerous: indeed, by the 1930s it was one of those activities classed as 'non­work' and done after dinner (Kahn, 1984, 176). As in other areas of his life, he made decisions quickly. To take one example: Lionel Robbins submitted his 'Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility: A Comment' on 31 October 1938; Keynes accepted it on 3 November and the article appeared in the December issue. ...  In fact, in most cases a month was the maximum time between initial submission and final acceptance, and this was exceptional, unless the article was to be subjected to substantial revisions and the whole process then became dependent on the time available to the author. He did not keep a backlog of articles in reserve: at worst an author might see only one issue of the Journal appear between the acceptance and the appearance of his article.
Part of the reason for such quick turnarounds was that Keynes, with relatively few outside reviewers, was the judge of quality. 
As far as contributors other than himself were concerned, Keynes was generally sparing in his use of external referees. He did, of course, use them, particularly in cases where he had doubts about the submission. On several occasions, however, he sent the submission to the referee with a copy of his own draft letter of rejection -- or at the least a strong hint of his own views.
However, there are also numerous cases where Keynes provided extensive comments to authors. Moggridge cites one paper that involved 30 pages of correspondence, and many letters of five pages or more. Keynes also was willing to choose only one part of a much longer paper as deserving of publication, and would sometimes accept a paper but with suggestions that would cut the length by two-thirds. After Keynes retired from the EJ, his successors offered florid praise for the quality of his editorial feedback in the April 1945 issue, where they wrote: 
That editing has been far more than a nominal control of what was to be published. A whole generation of economists would testify to the influence which he exercised with his meticulous, but always constructive, criticism. None but the authors in the secrecy of their own hearts (and perhaps not even they) can know how much of what was ultimately printed was their own, and how much had sprung from the lively ingenuities of his mind. It was to the young and promising that he was particularly lavish with his help, and today (no longer so young) they remember that aid with gratitude.
In part, this may be the kind of fulsome praise lavished upon those as they leave a job, but it probably has some intermixture of honest feeling as well.  

Perhaps the best-known stories about Keynes as an editor have to do with his rather loose rules about publishing his own work. or publishing his comments on the work of others in same issue as the original paper, as well how he phrased some of his negative reactions. Moggridge writes:
Unlike some modern editors, Keynes himself had few inhibitions about placing his own articles in his own journal. While he was editor, his only publications in other English language professional journals, other than seven replies to critics of which only two were over a page in length, number two: his November 1914 invited contribution to the Quarterly Journal of Economics, 'The City of London and the Bank of England, August 1914' (JMK, XI, 278-98), and his 1936 Jevons centenary allocution to the Royal Statistical Society which appeared in that Society's Journal (JMK, X, 109-50). He was not even inhibited from using his position as editor to reply to articles by others in the same issue in which they appeared, going so far as to place his own comments immediately after the piece that had irked him. However, in later years he became slightly more restrained in this, informing one contributor with whom he was in dispute over some points prior to publication that: 'It is a mistake for an editor to quarrel with contributors.' As far as I can tell from the records, he submitted none of his own contributions to an external referee. Nor could he have done so in some cases, for the articles themselves were only finished at the last possible date. 
Perhaps the most famous Keynesian editorial put-down was in writing to a referee about a proposed article by Kalecki: 
I am inclined to return to the opinion that the article is pretentious, misleading, inconclusive and perhaps wrong. I would rather have cheese to a weight equal to the paper it would occupy in 5,000 copies of the Journal.
Or he once wrote to an author: 
[I]t seems to me clear that your article, in its present shape, is half-baked and not fit for publication. I have not been able to spare time to read it carefully enough to know whether there is anything in it at the bottom. But I find it a bit of a rigmarole, of which I fear the reader would make little or nothing. It is neither clear what you are driving at nor where you arrive. And behind all that lies my doubt as to whether the method you are employing is capable of helping much with this particular problem. Also do you not in many cases use symbols where words would do as well and be much clearer? Sorry to be so critical. But I felt I owed it to you to explain why it is I cannot take it for the Journal. 
Or in yet another case, he turned down an article partly for dullness, and partly because Americans should go publish in American journals: 
It strikes me as a competent academic exercise which any competent analytical economist could accomplish if he wanted to. I did not find it interesting or really relevant to anything that matters. I do not see any ground for an American econom­ist to occupy a large number of pages in the Journal with it. Why should he not publish it in America? I did not find myself making any criticisms, but felt, as I have said, that it is just an academic exercise.
Keynes also had the power to solicit articles, rather than just wait for submissions to come in, something he did throughout his editorial career. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, where I work as Managing Editor, is highly unusual among current economics journals in that we solicit the articles that we publish--but then we comment on and edit the articles extensively before publication. 

Overall, how good was Keynes as an editor? Moggridge writes: 
Contemporaries were generally satisfied. Even a critic such as Edwin Cannan could remark in a memorandum of 1 February 1934 to a committee looking for a successor to D.H. Macgregor as Joint Editor:
He may not be exactly the ideal editor, who is, I suppose, one who has no ideas of his own and a great respect for those of other people, but his most hostile critic cannot say that the Society has not prospered during his editorship.
In Keynes own estimation of his editorial performance, he apparently claimed that he "Never rejected what deserved publishing; have published much that wasn't." Moggridge also reports a comment from Keynes to Edwin Cannan on 5 January 1934: 
Of course, I print quite a number of articles which in my personal opinion are not up to much, but I have to compromise as best I can between those which I fancy myself on their merits and those which, on one ground or another, have some sort of claim to appear. I feel much clearer, however, about the de-merit of the articles I reject than I do about the merit of most of those which are included. I have always tried to find space for anything which seemed to have a claim of any substantial sort and the somewhat numerous articles which I reject would, I declare, make a shocking show on any standard, if they were to be assembled. 
As one might expect, what I do as Managing Editor of JEP is in many practical ways a quite different set of tasks from what Keynes did when he edited the EJ. After all, the EJ relied mostly on pickng and choosing among the submissions, while the JEP relies mostly on commenting and editing on solicited papers. But there are also basic differences in process. 

In particular, JEP was started in 1986 with the idea of taking advantage of this newfangled technology called a "floppy disk," where authors could actually send us a Federal Express package with the disk. Next, we would write up comments, which for me also included doing a hands-on edit of the paper for length and clarity. We would then Fed-Ex the floppy disk back to the author, who could revise further, before mailing the floppy disk back to us. We even sent floppy disks directly to the typesetter, rather than paper copies! In the long-ago days before cheap photocopying, there was often literally one copy of a given paper in circulation--with usually a carbon copy saved up by the author. That single copy then needed to be circulated to editor and reviewer, and was perhaps even marked up by hand before going back to the author for revisions. Back in 1986 when starting JEP, we definitely felt we were on the bleeding edge of technology. 
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Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson – Let Them Eat Tweets

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Below, a review essay on Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s most recent book, “Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality.” The essay tries to highlight and explain the political science arguments behind the book, and the kinds of political science research that would be needed to properly build out the agenda that the book implies.

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s most recent book describes in succession a dilemma, a path and a trap. The dilemma is one that they argue faces conservative parties in general. The path is the response of the US Republican party to this dilemma. And the trap is the self-reinforcing nature of that path, impelling the party along a trajectory where the choices look increasingly grim, for the party, but much more so for the country as a whole.

Hacker and Pierson draw their description of the “Conservative Dilemma” from Daniel Ziblatt’s work on nineteenth century conservative parties, generalizing and extending his basic idea. The conservative dilemma is straightforward: conservatism is not likely to be a politically popular cause in a democracy. Conservatism is the political movement that represents the interests of those who have against those who have not. When a country democratizes, conservatism reflects the interests of the old propertied class – the landed gentry and its allies in the United Kingdom; the Junker aristocracy in Prussia. So why should a majority ever vote for a party that represents the interests of the propertied minority?

As Ziblatt argued, nineteenth and early twentieth century European conservative parties found out that the way to attract public support was to combine nationalism for the masses with wealth protection for the rich. This could go in one of two ways. In the nineteenth century United Kingdom, the forces of nationalism, religion and tradition were both “mobilized and contained.” In other words, they played an important role in politics – but were mostly channeled through democratic structures (Hacker and Pierson do refer in passing to the agitation around Irish Home Rule, when conservatives tacitly encouraged military dissension and armed revolt to keep Ireland in the Union). In Germany, it didn’t work out that way. Germany united in the nineteenth century around the Prussian model of conservative nationalism, and in the twentieth century, conservatives encouraged virulent demagoguery, leading to a death spiral that engulfed them and the country, paving the way for Nazi dictatorship.

Hacker and Pierson argue that modern US conservatives as represented by the Republican Party face their own version of this dilemma – how to attract mass support for an agenda of cutting taxes for rich people? Furthermore, the dilemma has gotten ever more vexing as US economic inequality has increased, so that the interests of the Republican party’s clients and ordinary voters clash ever more. This, then is the engine that they argue has driven US Republicans ever further to the extremes. If they want to get their agenda through, they need popular support, and the best way to generate that support is through fostering division and extremism, amplifying the beliefs of a sufficient number of voters that their way of life is under threat from un-American, irreligious people who want to destroy their traditions. Plutocratic populism – the key phenomenon that they set out to analyze – is precisely a welding of a plutocratic agenda with populist rhetoric.

The book however, is not just applied Ziblatt. It argues that US Republicans have responded in some quite particular ways, which reflect how party politics work in the US. Specifically, the Republican model has involved what might be described as outrage outsourcing. The Republican party itself is organizationally weak (from passing discussion, it is clear that Hacker and Pierson are sympathetic to Schlozman and Rosenfeld’s hollow party account). Hence, the importance of the National Rifle Association, religious conservatives and Fox News, as key organizers in the Republican coalition. The NRA’s strength comes from mobilizing its members around the fear that their guns will be taken away from them. Religious conservative organizations and churches similarly have turned abortion into a mobilizing cause, while Fox News actively helped organize the Tea Party movement (although Gabriel Sherman’s book suggests that even Ailes was nervous about this), and creates a general climate of outrage and fear.

This means that Republicans depend on organizations that are outside their control. While Hacker and Pierson don’t dwell on this, there is an implicit parallel between their diagnosis of the current situation of the Republican party, and that of conservatives in Weimar Germany: both are structurally weak groupings that came to rely on extremists that they could not themselves keep in check.

This has created the trap. Hacker and Pierson identify feedback loops through which the current Republican model has become a self-reinforcing set of pathologies. One is a feedback loop between wealth inequality and Republican electoral strategy. In their description:

Republicans’ electoral fortunes, their ability to recruit candidates, their activist cadre, their party organizations – all required escalating sums of money and the efforts of savvy institution-builders. As inequality grew rapidly, business groups and the donor class had these in abundance. In turn, Republicans had the power to deliver favorable policies – and to demand in return that those who benefited operate as team players rather than free agents.

Another feedback loop is the reliance on outside organizations to mobilize voters. Parties can often benefit from a certain degree of ambiguity – creative interpretation of core values allow them to build coalitions of voters whose actual preferences clash. It is hard for a party that has effectively outsourced core parts of its identity to extreme-hugging groups such as the NRA to maintain that kind of ambiguity. Thus, the Republican party finds itself having to double down on the extreme demands of its dominant groups in ways that are likely to repel groups that might otherwise have been attracted into its coalition.

Together such feedback loops are leading the Republican party to focus on catering for extremists and plutocrats rather than redefining itself to attract new constituencies. The Republican party could have attracted Latinos, if its commitments to the political extremes, and to its plutocratic funders had not made it effectively impossible to do so. The fundamental problem of the Republican party is that its electoral strategy, policy commitments and core support are both mutually supportive and politically pathological – they mean that its response to the Conservative Dilemma will become increasingly ineffective over time. The economic agenda of the Republican party is becoming ever more unattractive to voters, and ever more difficult to push through by using fear and outrage as a mobilizing strategy.

This suggests that the Republican party can move in one of two directions. Either it can redefine itself so as to respond to the demands of a democratic system, that requires it to assemble majorities to get elected. This would require it to escape the trap, and begin figuring out how to appeal to voters in non-pathological ways. Alternatively, it can look to redefine the democratic system so as to better match the internal demands of its own internal coalition of plutocrats and rabble-rousers, by making it harder for majorities to displace Republican politicians. Hacker and Pierson emphasize that this doesn’t necessarily require a lapse into dictatorship – the existing Republican enthusiasm for countermajoritarianism through gerrymandering, making voting harder, court restrictions on reform and the like – can deliver plenty.

Hacker and Pierson’s book is a popular book for a popular audience, but it is clearly based on political science arguments. In particular, its approach builds on the historical institutionalism that they and others such as Kathy Thelen are closely identified with. On the one hand, history is crucial. On the other, it is crucial in a particular kind of way. Path dependence means that choices build on other choices and in turn are built on again so as to constrain people’s strategies. Part of what Hacker and Pierson want to do is to enable a healthier Republican party that somehow manages to escape its current path. They stress that these self-reinforcing pathologies were present in the Republican party long before Trump, and that Trump is a symptom rather than a major cause. But they also want to figure out a way to unwind them.

One of the questions that haunts the book is whether this could have been avoided. Put more abstractly, a path dependence account requires that multiple possible trajectories were possible at some point before one of these trajectories was chosen and became self-reinforcing. In Hacker and Pierson’s account:

Plutocratic populism was not inevitable. Other roads were possible as the struggle within the party over how to respond to America’s growing Latino population reveals. The path Republicans ended up taking emerged from a long series of choices by plutocrats, politicians and the party’s surrogates. Over time, that path narrowed, and many within the party ceased to see real alternatives to radicalizing their white voting base or rigging the electoral process. But other paths could have diminished resort to these dangerous temptations.

Broadening appeal to Latinos was one possible alternative. Hacker and Pierson also stress how Republicans worked to prevent an alternative path of non-plutocratic populism, in which African-Americans and poor white voters might have figured out their common interests at an even earlier era.

But it’s still hard to really pin these alternative stories down and figure out under which conditions those paths might have been chosen. One reason for this is that, as the above quote suggests, the book nearly exclusively focuses on the choices of Republicans and conservatives, depicting them as the unwitting architects of their own destiny. But these were not the only agents in American politics. At a minimum, Democrats’ choices too played into this – efforts to build that kind of coalition met sharp opposition within the Democratic party. One of the costs of focusing on the Conservative Dilemma is that it becomes harder to see how it interacts with other parties’ dilemmas, and their own solutions to those dilemmas, conducting to outcomes in a broader strategic space where no one party consistently dominates.

This also has implications for their understanding of Trump. Hacker and Pierson provide a top-down approach that focuses on the interests of sophisticated policy demanders – specifically the rich. Adapting Schumpeter, their position could be simplified as a claim that tax policy is the soul of the party, stripped of all misleading ideologies. The reason why the Republican party is as it is, is because of a kind of two step, where Republicans had to figure out a way to build support for a pro-rich agenda while wrongfooting their opponents, and realized that they could do this by mobilizing poorer white voters around race. Bottom up approaches instead tend to focus on the perceptions of less elite actors, and to emphasize the extent to which the Republican party has become a vehicle for the racism of many of its supporters.

Under Hacker and Pierson’s account, structural racism plays a crucial role, but as a set of popular biases that are mobilized by self-interested elites. This is very different from the kinds of crude arguments made by some centrist liberals, who suggest with greater or lesser degrees of openness, that the way for Democrats to win is to ditch the talk of identity, and figure out ways to bring white working class voters into the fold. Some of the difference lies in Hacker and Pierson’s sense that the urgent problems lie in the Republican party rather than the Democrats. Some lies in their understanding of path dependence – it is far harder to change things once a feedback loop has kicked in, so that a party’s strategy and voters’ choices and identity reinforce each other. Hacker and Pierson emphasize the opportunity costs of not changing for the Republican party – parties want to win elections above all. Yet there are also internal feedback loops – the Republican representatives that are least in danger of losing their seats are plausibly those who have most heavily bought into the existing set of bargains. As the Republican coalition is winnowed by losses, it may become more extreme rather than less.

Furthermore, the process through which Trump became the 2016 presidential candidate suggest that the elites are not nearly as in control as they would like to be. Hacker and Pierson emphasize how Trump was contained and tamed by the plutocracy – but he was not initially the plutocracy’s preferred candidate. They rightly push back against the bias of US political science towards a broad bottom up default assumption that candidates’ and party’s positions reflect the preferences of voters, but there are other kinds of bottom up forces too that intersect with the top down. Described more abstractly, we can expect feedback loops within parties too, as some candidates generate groups of activists whom they nurture, and who in turn nurture them.

Put even more abstractly: what we need, and what we don’t, so far as I know, have, is a really developed literature on parties as institutions, similar to the policies as institutions literature that Hacker and Pierson have pioneered in political science. I emphasize the words “so far as I know,” since there may be work out there that I am unfamiliar with. But my sense is that while the problems are coming into view, we don’t have a systematic understanding of them yet. We need to get away from top down versus bottom up to a better understanding of when effects become causes and vice versa– when top-down initiatives reshape the bottom, and when bottom up movements capture the understanding of elites, and how they intersect with each other. We also need a better understanding of the relationship between parties and the institutional ecologies that they inhabit, which likely involve similar feedback loops. Finally, we need a better sense of how party structures and political economy affect each other, along the lines of Kimberly Morgan’s work on Western Europe.

All of this is going to be especially hard for political scientists to figure out given current intellectual fashions. These kinds of causal loops play badly with standard identification strategies. Nonetheless, this kind of academic work is necessary to really figure out what is going on. One of the benefits of work such as Hacker and Pierson’s – which looks to apply political science arguments to major public problems – is that it shows us the gaps in our social science that we need to fill if we are going to do a better job of engaging in public debate.

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Trump and the Radical Republicans Push Our Economy Over a Cliff

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Blackmailing Millions of Suffering Americans Until Corporations Get Immunity from Coronavirus Litigation

David Cay Johnston

David Cay Johnston

Donald Trump & Co. have thrown the already rapidly collapsing America off an economic cliff. Over the next few weeks, they will pound the wreckage, even set it afire, unless they get a lucrative new favor for Corporate America.

The Trumpians are actively ruining our economy because, in a perverse way, they share the belief of the Black Lives Matter protesters that the American justice system can’t be trusted. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) cruel recalcitrance on coronavirus relief and the Black Lives Matter demands are about accountability in the courts.

I’ll explain that troubling nexus, but first, let’s understand the awful reality that Trump and Radical Republicans in the Senate have created and why it can only make our economic disaster worse.

Because of Trump’s mismanagement, America has been in economic freefall since March as the Grim Reaper roams freely.

Thanks to Trump’s denial of science and idiotic ideas about the coronavirus, the pandemic grows worse and worse even as Europeans and others are tamping down the pathogen.

Because of Trump’s mismanagement, America has been in economic freefall since March as the Grim Reaper roams freely.

GDP Down 33%

In the second quarter, from April 1 to June 30, the economy shrank at a rate never before seen, not even during the Great Depression or the horrible economic panics of the late 19th Century.

The economic impact of COVID-19 in the U.S. (Click for a larger image)


“Real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 32.9% in the second quarter of 2020,” the Commerce Department announced Thursday.

During the Great Depression, the economy decreased by 36%. But that was after more than three years while the Commerce Department announcement was about a one-year rate.

If our economy continues contracting at its current rate in three years, we’ll have the economy when Jimmy Carter took office in 1977. That would be a 60% smaller economic pie to be split among 50% more people. For most people, the slices would be very thin, too thin for a decent life.

Accelerating Economic Collapse

Trump and his Radical Republican allies are accelerating our economic collapse by cutting off, effective today, the $600 of weekly relief payments going to 17 million people without jobs.

Collectively those out-of-work Americans will lose $10 billion of income next week and another $10 billion the week after that and on and on.

This will force overall spending in America to drop by about 2.5 cents on the dollar, a severe new constraint on the economy.

This cut off of relief money is not just a disaster for those without work. It means that grocery stores, hardware stores, utilities, and landlords will collect $10 billion less per week. In turn that will force more layoffs and will push some small businesses into bankruptcy, not to mention the adults and children who will go hungry.

Evicting Families

Adding to this Trumpian misery, the CARES Act moratorium on evictions ended last week. That means landlords can throw families into the street starting Aug. 24. Where landlords will find new paying tenants is a mystery. What we know for certain is that mass evictions will overwhelm local governments, social services agencies and charities.

Next, on Oct. 1, the airlines will be free to start layoffs. Congress gave $58 billion in coronavirus relief to the airlines on the promise that they keep people employed through the end of September. Even with that, Delta says it persuaded 17,000 workers to retire or take buyouts.

More than 60,000 workers are expected to lose their jobs at just two airlines, American and United, come October. In all more than 100,000 airline workers are likely to get the boot just before the Nov. 3 presidential election. That, in turn, will mean even less spending and thus pressure on more small businesses to fold, causing those fired small business workers to need relief.

And, atop this, Trump wants to get rid of the United States Post Office, throwing its 496,000 staffers into the unemployment lines.

And why is this happening? What’s behind this economic injustice of throwing the economy off a cliff during the deadliest public health crisis in a century? The answer lies in the Washington cult of corporatism and its mantra of freedom from accountability.

Courts Not Trusted

Mitch McConnell believes that the civil courts simply are not just. The senate majority leader fears that workers who are hired back and then contract COVID-19 will sue their employers and then collect huge jury awards.

So, McConnell says, there will be no jobless relief or help for small business until Congress grants corporations absolute immunity from coronavirus litigation. Never mind that there is no evidence to support his fear, that the courts have made lawsuits much harder to file, especially class action lawsuits, and that McConnell has packed the federal bench with Trumpians.

On one level this is part of the long-term trend in America of giving corporations more and more power while simultaneously requiring less and less accountability.

Trump has slashed all manner of environmental and other regulations, pretty much stopped enforcing job safety laws and made it much more difficult to file complaints with regulatory agencies, which even when a complaint is successfully made do next to nothing.

Trumpian Immorality

Giving corporations a pass on coronavirus litigation would encourage the worst business practices. Many companies act responsibly. Regulations exist to protect us from the worst operators. Awful employers would benefit from McConnell’s position, which is the soulless idea that being American means you enjoy the right to behave badly, especially if you are rich enough to own a business.

In the immoral world McConnell favors, and Trump has lived in since birth, businesses are not privileged creatures of the state allowed to exist so long as they operate thoughtfully. No, to these two men and their confreres, controlling an American corporation means being free to act dangerously while the state protects you from accountability for your bad deeds.

Why spend money on personal protection equipment for workers during a pandemic? Why slow the production line for disinfecting? Why widen distances between workers when you can just pack them close enough so they breathe one another’s droplets? And when those droplets are laced with coronavirus, causing workers to get sick and die, why should widows and orphans be able to sue?

Black Lives Matter

This is the perverse place where Trump, McConnell and Senate Republicans meet Black Lives Matter.

The Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t trust the justice system, either. But its concern runs in the opposite direction. The Black Lives Matter people want to remove the institutional, legal and cultural shields that protect violent police officers. They don’t trust the system to hold police accountable and provide recompense to innocent victims like Breonna Taylor, shot to death by Louisville police who broke into her home March 13 with a no-knock warrant.

Even if the House Democrats wilt and give McConnell the corporate favor he wants, the Kentucky senator says he won’t allow the $600 weekly relief payments. He wants the benefit cut by at least two thirds to $200 per week.

The tragedy of the Trump and McConnell position is that this goes far beyond their shared contempt for the 51 million Americans—roughly one of every three workers—who have filed for unemployment benefits in the last 17 weeks.

Trump and McConnell are so eager to concentrate economic power even more than today that they will make millions suffer. And it’s not just the jobless today, but those who will be laid off as the lack of relief payments forces more business to tighten up, shut down and even file for liquidation in federal bankruptcy court.

One last, and troubling, note…

Even if McConnell folds today and agrees to resume relief payments, the money will not flow smoothly or swiftly. Only 14 of the 50 states have modernized their systems for paying jobless benefits.

In California it will take as many as 20 weeks to restart payments and add new people to the relief roster, Sharon Hilliard, who heads California’s Employment Development Department, told a legislative committee Thursday.

That means some of the unfortunate who have or will lose their jobs due to the coronavirus can expect their next federal relief the week before Christmas, assuming they still have an address and we still have a Post Office.

The post Trump and the Radical Republicans Push Our Economy Over a Cliff appeared first on

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9 days ago
Policy negotians: a game of chicken.
Central Pennsyltucky
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Somebody read the comments…

1 Comment

This post is just to highlight an interesting paper that’s just been published that analyzed the comment threads here and at WUWT.

In it, the authors analyze how the commenters interact, argue and attempt to persuade, mostly, to be fair, unsuccessfully. It may be that seeing how academics analyse the arguments, some commenters might want to modify their approach… who knows?

The comment threads they looked at (I think) are from five posts from Feb to April 2019, including The best case for worst case scenarios, Nenana Ice Classic 2019, First successful model simulation of the past 3 million years and a couple of open threads.


  1. C.W. van Eck, B.C. Mulder, and A. Dewulf, "Online Climate Change Polarization: Interactional Framing Analysis of Climate Change Blog Comments", Science Communication, pp. 107554702094222, 2020.
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11 days ago
Once a person takes an ideological stance, facts become irrelevant.
Central Pennsyltucky
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