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Impact of Capitalism on Trump Voters

Dark Side of Capitalism 2

This post is actually going to contain two parts: the first part about the personality traits of the Trump voters and the second part about capitalism's role in the election.

Now I always thought there were 3 groups of Trump voters: a) the hardcore supporters who believe in the white supremacy and racist elements of Trump's agenda (I would say this group would have value system that would be a range from hardcore to softcore; b) the economically disadvantaged or those left behind in the last 20 to 30 years; and c) the Bernie bros who foolishly decided to "not vote for Hillary if they couldn't get Bernie Sanders".

Most articles written about the voters centered on the first two.

Some time ago, a fascinating psychological article on the personality traits of the Trump voters was written by Thomas Edsall.

Basically, the Trump voters are characterized by

"moderately high levels of extroversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, moderately low neuroticism, and very low openness
and that
this configuration of traits portrays the sort of person who is sociable, considerate, dutiful, and traditional." Thomas Edsall, "The Trump Voter Paradox", NYTimes, September 28, 2017

And that kind of matches my experience here. I'm not 100% certain because we don't actually talk about it but I'm pretty sure some of the people I know are Republicans which probably means they voted for Trump. And they are really nice people. They work hard, very traditional, and very friendly. It's hard to tie them with Trump. Maybe they didn't vote but I kind of doubt it.

A story: about a decade ago, I knew a guy who was a very nice guy. I was doing a lot of dancing and knew him through dancing, and at one point I got on his email list. He was a great writer - good vocabulary, spelling and grammar (I think, I'm weak on the grammar). Then one day I received an email that had turned political and racist. This was during the time of Obama's first presidential run. I was stunned because I had never read anything like it so it came across as racist which contradicted the nice guy persona. The virulence was so strong that I couldn't help thinking it was racist. Unfortunately I don't remember what he said, possibly because it was so stunning and unlike anything I have ever read that my brain chose to forget. But it always left me troubled. And wondering if it really was racist. Maybe I was overreacting to it.

But there were snippets of signs. And these were very nice people.

There are probably two types of these nice and friendly personalities. A subset lacks compassion. By the way, this is my take on what the article said. This subset that lacks compassion is probably the white supremacy/racist element but the two types will react aggressively when they feel threatened. So maybe my guy friends (I actually had another guy friend who kind of expressed the same attitude toward Obama) didn't like the change or the fact that we could possibly have a black president and thus showed their other side. I don't know but it seems they will be nice until something threatens them and then another surprising side will show up.

The other article follows the life of a lady working in a steel manufacturing firm in Indianapolis and this article touches on the impact of capitalism offshoring (and soon automating) jobs to cheaper places. She worked a little over 15 years and moved up to where she was making decent money. I believe she never graduated from high school but she definitely didn't get a college degree. And she just recently got laid off, after she had to train her Mexican replacements on how to do her job.

This is the impact of the capitalist creed of shareholder mantra: everything is done for the shareholder. There is nothing about running a business for the good of both society and shareholders. Maybe the management could have run the business like John Bassett did in Making It In America; it would have been tough but I suspect management didn't try.

"Long ago, 40 percent of Link-Belt’s stock was owned by its employees, according to a company document from 1925. Back then, business schools taught that a chief executive’s role was to balance shareholders’ interests with those of employees, customers and the government.

But today, most of Rexnord’s shares are held by mutual funds managed on behalf of global investors. To many, Rexnord was nothing more than three letters on a page — RXN — with an arrow pointing up or down." Farah Stockman, "Becoming a Steel Worker Liberated Her. Then Her Job Moved to Mexico", NYTimes, October 14, 207.

See, before the 70's and Milton Friedman's call to focus on just the shareholders, companies used to run companies for the good of all parts of society and everybody felt that their life was improving. But since the 80's companies have been moving jobs elsewhere and soon it will be all about automation. All in the name of shareholder value.

The article mentioned an incredible statistic:

"And she was forced to confront a more sweeping question that nags at many of the 67 percent of adults in this country who do not have a four-year college degree: What does my future look like in the new American economy?" Ibid.

So 67 percent of American population do not have a college degree. And the question is a good question. The younger workers are more likely to get a college degree, whether it's due to the Great Recession or whether they could see the handwriting on the wall. At the time when the older ones were just beginning their working life, prospects still looked decent. They had no idea of the coming storms, so they didn't get a college education. But now that they are older, it is way harder to get an education and catch up. They have to continue working because they have financial obligations and since they are older, they have less energy to burn.

But the problem could get worse. Automation has a real possibility of eating up jobs requiring college degrees.

And there's more. Remember at the beginning of the post the psychological article portrayed the Trump voter as being nice, friendly, traditional and conventional? Well, those traits are perfect for being a rule follower but not really for innovating or leading from front.  Most of us are not trained to "rock the boat" and I include myself. Schools teach you how to follow the rules because society needs obedient people - to follow the laws and do what's expected to keep society civil. Companies benefited from that because they needed people to dutifully come in and do what they are told. And there is nothing wrong with following the rules because it is what kept society civil.

Except, we also need to learn how to be innovative and do different things, without harming society. The folks without college degrees and some with college degree are probably not inclined in that direction. That psychological profile says they are conventional. So we have a problem here.

And this issue is probably why they have hopes for Trump:

"But she found herself rooting for Mr. Trump. Democrats talked about social safety nets, but he talked about jobs." Ibid.

And they don't trust the elites:

"Moving the factory made sense to the people with college degrees. They expected that old workers could be swapped out for new ones, like interchangeable parts. That trainees could learn in a few weeks what Indianapolis workers had spent years mastering. That workers who had devoted their entire lives to building bearings they boasted were the best in the world would train their replacements and move on." Ibid.

The lady in the article at least understood that the Mexicans were not the bad guys. She got the impression that they did not know that they were taking America jobs. So she had empathy and a broader mindset (actually, she is smart in that she was able to broaden her perspective - that's not easy to do), and she trained the Mexicans. But the men had a harder time with it and reading their history provided insight:

"For years, Shannon had heard complaints that Mexicans were “taking our jobs” and that undocumented immigrants were driving down wages.

As more and more Indianapolis factories moved to Mexico, more and more Mexicans settled in Indianapolis. An estimated 30,000 people born in Mexico lived in Marion County, where Indianapolis is located, in 2015, more than twice as many as in 2000, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Some white men complained that they’d watched their economic prospects decline for decades. They had shared their jobs with black men, then with women. Now that blacks and women were welcomed in every facet of factory life, the jobs were moving to Mexico. It seemed like proof that their best days were behind them." Ibid.

So for the second group of Trump voters (those facing economic hardships), it is easy to understand why they voted for Trump. They are hoping he could bring in jobs. Unfortunately, I'm not so sure he will. We have to do something about the philosophy of business' responsibility being only to the shareholders. Businesses, Harvard University and some economists have played a huge role in our current denouement, so they are responsible. And in the coming years, tech companies will also have to shoulder some responsibility.

Okay, this ended up being a lot longer than I had originally planned. Lately, my posts have been running on the longer side. I don't know why I'm writing longer posts. Usually, I don't have that much to say.

Time to sign off and get ready for the week.

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