Trump and ‘Winners’

Media must cease picking up and parroting Trump’s policy framing. Like the Washington Post on ‘Losers’.

That above is a piece the Washington Post ran last month. There’s that titular chart below.

Rather unfortunate juxtaposition there. Because the article omits much of the underlying complexity, the gaps leave it sounding frighteningly close to Donald Trump’s own phrasebook. If he got hold of it, he would hold up that chart as proof. “Look, I told you they’re beating us!” On some days it’s “stealing from us”.

Of course, as some of the paper’s readers know, but I wish the piece had stressed for the rest anyway, wealth is not draining from one region to another. Partly, the centres of net creation of wealth have moved, and partly, the old centres of wealth creation are keeping more at the very top, for the Piketty kind of reasons. Those two parts may be very weakly linked but that link is hardly the sole explanation for anything. Not all the economic activity in emerging economies is financed by (home-fleeing) FDI by the world’s top percentiles. Much of it is just large economies arriving at their post-war-West moment. The article cites a recent MIT study that found that trade with China explains a fifth of “the decline in manufacturing employment”, but neglects to talk about the remaining 80 percent of the causal factors. Because, why bother with more nuance when it’s Trump we’re talking about?

That is not even getting into the right numbers perspective: the median global income right there in the middle? It’s still lower than $2000. That’s annual for an individual, and after that 70 percent boost the chart shows. Everyone who earns over 10 times that is likely above the 90th percentile. So yes, say cheers for the global winners!

I wonder if it is useful to speak of global outcomes in terms of winners and losers, as Trump is teaching us to. It needlessly frames national policy choices exclusively as strategies of global rivals engaged in a zero-sum game.

But if we weren’t simply concerned with the US election, here’s the article the chart should have elicited: to really take the beast by the horns, look at that chart again and ask what we would ideally like that same curve (1988–2008) to have looked like.