I think the 2016 U.S. presidential elections resulted showed that Donald Trump is a better public speaker than Hillary Clinton; that people are tired of Obama administration officials talking to us as if we’re cranky 5-year-olds who object to eating our peas; and that Clinton had a hard time responding in a credible way to criticisms of her emails and performance as a secretary of state.
I think the results also showed that government policies are changing the country’s economic framework in ways that are squeezing wealth out of people in the traditional, non-tech economy.
On the surface, the national economy looks stronger than it was in 2009. Real estate prices have firmed up. Banks look solvent. Unemployment has come down.
In many small towns and rural areas, and even in parts of thriving big cities, the picture looks different. Places where businesses use cash from the stock market to bring in imports or to sell high-tech products and services look rich. Other places look poor. In many of the poor places, just about the only surviving businesses are a bank branch, a few restaurants, a hair salon, a doctors’ office, a ragged discount store that’s trying to compete with Walmart, a Walmart that’s struggling to compete with Amazon.com, and an insurance agency office that’s expected to sponsor every Little League baseball league within 40 miles.
Even in the rich places, publicly traded companies focus, mainly, on putting in outposts of the same supermarket chains, drug store chains, fast food restaurants and cell phone shops. The storefronts are telling us that , even in the rich places, people have little time or money to do much other than eat, get medical care, and play with their phones.
People selling life and health products see the effects of the hollowing out of traditional-economy places every day.
Ordinary people working in the traditional, private-sector economy have no time to think about the future and little confidence in the stability of their jobs. They may have $5 for coffee today, but they can’t promise they’ll be able to pay $5 per day for life insurance, disability insurance or long-term care insurance next year.
Sudden, government-driven framework changes are imposing an obvious economic tax on people like you. Some new Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank or fiduciary standard regulation has been turning your life upside down every other month.
In other sectors, central bankers have set interest rates low to prop up home prices and stock prices. Federal agencies have imposed tough labor, environmental, bank loan and securities rules to protect workers, the environment, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and investors. Trade negotiators have eased trade rules, because of a firm belief among economists that free trade helps everyone, by creating manufacturing jobs in poor countries, and lowering product costs and creating professional services jobs in rich countries.
The government uses tax money from all workers, including traditional-economy workers, to provide incentives for researchers and companies to push technology forward. Many of those technology advances further squeeze the employers in the traditional economy.
All of those government-driven economic framework moves tend to favor new-economy employers over traditional-economy employers. Many of those moves might be necessary. We all like breathing clean air. None of us want to see con artists swindling investors. And any government efforts to compensate people for economic framework changes may be too complicated, too expensive or too ineffective to be of any practical use. It’s not clear, for example, how much official efforts to protect workers displaced by free trade agreements have helped.
But the traditional-economy voters screamed on Nov. 8 that they want policymakers to do something about the new-economy squeeze, not just put out press releases talking about how, overall, everything looks good. Those voters don’t live in overall. They live in a place with a boarded up strip mall and a factory that’s had a for-rent sign in the window for 10 years.
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