Revisiting the USA, part 5 (wrap-up)

Spent the last few days in Washington and Wednesday flew back to Los Angeles from where I will fly back to Sydney later today. Staying once again with J and her partner at their property in Inglewood, LA.

Many a trip down memory lane was had over the last few weeks and my legs are hurting from those trips and all that other walking.

Still working on the statements from the two pension funds — apparently retrieving statements more than a decade old is not easy (thanks for nothing Fidelity and TIAA-CREF!)— and I keep being send blanket missives by the SSA — “Do More Online! We want to make it easy for you to do business with us. Learn more about our convenient and secure online services.” — that simply do not apply to me since I can’t open an online account. Because I have not lived in the USA for a couple of decades and gave back my green card in 2009. Sigh.

The last couple of weeks I have travelled from Inglewood, via Santa Barbara, Boston, Portland, New York, Washington, back to Inglewood. Homelessness is everywhere (in Straya, too), and visibly, a problem.

Pic by Andrew Austin, near the hotel where I stayed in Washington

It’s a societal phenomenon that will stay with us for many years I fear; it’s a crying shame that homelessness is a reality in so-called developed countries which surely have the resources to provide half-way decent accommodation. It’s a question of priorities and ethos.

Increasingly visible homeless encampments correlate, also everywhere, with scores of shuttered shops, and less high (under)employment rates. Although you wouldn’t know always from the official statistics (but that is a topic for another day.)

Meanwhile, all the way through my stay here, politics in Washington (and news about Trump who still dominates them like a fart dominates a car) never quite left the front burners of the stove. All weekend it was the debate about Trump’s call to abandon the constitution because, well, he lost the elections fair and square. While Democrats predictably jumped on this statement, Republicans had to be dragged to objecting to it.

Monday it was the news that the House January 6 Committee would make criminal referrals to the JoD (as it looks including Donnie), that The Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. were found guilty on all charges they faced, and the latest on the upcoming (and in fact ongoing) mid-term second-round race which was surprisingly close given all the accusations that former UGA football star, and my good buddy (we once had lunch in the same UGA dining hall and at the same time ;-))Herschel Walker had to deal with. See also here for a related post mortem.

Tuesday was run-off election day in Georgia and it demonstrated, once again, that Trump’s influence is waning, slowly but surely and comprehensively. Warnock, the Democrats’ Senate candidate and incumbent, came out of the run-off election winning, with significantly better numbers than in the first round a month earlier. The reasons for his success have to do with Walker’s questionable personal behavior as much as his lack of qualifications, voters’ increasing aversion towards MAGA/Trumpism, and the Democrats’ fund-raising and mobilization machine for which even popular, and just re-elected, Republican governor Kemp’s support was no match. The Democrats have now more wiggle-room in the Senate (and the Vice President, Kamala Harris, will be able to spend less time as tie-breaker.) I assume that newly independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema will caucus with Democrats.

There are a number of important lessons to be learned. The most important IMHO is that, whatever happens on the intensive margin of his support, Trump’s influence on the extensive margin is shrinking. The problem for the Republicans is that it is not shrinking fast enough. This allows Trump to still influence in some states — such as Georgia — to push through his candidates against more moderate ones. However, as Walker’s fate just showed, these candidates (often modelled after Trump himself, ie. simplistic MAGA types accepting Trump’s stolen 2020 election narrative against all the evidence there is) tend to be simply not up to snuff in terms of integrity and qualifications.

Expect this very same story to play out in the next couple of years, in the run-up to the 2024 presidential elections, in other electoral contests on many levels, and also in the primaries where Trump might still be able to draw on the shrinking core of his followers. Of course, that scenario holds only if the various proceedings currently conducted against him will not land him in the slammer. Which is becoming more likely with the day. See Monday’s development.

Underlying these electoral developments is the dumbing of Murica.

“We have to figure out how a country can solve any problem if so many of its people are so intractably, astoundingly, mindnumbingly stupid.”

Bill Maher is onto something important. Once facts don’t matter any longer and truth becomes something that is in the eye of the beholder, there is no prospect of rational political, or for that matter any other, discourse.

This drift into pervasive stupidity is not only a problem in Murica. Aussies have lived through almost a decade of sorry attempts at competent governance and way too much bi-partisanship. The saving grace is that there is still enough good sense floating around that clowns and demagogues like Trump and Morrison do get voted out. Which is the kind of thing that at least temporarily makes you re-gain some faith in democracy broadly construed. So do current developments in Russia, China, and Iran where vile autocrats try to suppress whatever opposition there is without complete success. All the while they manage to severely impact their countries economic fortunes (for Russia see here and here, for China see here and here, for Iran see here). To the extent that Putler, Xi, and the ayatollas have justified their civil-right restrictions with material progress, the decline in economic fortunes will backfire in one form or the other.

Famously, democracy may be fragile and the worst of governmental mechanisms (except for all others) but the internal opposition in Russia, China, and Iran, and voters’ reputation of populistic policies and attempts to get rid of checks of balances in countries such as the US and Australia, suggests strongly that democracy has a lot of things going for it. I certainly prefer to live in countries like the USA, Germany/Czech Republic, Australia rather than failed, or failing states, like Russia, China, or Iran. If your sentiment is otherwise, make your day.

And that’s the wrap. The usual programming will resume shortly.

Consider making your opinion known here by applauding, or commenting, or following me here, or on Facey.

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Andreas Ortmann

EconProf: I post occasionally on whatever tickles my fancy: Science, evidence production, the Econ tribe, Oz politics, etc. Y’all r entitled to my opinions …