How American Economic Policies lead to a Populist Uprising

Just a quick theory on how we got to where we are today over the last 30 years. It’s a sketch of history and not intended to be accurate, rather it is intended to be suggestive of what may have happened.

Global trade.

Cheap shipping from cheap gas and oil lead to cheap trade. Cheap trade shifted capital to where it could be maximally leveraged in countries with cheap labor, cheap natural resources and lax environmental, health and safety policy (or corrupt government officials). Jobs followed the capital, so manufacturing and raw material processing moved out of America. This left a lot of domestic labor idle and wage depressed.

Construction and Housing Boom.

Cheap domestic labor fueled a real estate boom starting in the 1980s and continuing up until the early 2000s. Houses were built and built and built. The population borrowed and borrowed to buy the houses from an economy being fueled by the labor building the houses and by savings from buying cheap consumer goods from off-shored manufacturing.

Over Supply and Bust.

Unfortunately the supply of houses soon overwhelmed the populations ability to buy them. The banks had financed these houses but couldn’t find buyers, so they began to relax the rules and allow riskier mortgages to be signed. The risk mounted and they were going to get slapped by credit rating companies so they did the whole bundling thing with mortgage backed securities.

Where Did the Jobs Go?

So during this whole oversupply period the labor / construction jobs just went away. The off-shored manufacturing jobs they had replaced didn’t come back, so millions of skilled labor workers now entering their late 30s, 40s and 50s had no jobs and nobody needed their skills.

Anger and displacement.

Millions of men and women had their livelihoods traded away for cheap electronics, fast fashion and big box store furniture sets. Then they were given jobs in commercial and housing construction while being sold the dream of home ownership and a car in every driveway. This lead to increased competition, rising home prices and mounting debt — along with a host of medical bills and kids ready for college. Then even this consolation prize was taken away (it was inevitable) during the recession of 2008–2009. These people were even told it was all their fault; they should have gotten more education, shouldn’t have bought an unaffordable house (even though they could afford it when they bought it) and should have taken better care of themselves (while working at hard labor). These people have reason to be angry even though they don’t really know who to be angry at.

Racism.

This segment of the population that feels cheated and displaced by the last 30 years of economic policy are in reality a mixed group from all backgrounds. However America is still ~60% white anglo and those who were in their opinion betrayed, justified or another entitlement, are 100% white anglo. Us vs. Them attitudes are easy to fall into for any group, especially when the group isn’t more than a generation or two away from a society and culture that openly accepted racist attitudes. These are people who are lashing out in any way they know how and at anyone who is not in their group. It’s unacceptable behavior at an individual level but perfectly predictable, exactly the kind of behavior that In-Group vs. Out-Group, Us vs Them psychology predicts in these kinds of scenarios.

Fin.

No solutions here. Just acknowledging some observations of what happened and possibly how each piece fits together into a timeline of consequence.

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