On why can’t we all just get along this election?
This post was triggered by reading this article and a friends comments on it: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one-talks-about/
The cited article claims that the support for Trump is not about Trump as an admirable person, but as a powerful person who is unafraid to criticize the previous ruling politicians who the disaffected and disenfranchised blame for their declining and disappearing way of life. The article goes on to explain why this is creating a base of support for Trump in rural counties.”
I don’t disagree with anything in the original article. But I think that reaction to disappearance of what we liked best about our lives, communities and countries in the past is even more pervasive than just rural vs urban in the US. It also explains the age divide in the Brexit vote between older people able to remember the lost glory and opulence of the waning British Empire and global naval dominance vs. young people who have only known the benefits of an EU economy.
Almost all of us think our way of life is disappearing and we are all right.
This loss is a consequence of a worldwide Great Recession which has concentrated remaining wealth in fewer and fewer hands, and caused the evaporation of trillions of dollars of “paper wealth” which has the real effect of reducing spending, and further prolonging the slow recovery.
This loss is present even for the wealthy elites. As wealth gets more concentrated even if you were wealthy before you are either losing ground as well or you are getting wealthier but are watching more of your formerly wealthy friends lose ground and have to sell their vacation homes to pay taxes from a dwindling income.
When we lose ground, we notice the difference. We don’t like it. We want to stop losing ground. We want to desperately hold on to what we have, and we want to see what was lost restored to us.
In the short run, in zero growth economic times, local economies are zero sum. Someone is a seller at a distressed price but someone is getting a bargain. This contributes to us vs them thinking.
Similarly, in downturns when masses of peopl believe that the long term value of an asset will be less than they believed before, that pessimistic belief itself causes people to offer less for it, and it become s a negative sum game.
As long as I thought real estate prices would always climb I had a huge desire to own a house. Not only would it give me a place to live, but the growing equity would fund my retirement. And waiting to buy only meant an entry level home would cost even more and that more months of rent would be wasted that could have been invested in a home in the form of mortgage payments increasing my value.
In both the zero growth and negative growth scenarios it is readily apparent there must be some losers, and if you are not powerful enough you may not be able to avoid being a loser. So you look for a powerful defender for your cause. In this case Trump claims to do that for rural America.
Bubbles burst rapidly as a triggering event banishes optimism overnight by suddenly disproving the confidence of our continuity assumptions of long held optimism of constantly improving conditions. In its place we now have uncertainty about the magnitude and persistence of the correction. In the musical chairs rush for the few remaining seats, everyone who is not like you is competing for a seat that you, your family, friends or neighbors need too. It is us vs. them.
In contrast, wealth in growing economies grows slowly. Optimism about the future makes the value of long term assets, whether homes, or company revenues, or stocks in those growing companies all seem likely to command higher prices in the future and thus the owners of those assets start to feel wealthier. They make purchases increasing demand, generating more sales, so companies can and will likely need to hire more people to make and sell these extra products. Some of these products may be new assets that themselves will grow in value accelerating these trends. We want this prosperity to continue and we don’t want to throw a monkey wrench into it by changing what is working, But the longer it goes on, the more optimism and confidence of continuity of growth gets built in to our mindset, making us vulnerable to the next collapse when an event challenges that belief.
Only in such a growing economy, is it possible for everyone to gain ground. There is no certainty that the new wealth will be distributed equally, and that never actually happens. But with the right policies the preponderance of gainers can be very broad based, leading to more support for others to benefit so as that perpetuate the growth economy that is creating everyone’s improvements. These are the policies built on generosity, inclusion and optimism to create persistent growth.
But the wrong policies will perpetuate or exacerbate the concentration of wealth causing more interpersonal conflict by the net losers and by the gainers trying even harder to hold on to those gains because they pessimistically fear a near term future where their part of the economy may lose.
The dilemma we face now is that pessimism breeds a scarcity mentality in which short term action is necessary to ensure we don’t lose ground. But that is also a view where we see it as inevitable that someone must lose and we think we need to fight hard to make sure we don’t lose more ground no matter what the cost to others.
This poisons the well for collaboration as owe fear that any generosity we show is a weakness that creates an opportunity for our “opponent” to take even more than we are offering, making us a loser in the end. So we turn stingy instead. Lack of collaborative solution making creates even more polarization, frustration and gridlock. That confirms our opinion that the others are obstructionists.
Collaborative problem solving requires that I commit to finding a solution that not only works for me, but that I know also works for you too. And you must make the same commitment. That’s possible in a positive sum view but impossible in a zero sum game.
During times of polarized politics I actually believe it is pointless to search for mutually acceptable solutions because my belief that we are in a zero sum or negative sum game means that our needs must be in conflict. So I don’t try to find a compromise with you, I seek to destroy you.
Transitional times like this challenge us because recovery and optimism are not universally shared.
That is why addressing the distribution of growth opportunities is important if there is to be the possibility of being United States.