Why did Trump win? Post-Fordism.
I’ve started and stopped so many posts about why Trump won the election. I read a lot of explanations too. Some hit the mark. Some don’t. Views of why certain things happen, such as the most significant political upset in the history of the United States, will vary from person to person.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Voters that lived in the strongest economic counties largely voted for Clinton. With me living in the strongest economic county in Texas, I was one of those voters. Trump unsurprisingly lost the counties that contributed less to the total American GDP.
Then, after reading Paul Krugman’s piece in the New York Times about the seduction and betrayal of white working class voters, I finally got why Trump did convince those 88,000 or so voters in three states to swing his direction.
Someone left the following comment:
Another doom and gloom article courtesy of Dr Krugman. Krugman is just angry that Donald Trump has managed to do in a couple of weeks what Barack Obama couldn’t do in 8 years — reach out and help ordinary folks who didn’t go to college. There are at least 1,000 relived workers in Indiana who are waking up this morning secure in the knowledge that their jobs aren’t being outsourced to Mexico. And Donald Trump isn’t even president yet!!!
To answer Dr Krugman’s question — this is precisely why these people voted for Trump. These burned out white workers are tired of being given dreary lectures by holier than thou elites like Dr Krugman on why they had to mindlessly continue voting Democratic and progressive forever and ever. These people see Trump as a mover and shaker who can actually get things done. Unfortunately it’s unlikely Krugman and the rest of the mainstream media elites are going to surrender their lofty status without kicking and screaming. It’s time Dr Krugman faced the new normal — your days of dictating who our leaders should be are over. We the people have had enough of limousine liberals who wonder what the simple folk do all day long.
I decided to reply.
But the truth is, Donald Trump did not reach out and help ordinary folks. United Technologies is still firing most of the workers in question — 1,300 out of 2100 total. And there’s no telling whether or not these jobs will actually last the full duration of the tax breaks that Mike Pence promised. Keep in mind, Mike Pence did the work — Trump was just there for self-aggrandizing.
That was a dog and pony show. Open your eyes to that reality. Efficiency rules in the American system. Donald Trump is doing nothing to reverse that.
Excuse my grammatical mistake — I should have used “this” instead of “that” at the opening of the second paragraph of my retort. But the original comment that I replied to was telling, and it was a familiar refrain from what I’ve seen from various Trump supporters.
It was that comment that I finally understood why Donald Trump won the 2016 election. And while there are many factors that went into the election outcome, the biggest on might be the most complicated of all: post-Fordism.
Fordism is more than just the shift in industrial production forged by Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford with the development of the assembly line and with it mass production — it was the social changes that was brought along with it. There’s essentially two meanings of Fordism, as Bob Jessop, Lancaster University sociology professor, wrote in Britannica:
… describe (1) the system of mass production that was pioneered in the early 20th century by the Ford Motor Company or (2) the typical postwar mode of economic growth and its associated political and social order in advanced capitalism.
He would later expand on that second definition with:
First, as an industrial paradigm, it involves mass production of standardized goods on a moving assembly line using dedicated machinery and semiskilled labour. Second, as a national accumulation (or growth) regime, it involves a virtuous cycle of mass production and mass consumption. Third, as a mode of regulation, Fordism comprises (1) an institutionalized compromise between organized labour and big business whereby workers accept management prerogatives in return for rising wages, (2) monopolistic competition between large firms based on cost-plus pricing and advertising, (3) centralized financial capital, deficit finance, and credit-based mass consumption, (4) state intervention to secure full employment and establish a welfare state, and (5) the embedding of national economies in a liberal international economic order. Fourth, as a form of social life, Fordism is characterized by mass media, mass transport, and mass politics.
It would be postwar Fordism that would change American life in ways that was never seen before: a stabilization of all three sectors of the economy — primary (agricultural), secondary (manufacturing), and tertiary (service).
That stabilization, in short, was an unsustainable mirage. The United States controlled nearly a third of the world’s total economic output in the ensuing years after the conclusion of World War II; this would be slashed by 1970, thanks to a resurgent Europe and growth in East Asia. As Jessop writes:
During the 1970s, however, its underlying crisis tendencies became more evident. The growth potential of mass production was gradually exhausted, and there was intensified working-class resistance to its alienating working conditions; the market for mass consumer durables became saturated; a declining profit rate coincided with stagflation; a fiscal crisis developed; internationalization made state economic management less effective; clients began to reject standardized, bureaucratic treatment in the welfare state…
These phenomena prompted a wide-ranging search for solutions to the crisis of Fordism, either by restoring its typical growth dynamics to produce a neo-Fordist regime or by developing a new post-Fordist accumulation regime and mode of regulation.
The American System essentially broke down during the 1970s; Watergate, the energy crises, and inflation further inflamed American pessimism and distrust. When the moderate and liberal elements of American politics could not provide convincing answers for the crumbling of the postwar socioeconomic order, charismatic anti-government conservatives such as Ronald Reagan did; against a vehemently unpopular Jimmy Carter, Reagan swept into the White House in 1980.
But there in lies the irony. The Reagan Era did not bring about fixes for Fordism. Conservatives were all in on “supply-side” economic theory in the hopes of pushing neo-Fordism, but the reality was far different. “Supply-side” thought did nothing to reverse an even increased intolerance for inefficient, stunted outcomes. Fordism was out, neo-Fordism was dead on arrival, and post-Fordism was in.
Post-Fordism, is best described as a shift from mass production to mass customization; a desire for higher quality products that are produced quicker; broadening markets to reduce the risk of market exhaustion; demand-driven instead of supply-driven; and knowledge and skill over physical ability.
It changed the American System forever. Technological advances were introduced to help workers become more flexible and voluminous in their productivity. Firms became globalized. Cost-control, flexibility, and efficiency did not just become a thing, it became benchmarks. Information is gold. Data is king. Today’s economy is value based and demand driven; and with it came a great deal of social changes that has changed the way we live, work, and even think politically.
To say that post-Fordism is just about economics would be an incredibly short sighted view of its effects. Post-Fordism not only changed the way we think of society, but what we think of ourselves. The humanity that was involved with Fordism is noticeably far different in post-Fordism.
While many are grateful for the technological advances that have changed our lives forever, especially me considering that it has given me a chance at a line of work that allows me to harness my creativity and education to some degree, others lament how technology has given way to a new globalist economic order that has expanded the labor pool and caused labor devaluation as a consequence.
Demand-driven post-Fordism has consequently created a market-based society that, combined with increasing sociopolitical polarity, exposes massive divides in American society and how we view capitalism (and the mixed economy).
Liberals and progressives accept post-Fordism in general. However, they question its apparent lack of humanity and thus push for a social insurance policy (the welfare state) and government interventionism as a bulwark against unencumbered, inhuman capitalism. The American left largely looks at economic issues as part of a broader context of social justice that prioritizes the recognition and protection civil, human, and reproductive rights.
Conservatives, on the other hand, mostly reject post-Fordism. They still aim for the development neo-Fordist regime that was promised during the Reagan era and never materialized. Conservatives blame that failure just about everything under the sun from immigration to free trade, but never the philosophies that have taken root in American capitalism today. They fully embrace the market-based society where personal responsibility is rewarded and irresponsibility is punished. Moreover, they pine for a social order that is rooted in nationalist gravitas, both domestic and abroad.
However, an important side note here:
As a consequence to the centrist era of Bill Clinton, the conservative era of George W. Bush, and the pragmatist era of Barack Obama, two strains of populism soon developed. One is the liberal populist response to post-Fordist society embodied by Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernard Sanders, and Cory Booker. The other is the conservative populist response that would coalesce around Donald Trump.
Sanders and Warren are particularly interesting because, despite their push for interventionist, activist government, neither categorically reject capitalism. This is even as Sanders described himself as a “democratic socialist” (granted, the appropriate term would be “social democrat”). Conversely, Donald Trump never completely argued against deficit spending, but did push for a neo-Fordist supply-side worldview. This idea was embodied by the grandstanding United Technologies/Carrier “deal” this past week.
Both sides ignore the reality that efficiency and cost-control has been solidified as a key strategy of large firms, especially in the wake of the Great Recession. The intervention of Trump and Indiana Governor and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence only saved 800 jobs; those 800 jobs are not necessarily guaranteed for the entire life of the $7 million in tax breaks. As noted with Trump’s plan to induce infrastructure spending with tax breaks, tax breaks do not necessarily mean enormous investment in labor.
But I digress.
In the end, Trump’s victory could be best explained as thus: it was not as so much the economic issues of post-Fordism in the Midwest, Pennsylvania, and Florida that gave him the election, but it was the social consequences of it. It was an enormous emotional statement, devoid of much reason. But when Trump’s push to implement a neo-Fordist regime fails just like it has before, I just wonder what the next big emotional response to post-Fordism will be.