Thoughts on the election of Joe Biden.
First, let’s admit it’s pretty amazing that Biden won. If you look historically at US Presidential elections all the forces were tilted toward a Trump win:
Trump was an incumbent, which is a huge advantage.
The economy was doing good.
We had a national catastrophe (Covid) and Americans traditionally rally around the President when faced with such adversity, just think of Bush’s rise in popularity after the 9-11 attacks.
Trump also had the algorithmic complicity of the worlds largest social network.
And the most popular cable news network, unrestrained by the Fairness Doctrine, was Trump’s personal media apparatus.
Not to mention the Republican bias in the electoral college.
Trump had every advantage and still lost, which is amazing.
But now let’s pivot and focus on what made Trump’s rule possible and so terribly destructive.
Let’s start by unpacking the fact that at the peak of his power Trump controlled the executive branch of the US government, controlled the messaging on the countries largest cable network, and also controlled the algorithmic bias on the world’s largest social network.
Now as far as Fox News is concerned, the first step there is to re-introduce the Fairness Doctrine and applying it not only to broadcast media like radio and TV, but also to cable networks and social media algorithms.
The Facebook problem is also a problem of market concentration. If we had a dozen or a hundred different Facebooks all competing with one another then a single algorithmic change at a single company couldn’t be so effective.
Finally we need to address that fact that there was a large group of Americans that were primed for radicalization.
Let’s use the five whys to figure that out:
- Why is a large portion of the population upset? Dwindling job prospects and shrinking wages, let’s call this the gutting of middle class jobs.
- Why are good middle class jobs being gutted? Moving manufacturing out of the
country and the weakening of worker power.
- Why are jobs being moved out of the country? Companies make higher
profits when they seek out cheaper labor and lower tax burdens outside
- Why are companies allowed to move production outside the country when it’s obviously a detriment to US citizens? Because market concentration creates larger companies and more billionaires that are able to exert more political power than average US citizens.
- Why is worker power being weakened? Because market concentration creates creates an unfair playing field where fewer and fewer companies are vying for the same number of jobs, so workers have less choice and thus less bargaining power.
- Why are jobs being moved out of the country? Companies make higher profits when they seek out cheaper labor and lower tax burdens outside the US.
- Why do we have market concentration? Because Robert Bork wrote a book The Antitrust Paradox that gave conservatives the veil of academic legitimacy to dismantle antitrust regulations, which they succeeded in doing during the Reagan administration.
Reagan. It’s always Reagan.
Anyway, the root of the problem is that market concentraction is incompatible with democracy, and the first part of a solution would be to abandon the “consumer welfare” interpretation of antitrust law and go back to the “increasing competition” interpretation.
The last point that needs addressing is the incredible power of the position of the President of the United States. I have no idea how to address that, but I can say that Nancy Pelosi’s utter failure to use the oversight power of the House on the Trump administration was appalling, and replacing Nancy as Speaker of the House would be a good first step.
A great article by Zeynep Tufekci, America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent, on why we need to fix the system now.
I’ve been following the writing of Peter Turchin for years, so where we are, and what still lies ahead, hasn’t been a surprise to me. Welcome To The ‘Turbulent Twenties’ is a good introduction.
Do you realize Robert Bork was not only the architect of the destruction of antitrust law in the US, which led us to Trump and almost losing our democracy, but he was also a part of Nixon’s Saturday_Night_Massacre?
This guy is the Thomas Midgley Jr. of democracy. If you are unfamiliar with Thomas Midgley Jr. he invented both Leaded Gasoline and CFCs. From the Wikipedia entry:
Midgley’s legacy has been scarred by the negative environmental impact of leaded gasoline and Freon. Environmental historian J. R. McNeill opined that Midgley “had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history”, and Bill Bryson remarked that Midgley possessed “an instinct for the regrettable that was almost uncanny”. Use of leaded gasoline, which he invented, released large quantities of lead into the atmosphere all over the world. High atmospheric lead levels have been linked with serious long-term health problems from childhood, including neurological impairment, and with increased levels of violence and criminality in cities. Time magazine included both leaded gasoline and CFCs on its list of “The 50 Worst Inventions”.