Is silly faux-populism the first sign of a slow return to normalcy? (Plus: Weekly Bloomberg roundup!)

Among the many amazing things about the GameStop episode is how various populists of both the Left and the Right have tried to present the struggle of day traders against hedge funds as a revolt of the people against the powerful. Here’s Alex O’Keefe, the creative director of the Sunrise Movement (the radical environmentalist group that famously confronted Dianne Feinstein in her office):

Here’s another example:

AOC got in on the day traders’ revolution too:

And amazingly, Ted Cruz agreed!

Tucker Carlson came in with his economic-populist-but-from-the-Right bit:

Even Andrew Yang was feeling it:

Now, first of all, just to be clear, a bunch of day traders putting the short squeeze on some hedge funders, while fun to watch, is not a revolution. It is not even really an uprising of the popular and oppressed; it’s just some people wanting to make a bit of money. Now, wanting to make some money is perfectly fine, and making it by successfully trading against hedge funds is a perfectly good (and funny!) way to do it. But this kind of thing is not going to materially affect the distribution of wealth and power in the United States of America, not even if it happens a hundred times.

But the really interesting thing here is the spectacle of a bunch of people rushing to try to lift the banner of the GameStoppers as a populist cause. After seven years of protest, unrest, Trump, terrorism, Nazis, pandemic, and insurrection, it gives me a profound feeling of relief to see people getting riled up over something so utterly, hilariously inconsequential to the future of the nation.

Which makes me wonder. If America’s populists are running around trying to feed off the energy of anything that smells vaguely like revolution, does that mean that their usual food supply is shrinking? After those seven long years, is a growing chunk of the American populace simply tired of being up in arms about things?

Ages of unrest rarely end because all the problems that sparked the unrest are solved. Often there’s some progress, but mostly people just seem to get exhausted, or other events intrude. Recently I’ve been reading a bunch of books about the late 60s and 70s — America’s last big age of unrest — to try to get a preview of what might happen in the 20s. Nixonland, The Invisible Bridge, and Days of Rage have been especially helpful here. One insight is that although Nixon and the Vietnam War didn’t begin that age of unrest, a lot of the popular anger came to focus on them. People might have gotten tired of the unrest before 1973. But as long as we were still fighting in Vietnam and Tricky Dick was in the White House, it felt like people couldn’t just go back to their lives. But when we withdrew from Vietnam and Nixon resigned in disgrace, a lot of people seemed to think “Well, OK, that’s enough of that,” and increasingly went back to focusing on their daily lives. The mid and late 70s featured far fewer riots than the late 60s, and the frequent terrorist attacks of the early 70s trickled off.

Of course, not everyone did that. In fact, a shrinking fringe got more radical in the 70s — think of the Symbionese Liberation Army. There were two assassination attempts on President Gerald Ford within the space of three weeks! That steady trickle of nutcases on the news probably made the normies feel like they were still living in an age of mass unrest (the good old Availability Heuristic). And that in turn might have deepened their own exhaustion.

So what’s the analogy to the 2020s? The unrest began over Black people being killed by cops and women getting sexually harassed at work, in addition to some more longstanding and diffuse economic and social issues. There has been some progress on those fronts, but the problems haven’t been fully solved (and may never be). But Trump, who became the focus of popular rage as well as its generator, is gone, and after much vigorous debate and a few exploded eyeballs and cracked skulls, the country has generally decided that both police racism and sexual harassment are bad. As in the 70s, the most flagrant irritants have been removed, even if the underlying maladies remain uncured. Also, years of general catastrophizing and despair tend to reset people’s expectations, which probably dampens popular anger, at least if you believe the Revolution of Rising Expectations theory.

If the 70s analogy holds, we can expect to see increasingly concentrated insanity among a shrinking extremist fringe (QAnon, etc.), accompanied by scattered acts of stochastic terrorism, while the great mass of people slowly shuffle back to their quotidian concerns and settle in for a decade of malaise. Ambient populist energy will continue swirling around for a while, latching onto goofier and goofier causes (like day trading!) until it finally drains away into a general goofiness.

But “general goofiness” as a means of recovery from an Age of Unrest is a topic for another post. Incidentally, I’m now reading Reaganland, the sequel to Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge

Anyway, now for the weekly Bloomberg roundup!


A Biden amnesty wouldn’t bring a wave of illegal immigration

Obviously the right-wingers are gonna freak out about The Caravans, but those are actually small potatoes. Meanwhile, the big illegal immigration wave of the 90s and early 00s ain’t coming back:

It’s possible that a Biden legalization program would encourage more caravans from Central America, but it seems unlikely. These people’s first and foremost hope for immigration to the U.S. is asylum, not illegal immigration, and amnesty doesn’t affect the asylum process. Meanwhile, fertility is falling in Central American countries as well, while their economies are growing. And all the factors that make the U.S. a less attractive destination than it was 20 years ago apply to Central Americans as well.

So a Biden amnesty is not likely to bring a new flood of illegal immigration. Barring a climate disaster or other catastrophe that creates masses of refugees, people simply have far fewer reasons to cross the U.S. southern border now. The big wave of Latin American immigration is over.

Read the whole thing here.

Reshoring is really really hard

We should probably try to get high-tech, high-value industries to locate in America as much as possible. To some degree, that means making sure their supply chains are also located in America. That’s going to be very very hard to do, but it’s a task worth doing:

The federal government could make a pot of money available to states and cities for use in implementing local industrial policies. Places that were successful in reshoring supply chains from China would get more money in the future. And the results of the various policy experiments could be scrutinized for lessons that could be replicated nationwide. Basically, this would apply the funding model of scientific grants to industrial policy. Local governments could use the money to build infrastructure, create specialized education to meet companies’ specific needs, provide relocation incentives, bolster universities or anything else they thought of.

This strategy would also free the U.S. from the need to “pick winners” — as in, deciding which industries and which supply chains to target. Such efforts often fail, and are subject to intense politicking; the obvious solution is to diversify.

Check out the whole thing here.

It’s not morning in America, but it’s after midnight

America has huge huge problems, but it’s doing a lot of things better than you might think. Three big ones are COVID vaccination, COVID relief, and green investment to combat climate change.

Notably, China is lagging far behind the U.S. in the vaccination drive despite getting a considerable head start on development…If the U.S.’ great rival continues to lag, the fight against Covid-19 could end up looking less like America’s Chernobyl and more like a repeat of the space race — the U.S. off to a slow start but finishing strong…

All in all, despite the summer slump, the Covid relief spending effort has showcased a surprising amount of bipartisan cooperation and congressional effectiveness — two things the U.S. has not exactly been known for in recent decades…

The bipartisan Covid relief bill passed in December also included significant measures to fight greenhouse emissions. It included $35 billion of new government investment…Biden’s plans are even bolder.

Read the whole thing here!