Sunday, September 11, 2016

After Labor Day

Three themes on the question of "after labor", then my first official 2016 general election predictions, and a couple of brief obits.

Britain After Labour (and Scotland?)
An American expat friend of mine residing in Europe (basically, on both sides of the English Channel) sent out a link to the full text of a three-hour British Parliament debate, a response to a petition (signed by 4 million Brits) requesting a new referendum on Brexit. Reading the debate's text--something I don't necessarily recommend if you have only casual interest--one would see that the petition had no chance.  Partially this was because the terms proposed for the new referendum's being decisive (minimum 60% plurality, with 75% participation) were excessively stringent, but mostly because no one dared to say something on the order of, "we didn't pose the question to the people in the right way, so we got the wrong answer.  We should try again."   Instead, out of fear of contradicting the will of the electorate, everyone will go forward and try to implement a decision which still has no plan for execution and which most feel is totally wrong-headed.

As Donald Trump realized in his bird-brained comments June 24 (the day after the referendum), it's a lot like having him as President, if that were to happen.

It is clear from the debate that there will be no new referendum, no opportunity for a "do-over". There is likely to be a vote in Parliament on the terms the Government will negotiate with the EU for Britain reversing its entry into the European Community.  There is some ambiguity about whether legislation is required by the EU Constitution's Article 50, but I would expect the Government will ask for Parliament's endorsement.  This will be one of those career-defining moments for many of the Members of Parliament, perhaps comparable to the one when Britain voted to authorize participation in the invasion of Iraq.

My advice on this is to the parties other than the Conservative party (besides the UKIP, which I advise to follow the example of their former leader, Nigel Farage: declare victory and exit, stage right).  Labour, what's left of the Liberal Democrats, and the Green party must all unequivocally and unanimously oppose whatever terms are finally put forward. If the Conservatives can get their act together--meaning, complete the required complex negotiations and unify all their members behind legislation--and then bring it forward before the next general election, they would not need any support from the other parties.  That would be their "victory", but then they would own the result.

There were elements of the Labour opposition party that were in favor of exiting Europe--mostly because of concerns legal labor migration was undercutting British workers economically--just as there were many in the Conservative party opposed to Brexit.  We can expect that the next election will be a referendum on the Conservative government's handling of the exit, and it will allow Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and Greens to unite for a single slate of opposition candidates.

This building of a coalition is crucial. Labour, by itself, does not look as though it will ever be able to govern again.  The radical leadership elected by its members, headed by Jeremy Corbyn, has minimal support from the Parliamentary caucus, but remains stubbornly in place, and its membership seems determined to retain Corbyn, reject the politically successful New Labour of Tony Blair, and inhabit the wilderness of bootless opposition.

To make things worse for Labour, the party's ineffective opposition to Brexit has further estranged it from its onetime solid support in Scotland.  When this exit gets determined, Scotland will want out (of Britain, but staying in the EU), and one way or the other, Labour has lost them.

Are We There Yet? 
 After Labor Day is when the US Presidential campaign is finally supposed to get serious.  Yet, remarkably, some 40% of likely American voters indicate they would vote for Donald Trump! Obviously, in the words of John McEnroe, "You cannot be serious!" (I don't know his political persuasion, but I'd love to see an anti-Trump ad with him saying that.)

Thankfully, 40% is not going to be enough to elect him--he will need  about 45% on Election Day to have an even shot at winning the election, but he is close enough to make me very uncomfortable, once again. In the last few weeks, his support has firmed up, while Hillary Clinton's has been eroded by a lot of negative publicity. With the current reality, though his stunt of "reaching out" to the African-American community with his speech at the Detroit church will fool very few blacks, or deceive few of other ethnic groups to believe he is not bigoted (if they did not already believe that), even if he only moves one in 50, or moves his support from 1% of blacks to 5%, that moves him a 10% of that distance.

And sometimes we are so gullible. The first debate looms, and no one can be sure what kind of verbal snake oil he will uncork.  I'm thinking that it will be some kind of accusation that Hillary Clinton is soft on ISIS--ridiculous on the face of it, a complete falsehood, but one that would be a trap:  If she responds by defending her actual hawkish history and tendencies, she will sound, ironically, defensive, while reminding others, of a more pacifist orientation who may be on the fence, that she has supported war in Iraq and attacks on Libya (and, of course, there's Benghazi!).   Worse would be if she "softens" her line, as some may advise her to do. My own hope is that she will mock him, ask him how much he will suck up to Putin if elected, or challenge him on what to do about North Korea (a question so difficult that he is certain to say something stupid), but I suspect she will be serious and dignified, while he will seek to present himself as the charming clown.  She will "win" the debate on points, but he will gain--among the factually challenged.

Climbing out on the General Election Limb
Anyway, I think it's time to make my first official prediction.  Popular vote:  Clinton 46.5, Trump 42.7, Johnson + Stein + Others 10.8.   Electoral College:  Clinton 296, Trump 242.

That Electoral College estimate is a little cautious: I am now thinking it will not be such a decisive victory as seemed likely just a few weeks ago.  That Electoral College result is Obama's 2012 states won minus Florida, Iowa and Maine's 2nd Congressional district.  I have been considering whether North Carolina would go the other direction, providing Clinton a pick-up vs. Obama's 2012 level (though he did win it in 2008), but I see a negative trend that I think might continue. 296-242 is still OK; I could even be wrong about Ohio, which is very close, and the result would not be overturned.  Just as long as Pennsylvania stays on the Democratic side, and it still seems safely so thus far.

In the Senate, I'm predicting the Democrats to pick up five seats (WI, IL, IN, NH, and PA, with Nevada staying Democratic by less than 1%), which would give them 51; in the House, a 17-seat gain for the Democrats, leaving them 13 short of control.  A decent result, but not the spanking the Republicans deserve, and not sufficiently decisive to break the Congressional deadlock, which may reasonably be expected to get even worse after the 2018 midterm election.

As for my strategy (account up about 50% since I signed on a year ago), I have played it cautiously for the most part:  a lot of positions, but small ones, and backing out, when possible, of probable losers.  Making lots of small profits by taking a position and riding opinion upwards.  For a few questions which I feel could go either way, I have successfully straddled, taking advantageous positions on both sides of the question--certain not to lose, but not going to win much.  For example, on the question of which party will win North Carolina in the Presidential election, I have equal-sized bets on Yes for the Republicans (at 57%) and Democrats (at 36%)--I will gain 7% if either party wins the state. I am more out on the limb on the winner of the Presidential election, the overall results in the Electoral College, the House and the Senate.

Certainly there will be movement--my Predictit strategy should benefit from it--but I have tried to anticipate likely deviations and a less-than-optimal debate outcome.  The only reason I would change would be if Trump does something unusually outrageous, like shooting his supporters on Seventh Avenue.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
This year's general election campaign seems very chaotic in terms of issues; nothing seems to have caught and kept the attention of our 24/7 search for something relevant to focus upon.  Maybe we just can't--focus, that is.  And, while I feel the ability of a President to effect the course of economic events is vastly overrated, I do think that some attention to our labor market may be warranted.  Last week's announcement showed a disappointing, slowing amount of net job growth, though it remained positive.

What I would like to hear is not empty promises, either that tax cuts for the rich and corporations will magically transform into more, better jobs (the Republican line), or that the Democrats can somehow get Republicans to agree to massive infrastructure projects.  This kind of Keynesian pump priming might generate job-creating momentum at a time when the economy is slumping.  We may be there before long, but right now it's a fantasy.

Rather, I would like to hear a mature discussion about how our society can adapt to new realities in the job market:  broadening automation and the globalization of manufacture (and now, even more web/phone servicing jobs) are real and permanent.  Demand for  full-time jobs that last and carry with them essential benefits exceeds, and will continue to exceed, the supply.  "Job creators" are generally more focused in reducing employment expenses than in expanding them.  Part-time jobs are a feature of the job landscape, more likely to increase than not, and our society is not well prepared to provide people who can only get, or can only manage, part-time work (even two or more such jobs) a stable way of life.  Some creative thinking on solutions to this problem would be one of the greatest contributions government could make toward making American society work better.

Some types of meaningful jobs are going to expand--programming and systems design still remain strong. Employment in the arts and entertainment is ever broader and America's contribution to the global art scene remains prominent. Demand for people to care for the elderly will increase for some decades still.  There are jobs for those with the right skills in many areas, but training and education--both public and private--are lagging behind the needs, and there is the question of who pays for that training.

Quick obits
Islam Karimov, Phyllis Schafly -a couple of welcome departures.  Karimov was the autocrat who ruled Uzbekistan since the breakup of the Soviet Union.  He may have been "our" dictator, but the time for that kind of thinking is long past.  Schafly was an extreme anti-feminist, right-wing rallying point for bad thinking since the '60's.; most recently, she advertised how much she liked Donald Trump.  "Deplorable"!

Gene Wilder - Wilder was a versatile comedic actor--not one to tell jokes, but able to show the human side of lovable, slightly kooky, characters.  His partnership with Mel Brooks led to classic movies ("Blazing Saddles", "Young Frankenstein", "The Producers"), and his portrayal of Willy Wonka remains the definitive one.  He succumbed to the effects of Alzheimer's, the true dread malady of this age.

1 comment:

Chin Shih Tang said...

Google seems to have changed its approach on edits I make to posts: before, the original post could be updated without creating a new entry. Now, there is duplication. I will have to be more careful, as my policy has been to allow myself to perform grammar/spelling/typo edits (which I frequently need to do) after publishing. My apologies for any duplicate notifications my readers may have received.