Home > Uncategorized > Trump voters need good economic policy, not empathy

Trump voters need good economic policy, not empathy

from Dean Baker

There has been a strange debate among many liberals and progressives since the election as to whether they should have empathy for the people who voted for Donald Trump. After all, Trump is a pretty reprehensible character who has pledged to do some pretty awful things in the White House. Is there a reason that people should have empathy for the voters who put him there?

Whatever answer you pick to that question, there is another set of questions that should be simpler for progressives to answer. What are the right economic policies to be pursuing for the working class? This is a question of designing policies that may help people who voted for Trump, but will also help tens of millions of people, largely people of color, who did not vote for Trump. Progressive economic policy has to place the interests of ordinary workers, and those unable to work, at the top of the agenda.

One item that should be laid out at the beginning of this discussion is that government policy, and specifically its trade policy, did in fact screw millions of workers and their families in the last decade. It is very fashionable to pretend the massive loss in manufacturing jobs was due to automation — the natural march of technology, not trade. That is a lie.  

From December 1970 to December of 2000, manufacturing employment was virtually unchanged, apart from cyclical ups and downs. In the next seven years, from December of 2000 to December of 2007, manufacturing employment fell by more than 3.4 million, a drop of almost 20 percent. This plunge in employment was due to the explosion of the trade deficit over this period, not automation.

There was plenty of automation (a.k.a. productivity growth) in the three decades from 1970 to 2000, but higher productivity was offset by an increase in demand, leaving total employment little changed. This was no longer true when the trade deficit exploded to almost 6 percent of GDP in 2005 and 2006 (more than $1.1 trillion in today’s economy).

There really is not much ambiguity about this story. Does anyone believe that if we had balanced trade, and produced another $1.1 trillion or so worth of manufactured goods, that we would not be employing more manufacturing workers? It is incredible that many policy types try to deny the obvious impact of the trade deficit on manufacturing employment.

Furthermore, both parties have their fingerprints all over this one. In addition to the bipartisan support for trade measures like the North American Free Trade Agreement and China’s admission to the World Trade Organization, we also have the high dollar policy begun under Robert Rubin and Bill Clinton and continued under George W. Bush. This was the proximate cause of the soaring trade deficit and this was deliberate policy.

As Eswar Prasad, the International Monetary Fund’s chief China officer in the last decade recently said in reference to China’s policy of deliberately propping up the value of the dollar:

“There were other dimensions of China’s economic policies that were seen as more important to US economic and business interests ….. [such as] greater market access, better intellectual property rights protection, easier access to investment opportunities, etc.”

In other words, the US government was perfectly happy allowing China to pursue a currency policy that cost millions of US manufacturing jobs, as long as it got concessions on copyrights for Microsoft, drug patents for Pfizer and increased access to Chinese financial markets for Goldman Sachs. So yes, it was trade and trade policy that ruined the lives of millions of working class people (of all races) in the Midwest and destroyed their communities. If anyone is interested in talking seriously to Trump voters, it might be a good place to start by acknowledging that fact and that the leadership in the Democratic Party was complicit in these policies.

While we can’t run history backwards (the lost jobs are not coming back) there are obviously things that can and should be done to benefit working people. The top of the list is to prevent the Trump budget cuts, including the gutting of Medicaid and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. These cuts will leave large numbers of working class voters uninsured.

We can also reverse the trade policy of the last decade, putting a priority on a reducing the value of the dollar to make our goods and services more competitive internationally, even if it means Bill Gates will collect somewhat less money for his copyright on Windows. We may not be able to restore the jobs lost in Ohio and Michigan, but another 1-2 million manufacturing jobs would be a big boost to the two thirds of the labor force that lacks a college degree.

And, we could run full employment policies. Among other things, this means stopping the Federal Reserve Board from raising interest rates and slowing the rate of job creation even when there is no evidence of rising inflation. The inflation rate has consistently been below the Fed’s 2 percent target ever since the recession, and in recent months it actually has been falling. Allowing more job growth not only gives more people jobs, but it will give tens of millions of workers the bargaining power they need to see wage gains.

This would be a great agenda to help tens of millions of working class people, including many of the white ones who voted for Trump. Folks can keep arguing about whether the Trump voters in this group deserve our empathy, but these are clear pro-worker policies that progressives should be pushing, even if we may not like some of the people who would benefit.

See article on original site

  1. June 6, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    the failure of US labor leaders, including the economists and ;politicians union officials, elected and otherwise, consult with, to recognize the times called for labor union leader to labo union leader negotiations back at the time of NAFTA and WTO. They needed to raise their standard of living. We needed to reduce the hours not the pay. “International money exchange, a dollar today, tomorrow a dime. Yet in international standard time, an hour is an hour in any clime.” cf: International-behind-the-barcode.org

  2. Susan Feiner
    June 6, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    Seriously disagree Dean. Good economic policy IS empathy. Rumpian austerity is sadism.

  3. charlie
    June 7, 2017 at 12:04 am

    good economic policy? economic thinking is newtonian … we need an einstein or bohr to shift the extreme human centered thinking to a more universal view of life on earth. growth has become our only object and goal. Nature and ecology illustrate the importance of sustainability and cooperation. We need a few economists who have a biological perspective … well maybe a large number of economists :)

  4. June 7, 2017 at 3:51 am

    I support Dean Baker’s basic stance. I have posed a similar question in the ResearchGate:
    How do you explain the Trump’s victory as a question of economics?. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/post/How_do_you_explain_the_Trumps_victory_as_a_question_of_economics/1

    The question is not only policy, but economics itself. Baker talked much about facts and policies. I want add a comment concerning economic theories.

    In the international trade theories, from Heckscher-Ohlin-Samuelson, to Heckscher-Ohlin-Vanek, New Trade theory à la Krugman, New New Trade theory à la Melitz, unemployment is not treated as a theoretical theme. Those theories and models assume full employment as a premise. Paul Oslington’s The Theory of International Trade and Unemployment (Edward Elgar, 2006), a very rare exception among huge number of books and papers, argues that unemployment is caused by the high wage rate imposed by trade unions. We must say there is no real theory by which to analyze international trade and unemployment. We have to construct a new theory on the basis of a new economics. Let me add at last that such a new theory is now emerging.

  5. June 7, 2017 at 6:23 am

    You’re on point, Dean. Whatever their gripe with the way things have gone, you don’t put a Jack Ass in the White House. They deserve all the empathy a drill sergeant would give them in Basic Training. The failure of a Democratic agenda to serve working folks since the 1990s is quite telling — especially with the blown opportunity for Democrats with the election results from 2008. Dems took care of their financial interests and lost their base of support.

  6. robert locke
    June 7, 2017 at 7:26 am

    The issue of managerialism, firm governance, is ignored, as always, in this analysis, until it is addressed the maldistribution of incomes in the US cannot be properly discussed. This is the number one deficiency of economics and the discussion on this blog.

  7. Anna Zimmerman
    June 7, 2017 at 7:41 am

    I’m continually amazed by the post-election hand-wringing of ‘progressives’ and their inability to acknowledge that another Clinton presidency would have been a disaster for the world, and certainly for the US. Not that I am a Trump supporter as such – far from it – but he was still preferable to her. It would be very difficult not to be, given her shameful track record in every respect, both in and out of office. The woman is a bloodthirsty crook, and responsible for a foreign policy that has destroyed the lives of millions. What is worse, she showed every intention of continuing on the same path. The Democrats have only themselves to blame for their loss, both for deliberately sabotaging Bernie Sanders and for promoting a notoriously unpopular and discredited candidate. I’m appalled at the tone of this article, for even suggesting that it may be considered legitimate to lack empathy for people who, faced with such a terrible choice of candidates, opted for the least worse option.

    • robert locke
      June 7, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      “promoting a notoriously unpopular and discredited candidate.”

      She won the popular vote by 3 million. Don’t you know how to count. She should have won the nomination in 2008, we would have been a lot better off without Obama as president. He was gutless, she was not. The man we now have scares the hell out of everybody.

      • Anna Zimmerman
        June 7, 2017 at 3:27 pm

        Winning the popular vote against a Republican candidate with record disapproval ratings is hardly a great achievement, particularly with the huge weight of MSM propaganda behind her. Your first argument is flimsy, as it is based on ignoring the fact – confirmed by numerous polls over the years – that Hillary Clinton is a hugely unpopular figure with the majority of the public. As such, for the DNC to blatantly rig the primary in her favour (which they have had to admit to in court, see https://thenationalsentinel.com/2017/05/03/dnc-admits-in-court-that-it-rigged-the-nomination-process-to-get-hillary-on-the-ballot/) showed incredible arrogance, let alone criminality and hypocrisy. Given that this sorry episode was entirely typical of Clinton’s entire career, I am not sure that most mentally healthy, socially responsible people would sanction your notion of ‘guts’.
        Furthermore, and also on the subject of ‘gutlessness’, I can only presume that you mean that Obama was slightly less reluctant to bomb the hell out of other nations, as that is the only thing that really distinguished him from Clinton. But only slightly, mind. In every other respect, and particularly in the realm of economic policy, they were/are entirely in accord.

      • robert locke
        June 7, 2017 at 9:36 pm

        Anna Z, I live on the Polish border, not far from the Ukraine. If you ran the world, I would be enslaved.

      • Anna Zimmerman
        June 7, 2017 at 10:20 pm

        It is entirely understandable that the Poles are still fighting the last war, as that is exactly what human beings with our limited imaginations are inclined to do, but it does not make it wise or appropriate. Incidentally I have Polish blood on both sides and large numbers of my family died in Auschwitz. I seem to remember that the bigger problem was from the west of Poland rather than the east…at least as far as my family and millions of others were concerned. But then of course the presence of numerous German factories in Poland in recent years has been a considerable help in putting any bad memories to bed, along with the residual anti-Semitism of the population. So the notion that all evils come from the east is really so much nonsense. And as for poor Ukraine – my Russian-speaking Ukrainian neighbour whose family are being alternatively starved and bombed by the NATO backed Kiev government (supported of course by Clinton) might disagree with your assessment of relative threat – as would many other people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Lebanon, Palestine, Serbia and all the other poverty-stricken nations that have been attacked by NATO members since its inception.

      • robert locke
        June 8, 2017 at 9:07 am

        Anna Z. This is serious business. It has nothing to do with Auschwitz, but with the fate of people living in Eastern Europe now. People like me, an American, who chooses to live in a free country outside the United States. I don’t want to live under Putin and neither do any, I emphasize any, of the people who live in my town on either side of the border. Don’t be so ready to make other people suffer for your mistakes. I can’t remember any time in Russian history when the country fostered a democratic regime, can you? Nobody wants the Russians back.

      • Anna Zimmerman
        June 8, 2017 at 4:46 pm

        I have no desire to make other people suffer, quite the opposite – my definition of ‘people’ includes a broader sweep of races and nationalities, beyond Europe where it suits the US to position troops and assume a moral mantle they do not merit, purely for their own convenience. If you think that the US is interested in fostering democracy, you have swallowed the propaganda whole. The US is interested in two things – maintaining global supremacy so that it can extract cheap natural resources and dictate collective policies, and ensuring privileged access for major corporations. Any ‘interest’ in maintaining democracy is a pure smoke screen. If you think that Europe is genuinely democratic, you would do well to pay closer attention to EU politics in the last decade, which is exactly why it is becoming steadily more unpopular as people are beginning to realise that it is an elite project designed to concentrate power and wealth and undermine genuine democracy. How much ‘democracy’ have the more impoverished EU states enjoyed in recent years?

        You seem to suffer from a very common disease – the desperate desire to cast their own nation and government as morally elevated compared to the evil [fill in the gap]. If you want to see the most aggressive and threatening government in action, you need to look to your own. Here is the full list of all the nations that the US government has either overthrown, or attempted to overthrow in the post-war era:
        https://williamblum.org/essays/read/overthrowing-other-peoples-governments-the-master-list As you will see, it is a very long list indeed, but there is a common factor – all of those governments threatened US economic and/or political interests in some way. Russia cannot compete with this list in any of its historical incarnations. And if you think that US occupation and control is a relatively benign affair compared to Russian occupation and control – again, this is a fiction. The history of US occupation and control has always been far more bloody and corrupt – just like British occupation and control (I am British, in case you thought I was happy to sling mud at other governments, but not my own).

        None of this is to idealise Russia of course, as all governments will lie and kill when it suits the interests of their elites. I am merely pointing out that it is living in a fairy story to demonise one nation. Soviet Russia wanted satellite states as a buffer against an aggressive West, and Poland was merely a pawn. It remains a pawn, just in a slightly different game, but it is someone else’s game nonetheless – in this case, the US. Poland would do far better to have good relations with all its neighbours, as would all of Western and Central Europe. The smarter European states are starting to wake up to the fact that it only serves US interests to be at daggers drawn with Russia – it certainly isn’t in their interests – and that the notion of a Russian threat just doesn’t fit the facts, and can only be maintained by the constant anti-Russian propaganda that gets pumped out day and night. All this fatuous nonsense in the US media about ‘Russian hacking’ is exhibit A. But as always, one has to ask the question, cui bono? Only the US, which is terrified of losing power and influence to a Russia/China alliance, and so will do everything possible to keep Europe in the US sphere of influence, including making sure there is a steady stream of garbage coming out of the media to maintain the fiction of a ‘Russian threat’. The irony is, of course, that the US and EU elites are so politically and economically incompetent that they are ensuring the very thing that they are terrified of – their relative loss of power.

        The fears of the Polish people should really be put into this wider context. They are being played, and they need to wake up. They won’t, of course, or at least not imminently.

  8. June 7, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Susan and Anna,

    A good economic policy of course must have empathy for the oppressed and powerless. However, it is not an easy question to know which a better policy is. We must have a good economics that can analyze what is happening in this complex world economy. If we do not understand the real mechanism of economic processes, we cannot devise a good policy. Empathy is necessary but it is not a sufficient condition to have a good policy. We need good economics. Most of economics are not good economics. We should be aware of this fact.

    • Anna Zimmerman
      June 7, 2017 at 1:18 pm

      I completely agree with you that the state of debate within the economics profession is woeful, although I am not sure until you provide a definition what you would believe to be ‘good’ economics. I was not really commenting on Baker’s policy suggestions, but on the knee-jerk condemnation of Trump and his supporters that has become routine amongst the self-identified ‘left’, the clear inference by omission being that Clinton was generally an acceptable candidate. The majority of the issues that made Trump problematic were also entirely characteristic of Clinton too, and she was immeasurably worse in some key ways, but she was able to whitewash her record with the aid of a sophisticated PR campaign, a fawning media industry and the complicity of people like Dean Baker. This is not only intensely irritating, but indicative of how style has become more important than substance in public debate. Some might criticise me for this comment, on the grounds that this issue is hardly relevant to a blog about economics, but this is exactly the problem also within the economics profession, where fatuous arguments have triumphed because of their superficial appeal and elegant packaging. It is as ridiculous to be indulgent of Clinton as it is to be seduced by neoclassical economics.

      • June 7, 2017 at 3:17 pm


        I also supported Bernie Sanders and still supporting him although I have no right to vote because I am a Japanese citizen.

    • Risk Analyst
      June 7, 2017 at 6:59 pm

      Mr. Shiozawa, while you mention empathy as a commendable virtue, Mr. Baker brought up the idea of empathy in a sarcastic condescending way to imply Trump supporters are so pathetic or unable to understand the consequences of their actions, that they are more deserving of empathy than condemnation. Your reference to empathy as a virtue is a very different thing than Mr. Baker using the idea as a show of contempt. I am still at a loss to understand why many here just have this psychological need to try to impose their political ideas on others, especially using insults and sarcasm.

      • Anna Zimmerman
        June 7, 2017 at 9:49 pm

        Hello Risk Analyst, I apologise for being a bit impassioned on the subject of Clinton/Trump, but we are talking about mass murder, the deliberate destruction of nations and criminality on a grand scale. Not only is it difficult to remain serene in the face of such things, but I am not convinced that it is ethical to do so! I completely agree with your definition of empathy, and think that we should strive to be empathetic towards those ordinary people on both sides of the political divide who are too busy trying to survive to spend the time required to have a clear view of policy differences. This is why I get so irritated with the constant stream of contempt for Trump supporters – mostly they are just ordinary people who have had a very difficult few decades, who rightly associated Clinton with more of the same, or worse. They are being failed by people like Baker, who really should not jump on the bandwagon of making them an easy target for sneers, not if he is genuine in his principles. It makes his implied support for justice and equity seem truly hollow. He should be criticising those who implemented the terrible policies of the last decades, policies that Clinton either implemented or supported. I have seen plenty of blog posts on this site which have condemned Trump, but not one that has critically examined Clinton’s dreadful record, except for one by the excellent Michael Hudson. It is quite mystifying that she gets a free pass in that way, by people who really should know better.

  9. June 8, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Dear all (including Susan, Anna and Risk Analyst),

    don’t worry too much about Baker’s title ad his first paragraph. Please read the last four paragraphs. I believe you are not so opposed to his proposals.

    We should have empathy with those people who have voted for Trump. But no empathy is necessary with those economists who have contended that free trade is the best of all possible policies. Probably a liberal democrat Paul Krugman has such a theory and policy thought. See his Pop Internationalism (1998). He denies that free trade may induce unemployment for a substantial span of time. Those economists are slaves of their theories. We may call them neoclassical theories.

    The trouble with economics does not stop here. There are of course many economists (though they are an overwhelming minority) who oppose the free trade policy. For example the people who gathered in the Other Canon. They are opposed to free trade, or at least, think that protection is useful and permitted at some stage of development of a country. However, they have a fatal weakness. They have no theory to explain their (probably right) contention.

    Let me cite a part of my first comment on this blog post.

    In the international trade theories, (I omit here four names of the most popular theories), unemployment is not treated as a theoretical theme. Those theories and models assume full employment as a premise. Paul Oslington’s The Theory of International Trade and Unemployment (Edward Elgar, 2006), a very rare exception among huge number of books and papers, argues that unemployment is caused by the high wage rate imposed by trade unions. We must say there is no real theory by which to analyze international trade and unemployment. We have to construct a new theory on the basis of a new economics. Let me add at last that such a new theory is now emerging.

    Empathy does not help much in building or even understanding such a theory. Please see my paper:
    Shiozawa, Y. 2017 The New Theory of International Values: An overview. In Shiozawa, Oka, and Tabuchi (eds.) A New Construction of Ricardian Theory of International Values, Singapore: Springer. Chap.1, pp.3-73.

    A draft version is uploaded in ResearchGate. You can get a rough idea. In this paper, I briefly mentioned that unemployment is inevitable when world effective demand stay constant when the trade is liberalized (Theorem 4.3). I am hoping that this can be extended to a full theory of unemployment in the age of global economy.

  10. June 8, 2017 at 10:58 am

    I have forgotten to include one very important point of discussion.

    Trump voters are victims of long period policy effects which are based on wrong theories. In other words, they are victims of neoclassical or mainstream economic theories. Those economists argue that Trump voters do not deserve empathy because their popular belief is not based on the economic theory. In my understanding, it is those economists and their economics that are wrong.

    • Risk Analyst
      June 8, 2017 at 9:07 pm

      There is not one explanation for Trump’s victory. There are dozens ranging from the weakness of the Democratic candidate, to frustration with the economic circumstances, to anger over the open borders, disgust over the social shift toward political correctness, and so on. Any one explanation will be wrong.

      As to trade theory, my concerns are more numerous than yours. To start, I believe a huge problem with the conventional theories is the absence of time and transition costs. The traditional theories just had no consideration that changing the economics to adjust to competitive advantages would destroy families, lives, and regions because the blackboard transition of an employee from Detroit car panel installer to Silicon Valley python data analyst is instant and costless. Those theories also cannot handle strategically manipulated competitive advantage of counties directing export led growth in concert with buying up foreign resources in addition strategic natural resources. Also, the political implications of huge internationals like Walmart impacting trade policy and influencing the democratic process. Additionally, the impact of free trade on weakening the working class in the US politically, and more importantly economically with the internationally competitive wage pressures starving the economy of demand without artificially low interest rates. Anyway, I have not really followed international trade theory for literally decades, so all of this hopefully is being looked at somewhere.

  11. June 8, 2017 at 11:10 am

    It’s tough for American economists to have empathy for Trump voters. After all, per the AEA economists are scientists. Scientists don’t empathize with the objects they study. Other social scientists (sociologists, anthropologists, etc.) and historians practice empathy with the objects of their study. Since, like themselves these objects are humans and human-constructed institutions and collective ways of life. It’s my view social scientists and historians sometimes over-empathize in their studies, while economists often under-empathize. The search for a workable level of empathy that protects the research while also recognizing that the work of social scientists, historians, and economists at times can and does hurt, and even kill humans and wreck human institutions and ways of life. It’s also important, I think that all involved in the study of humans and human society commit up front, like MD’s that they will first and foremost do no harm while striving to improve human society. Also, these students of humanity should base their methodologies on the actual actions and decisions of humans. Not mathematical or any other sort of a priori models or theories. In short, on good old-fashioned observation, field studies, and field experiments. This allows room for empathy and solid research results.

    Jeffrey Sachs, an American economist who worked in Russia from 1991 to 1993 after the fall of the USSR emphasizes that he was merely attempting to help Russia make the transition, economically. He was not, in his words, “out to help impose the “Washington Consensus,” a Milton-Friedman-style free-market economy on Russia.” I tend to believe him. After his work in Russia Sachs said this about the two American political parties. “Both are owned. The Republicans by the fossil fuel industry. The Democrats by Wall Street and the banks.” Trump is not a member of either party. He is a rather ordinary narcissistic, sociopath. Sociopaths have great difficulty in feeling empathy or in accepting empathy from others. Trump needs treatment and strong outside discipline. Clinton is not a sociopath but a “New Democrat.” In other words, a Democratic neoliberal. Would she sacrifice middle- and working-class jobs and welfare for greater international trade and financial deregulation? You bet she would and has. It’s important to point out that in these matters she is no worse than her Republican opponents, including Trump. And not much different from mainline Democrats, except for Bernie Sanders. If we want to change this system we’ll need to stop complaining about candidates and change the process of selecting and nominating who runs for President. And that means a full re-write of not only the economics profession but also banking, industry, international trade, and the whole US monetary system. It means the death of neoliberalism. There are a great many rich persons and large corporations who will fight “to the death” to stop any such effort. I’ve fought in three wars. Killing neoliberalism will I think be worse than any of these.

    The situation with Russia is less complex. Crimea and the Ukraine were part of the greater Russian empire before the USSR and per Putin should be again today. Putin is a nationalist – Russia first. Economic sanctions will not stop his efforts to bring them into the empire again. Five American Army and Marine Divisions, along with 50-60 F-15Es might make him reconsider. Assuming we want another land war in Russia. Putin is unfortunately afflicted with the same malady as Trump. The thought of two narcissistic, sociopaths commanding a war is frightening. My only question, which would be assassinated first by their joint chiefs?

    • Risk Analyst
      June 8, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      Your use of the word empathy is not the same as Baker’s because of the storyline of implicit contempt. My opinion is that Mr. Baker meant this in terms of understanding why a child wrecked his sister’s birthday cake. If you lower yourself to the child’s view, it makes sense because his sister was getting all of the attention. Baker asks if empathy is possible for those who support the “reprehensible” Trump. That is hardly a scientific search for the truth. Baker should come to terms with the idea that Trump won, and about half of the people supported him, so instead of his mainstream view looking at some small aberrant clan, he is the one in (at least by electoral vote) the minority trying to figure out the majority. I would be embarrassed to admit being so far removed from reality that I do not understand half of the country’s population, and be even more embarrassed to question the value of trying to understand half of the population.

      Second, AEA economists are not scientists. Just because someone occasionally uses the scientific method, that does not mean he/she is a scientist. I own and use a spatula but I’m not a chef. The whole point of science is to uncover certain truths using methods stripped of personal bias and opinion such as religious beliefs. When a chemist at Bausch & Lomb is testing a new formula to extend the shelf life of contact lens solution, the scientific results are not impacted by which political party he/she belongs to. But as for economics, did Milton Friedman’s political associations telegraph his economic policy prescriptions? Of course they did. I rest my case.

      • June 9, 2017 at 6:11 am

        I use empathy here in the way clinical psychologists use it. Empathy is an ability to understand and feel what another person is feeling, not in a physical sense, but in an emotional sense. Therapists are usually trained to be more empathetic so that they can have more of an appreciation for what their clients are experiencing. This helps them understand their client’s situation, perspective, and problems much better. Thereby aiding in their work with clients. I believe this is consistent with Baker’s use of the term, since he says he wants to help create policies to help Trump voters without giving into the ignorance and cruelty coming from Trump. This goal requires empathy for these voters.

        As to why “half” the population would choose such a cruel, inhumane, and violent person to “lead them,” I suggest you read Hannah Arendt’s “Origins of Totalitarianism.” If you prefer fiction I suggest “Brave New World” or the “Hunger Games” trilogy. Or George Monbiot’s “How Did We Get into This Mess?” if you want something wonkier about neoliberal totalitarianism.

        If AEA economists are not scientists, as you say, then they should experience the empathy of normal humans. So, what is stopping them? And your view of science is not just anti-human, it’s literally impossible to live it. It is certainly not the point of science to uncover truths using methods stripped of personal bias and opinion such as religious beliefs. This might be possible for AI. I say might. But for humans it is not possible. It’s foolish to pursue it. Science is the effort to use what we can observe through multiple attempts using any methods we can dream up to create an incomplete but useful picture of how things fit together and function. An infinitely revisable picture. This is what humans can do.

      • Risk Analyst
        June 9, 2017 at 7:25 pm

        If your recommendation to understand current US politics is to watch The Hunger Games, you are clearly getting too caught up in the over the top rhetoric and fearmongering.

      • June 10, 2017 at 9:27 am

        Cannot agree with you. “The Hunger Games” is a detailed but somewhat over simplified (they are young adult novels, after all) description of daily life in a totalitarian nation. I think there are growing parallels between these novels and the USA today. Remember “1984” became a best seller again after Trump was elected.

  12. June 8, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    Ken, take what follows as my appreciation of a contribution worth trying to improve.

    I presume you intended these two sentences to be read together: “After all, per the AEA economists are scientists. Scientists don’t empathize with the objects they study.” Otherwise, how come “Other social scientists (sociologists, anthropologists, etc.) and historians practice empathy with the objects of their study. Since, like themselves these objects are humans and human-constructed institutions and collective ways of life”? Again, the second sentence doesn’t make sense except as part of the first. Don’t they use semi-colons any more in the USA?

    Here I’m enthusiastically with you. “It’s also important, I think that all involved in the study of humans and human society commit up front, like MD’s that they will first and foremost do no harm while striving to improve human society.”

    This bit has a huge PARADOX in it. “Also, these students of humanity should base their methodologies on the actual actions and decisions of humans. Not mathematical or any other sort of a priori models or theories. In short, on good old-fashioned observation, field studies, and field experiments. This allows room for empathy and solid research results”.

    If one bases one’s methodologies on the actual actions and decisions of humans, then one has no room for contemplating how else they could act. I would argue there are basic (i.e. fundamental) and applied forms of science, into both of which people individually and in association enter both as scientists and as objects of science. What applied scientists take as “a priori” is in real science not just an opinion or a mathematical simplification but the conclusion of the basic science.

    In the basic phase one spends time looking at people and the world they live in, and one forms a working hypothesis of how they work and how, why, when, where etc they relate to each other. One then checks this against the available evidence – preferably evidence you haven’t previously considered – then (usually as occasion arises) triggers the works to see whether what happens is what you expect. That way one evolves a pattern of life which more or less works, and in response to Risk Analyst’s sneer, that is true whether the results are expressed in blindingly meaningless mathematical forms or in emotive religious symbolism that generates empathy by way of shared feelings. If Risk Analyst wants to argue that the world evolved by economists is happier than the societies evolved by Christian and Buddhist monks he might do worse than read “Small is Beautiful” again.

    In the applied phase of science the first step is to translate some real world problem we have into the language of our basic science, which means picking the right world and the right forms of mathematics to enable us to express the problem in a form we know how to deal with. Then the scientific method proceeds much as before, except that this time we are concerned not with deciding what TYPE of things there are but what type this PARTICULAR problem is and how to deal with it, trying out solutions economically on the mental model before (if possible) on a physical one which will show up new problems in the form of side effects, so that (as in Newton’s method) satisfactory outcomes are arrived at by successive approximation (rather the Popper’s “trial and error”), i.e. building into the model more and more solutions to residual problems. A scientific trial is not a figment of the imagination.

    Social science needs to start not from Homo Economicus but with basic scientific knowledge about how people work, not only as actors but as biological, chemical and physical entities too, who are animals but also more than mere animals because language has enabled them to think and remember and form judgements by means of mental models. An individual scientist may be too busy recording his findings to be feeling much empathy with his subjects, but a systematic explanation of empathy and lack of it due to difference of linguistic understanding and purpose needs to be built into any scientific model of economics and/or politics.

    “If we want to change this system we’ll need to stop complaining about candidates and change the process of selecting and nominating who runs for President. And that means a full re-write of not only the economics profession but also banking, industry, international trade, and the whole US monetary system.”

    THIS ALSO I TOTALLY AGREE WITH. Though you may not yet see the point of theorising, this is what I have been trying to make possible these many years. The common factor in all these fields is money, and if it were understood that, to be honest, money must be see as a form of credit and not of wealth, then perhaps the love of money which is the root of evil would be less of a problem, and the rewrite you propose would follow as a matter of course.

    • June 8, 2017 at 11:54 pm

      Mistype in para on applied science. For ‘world’ read ‘words’. With apologies.

      • June 9, 2017 at 5:04 am

        Your mistype may give us a good hint. I believe it is necessary to choose or pick up a “right world” when we try to build a new theory in economics.

        Almost all papers in the mainstream journals are requested to formulate them in a framework of general equilibrium. This means in practice that a specialist in finance is requested to put his or her theory in a general framework of the whole economy which includes consumption, production, preference, and others. A natural scientist specializes in a very narrow field. This is one of reasons why natural sciences advances. Economics profession is doing the opposite of this. I believe it is necessary to establish a new view of economics methodology.

    • Risk Analyst
      June 9, 2017 at 12:53 am

      Thank you for taking the time of a response and although it was not directed at me, I will clarify or add a couple of points because I was mentioned. I’m not sure what you meant by my “sneer,” but I am assuming that is about denying economics as a science. Just because I deny it is a science does not mean it is not difficult work at times requiring great skill and education and has a large impact. In my example, Friedman certainly had a much greater impact on society than the chemist working on the shelf life of contacts solution. Second, in contrast to your assumption, I am impressed by Buddhist economics as directionally correct. I recently watched a large container ship arrive full of cheap low quality junk from Asia and was rather convinced we are not better off for it. Finally, in my experience, economics is not practiced the way you propose. Rather there is some black board theorizing, collection of already existing data as closely describing the behavior as possible, and finally some statistical analysis with some searching for additional variables or specifications to come up with conclusions based on statistical fit.

    • June 9, 2017 at 6:37 am

      Apologize for confusing you and my lack of semi-colon etiquette.

      The purpose of science in regards human social or collective life is to reveal that life and how it is created. Obviously, the objects of study are humans and human institutions. These emerge from the combination of human interactions with things and other humans, and human imagination (reasoning or intellect). Basing our methods on this life allows us to reveal it at least partially and write about it. As with all science these revelations and writings are never finalized. But if done with empathy and care, with each iteration become a bit more accurate, clear, and useful. The divisions, turns, problems, and rules we write about are the ones we find in observing humans. Who are of course observers themselves. The social scientist attempts to use her/his imagination and experiences to see the work humans do to create their lives and institutions. A delicate task, even in the best of circumstances. I think you and I agree here.

      I think you misunderstand me about theory and theorizing. All humans do this. It’s part of the work in creating human collective life. From interactions of a few humans, to families, to villages, to towns and cities, to civilizations. In fact, considering how important human imagination is for human evolutionary success, it could easily be concluded that theorizing is the heart of this work.

    • June 9, 2017 at 11:31 am

      My turn to apologise for confusing. Risk Analyst, I was responding to your denigration of religious thinking in this:

      “The whole point of science is to uncover certain truths using methods stripped of personal bias and opinion such as religious beliefs.”

      I thought your latest summary of the Humean method of economising on thought was excellent:

      “there is some black board theorizing, collection of already existing data as closely describing the behavior as possible, and finally some statistical analysis with some searching for additional variables or specifications to come up with conclusions based on statistical fit.”

      However, I had been pointing to alternatives. The ancients were no less intelligent than us, but their modes of expression were different.

      Ken, do you understand the difference between theorising about what we see, and theorising about what do (or need to become able to do) to change what we see? Between static and active theorising? You seem to, but ended what I responded to with:

      “An infinitely revisable picture”.

      What you SEE may be infinitely revisable but not the METHODS with which we revise it. We can only do what we know how to do, i.e. we are not individually still learning and have socially not forgotten. A computer cannot do what it is not yet programmed to do.

      • June 10, 2017 at 8:11 am

        First, let me clarify that science and human imagining and theorizing in general are not different. They’re the same process. But science is driven by a desire to know as fully as possible how the world (human and nonhuman) works. This is achieved, per the theories that underlay science buy continually observing (from as many perspectives and using as many tools as possible) and theorizing (using as many scenarios or hypotheses as possible). The world created thusly is still the result of human imagination and is per Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari “made up,” “make believe.” This is science. So, your comment that, “The ancients were no less intelligent than us, but their modes of expression were different,” is right on. So long as you recognize that expression includes all ways of imagining, building, theorizing the world into existence. Scientific methods have the same etiology, the same history. Whether those methods are statistics or mathematical models, or opinion surveys, or ethnography. Humans also invent things like inside/outside, seeing/doing, true/false, scientific/unscientific, etc. to frame and explain what they believe they see in the world. Inventive species homo Sapiens. Yes, we can only do what we know how to do. But that begs the question, how do we determine that we know we know how to do things. More inventiveness.

  13. hns
    June 9, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    I’d like to point the attention to US current account deficits. As I found, they have been permanent since 1992 or so and frequent even before.



    and here:

    so can it be true that the jobs lost after 2000 are due to the deficits?

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