Economics Not Culture Wars Drove Most Trump Voters – Thomas Ferguson

The notion that racism and sexism were the primary factors driving the Trump vote is not born out by the data, economics was very important too. The rural working-class found their lives a little better under Trump and don’t believe the Democrats care about them. Will Biden address the inequality or bend to the demands of Wall Street? Thomas Ferguson joins Paul Jay on podcast.


Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to podcast. And please don’t forget we have a matching grant campaign on now. A generous member has put up ten thousand bucks. So, if you donate now or if you increase your monthly donation or you create a new monthly donation, he’ll match it. The monthlies are going to get matched for a year — so, whatever you do on your monthly times twelve. Thanks for joining us. Be right back.

As president-elect Biden assembles his cabinet and prepares to take power, President Trump, while more-or-less conceding without conceding, is planning his next act. One way or the other, the almost 74 million people who voted for him will continue to be a base of support both for Trump and future rightwing demagogues.

That is, unless the Biden administration actually deals with the vast inequality that has developed over decades, much of it during the Clinton and Obama administrations. Of course, we shouldn’t overlook the Bush-Cheney gang that let loose the dogs of Wall Street in an unprecedented fashion. But Trump and the current incarnation of the Republican Party, has found a way to distance themselves from the economic mess left by Bush.

Still, why did so many people vote for a lying con man and a delusional megalomaniac? Many of those who did vote for Trump wouldn’t disagree with my characterization of him and voted for him anyway. Others believed he was chosen by God in spite of his flaws — “you know, all humans are flawed.” Many just like lower taxes and hate the Democratic Party. So, what do we know from the data so far about why this election was even close? And what will Biden be facing as the pandemic worsens and the economic crisis deepens? Will the Fed keep the stock markets flying in the face of all reality?

Now joining the podcast is Tom Ferguson. He’s a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Thanks very, very much for joining us again, Tom.

Tom Ferguson

Hi, Paul. Nice to be here.

Paul Jay

So, start with the 74 million people. What do we know about them from the data?

Tom Ferguson

OK, look, we know, I think, a fair amount. Unfortunately, much of what is claimed people know isn’t true, which makes this discussion difficult. The general view of the 2016 victory — you remember that — in the major papers and overwhelmingly in the scholarly community, especially in political science, was that Trump won on racism and sexism. And I mean, there was even a Nobel Prize-winning economist who was openly mocking people who thought that economics could have played any role in this.

So, I’m going to repeat a few things I’ve said to you before. I got so disgusted with that refrain that some colleagues and I — Ben Page in particular — went out and actually broke open the American National Election Studies [ANES] to actually look at the survey data. (I mean, I hadn’t done that for years, even though I once was the assistant to the guy who was then making the New York Times poll. I’m not claiming I made the poll; I didn’t. But I was his assistant.) And what we found was pretty straightforward and not a huge surprise. You bet: racism and sexism were important in explaining people’s decision to vote for Trump. But a lot of people who voted for him didn’t like him that much at all. They thought he was, if you like, the lesser of two evils. They didn’t like Hillary Clinton either. And there was a solid bloc of economic concern — really important.

In particular, a lot of people like tariffs, though it was hard to see. When you start looking at people’s responses to questions, if you ask them, do you like free trade? “Yeah, we like free trade. That sounds pretty good.” Then when you probe a little further, well, what they really mean by that is some notion of fair trade, which gets a little woolly, but it’s not anything goes. And a lot of folks like plain, old tariffs.

Now, interestingly, I have looked through the various exit polls this year, which are beset with problems, because while they evidently tried to deal with the mail-in vote, they probably didn’t succeed too well. They were, of course, off in their predictions. But they can adjust afterward; I don’t think that makes those polls useless. But you will look in vain for a question about tariffs anywhere in there. You know, you don’t have to be a genius to have figured out that Trump, in the last week and a half in particular and at various points on the campaign, including his acceptance speech, was pitching the revival of American manufacturing. He spent a considerable amount of detail on that.

What I’m doing right now with my colleagues Jie Chen and Paul Jorgensen is we’re looking at the county election data. That’s beset by problems, too, including the fact that it isn’t all in. People keep coming in with more votes — not in the fraud sense; it just takes them a long time to count. I mean, anybody who deals with election data seriously knows that many states don’t report their vote totals, at least in the old days, through up to January, actually, when they have to be certified.

Anyway, there’s enough data in there. I think you can see that it’s pretty obvious that what The Washington Post and others are telling you is just close enough to the truth to be seriously misleading. That is to say, they are saying, well, you know, the really well-off areas voted for Biden and the slower-growing ones mostly went for Trump. What we’re finding basically is this: in the counties that grew very slowly or not at all — and I’m using here population growth as an index for that — in other words, if you were having a lot of people because you’re growing, you were very likely to have a heavier anti-Trump vote. But the Trump vote is strongly boosted in counties where they’re not growing much or hardly at all. In other words, they’ve been losing. They’ve been in decline for a long time, is my simple take on that.

The other thing you notice — and here, you got all kinds of people missing the point — if you take a look at what Trump’s economic policies did just in terms of actual income coming to people between basically 2017 and 2019, what you find is that in those areas where unemployment rates went way down, they were much more likely to vote for Trump. Now, this point bears expansion. You can see that it will be affecting sort what the incoming Democrats will do. It’s not a secret that Trump kept pressuring the Federal Reserve to keep rates down. Now, people tend to forget that right after the last presidential election in 2016, lots of Democratic economists — not everybody, but a lot of them — and of course a very large number of Republican economists were demanding that the Fed hike rates. They said we were at full employment. I think I did an interview with you where I just dismissed that as nonsense. Certainly, a lot of other people did, too. And it’s not like Trump was sitting there trying to figure out the Phillips Curve. He just beat them [The Fed] up and just held them [interest rates] down. Now, they did raise rates sometimes, but, for sure, they didn’t raise them as fast as some wanted. The result was those unemployment rates went down, down, down.

Soon we were listening to complaints from even some Republicans and a lot of businessmen: “Wages are rising. We can’t find workers.” To which the short answer is, well, you know, you could raise your wages a little bit. And it just kept coming. We never exhausted that pool of, if you like, reserve labor. Covid finished that off. I mean, and that’s why looking at the time periods when you measure really matters. I mean, then it threw the whole United States into recession.

But it’s obvious that people got the point that they were, in effect, finding jobs and their wages were rising for the first time and substantially in a long time and in a lot of places. And it was also true what Trump said, which was that blacks, Hispanics, all kinds of groups out of labor markets — they were all out there finding jobs. There were even theories that went to sociology, which I never advise or almost never, you got theories about why these people culturally didn’t want to work or something like that? They were all out there finding jobs. I’m not telling you they were great jobs. They were not. But you could get working hours for the first time in a long time. You could make some money and people did.

Now, what we’re finding in our studies is that the combination of coming from a slow-growth area in the form of depopulation and really showing a big drop in the unemployment rate up to the moment when the economy collapsed — or, really, 2019 — is really powerful. And I would just broaden this: at the bottom of a huge amount of the gap in perceptions in this country right now is the calculation by lots of folks that the people running the Democratic Party just didn’t care very much about them. Now, my colleagues and I in our 2016 paper on voting actually went in and looked at the evidence on people who had dropped out of the electorate between 2012 and 2016. (In other words — let’s be precise — they voted for Obama and then didn’t vote or they voted for Trump.) Those people were saying, you know, we can’t see any difference between the major parties there.

I mean, a lot of people were turned off. I would add, too, that there’s a hinterland aspect to this that’s important. Mainstream Democratic Party thinking is heavily affected by climate change. Now, I’m not trying to tell you the climate isn’t getting worse. It’s gotten a lot worse. And we’ve got a serious problem. I’d just tell people, stick your head out the window and inhale during the wildfires. Wherever you were, even in Europe, you were probably inhaling some of it. But for twenty years or so, lots of environmental regulations had the net effect of pulling land out West out of use. Mostly; it didn’t pull much land out in the East, though occasionally it does. Particularly in timber areas and really far-out peripheries, it’s circumscribed people’s allowable economic activity. And those folks resented it — and you could see the differences over time — as nothing was put in its place, as nobody made an effort to sort of like even get the Internet out there in a large way. I mean, the Democratic Party had almost nothing to say to those folks except I guess, move to the cities or something like that. I mean, there was this long controversy when Howard Dean was trying to get the party to reach out in every state. That was famously ended.

And so bluntly, a large chunk of the population gets the idea that Democratic elites don’t like them very much and that their policies don’t do much for them. Under Trump, that did change. In general, the Trump economic policies were terrible for the income distribution and they were terrible for growth in the economy, if you like, in the aggregate. But they did have this sort of short-run cyclical component that did push up wages. And that’s really powerful. That’s kind of like an “Alpenglow,” I suspect, after the sun goes down, that’s going to resound out there in the hinterlands unless Biden does something quickly to convince people that he gets it. That is going to be hard given that he’s got a divided Congress and he’s likely to take office, not like Franklin D. Roosevelt did with all the banks closed, but with enormous numbers of people either directly sick from coronavirus or recovering, including some of them with the so-called long version.

Paul Jay

A lot of people say, including people on the left, that the Republican Party is becoming more the party of the working class. Trump tries to say this, too. But the thing is that the big cities didn’t vote for Trump and the big cities are majority working-class.

Tom Ferguson

That’s right. More broadly, when you look at the polls — Now, one problem is that it’s tough to look at the polls. I mean, I have big problems with the way these polls are presented. They do it in pieces. You can rarely see the whole poll. And a lot of reports are collapsing the income categories so that you can learn almost nothing. If you look all over the place, you can sometimes come up with better data; people will do better groupings.

OK, the most illuminating one is that in the two lowest income categories I’ve seen, the Democrats actually were still getting the majority of the votes there, if people voted at all. As usual. This has been a pretty common thing for many years. In the grouping from $100,000 [annual income] to about $200,000 — also from $50k above, too — Trump support was substantially larger. Particularly between about $100,000 and my memory on this is about up to $200,000, it was quite heavy. Now, these are not working-class voters in general, I think. But they are not the one percent either. A lot of them for sure are running their own businesses or they are in very small enterprises — a trucking firm or something –at the executive level, not at the driving level where they’re likely to belong to the Teamsters, and, I guess, are more likely to actually have voted for Biden.

Biden took most union votes on average, although I have seen numbers raising some severe questions about particular states, notably in Pennsylvania. I would like to see a better and fuller presentation on that question. It’s pretty obvious that a substantial number of unions in, say, coal and oil were not keen on the Green New Deal, were not keen on Biden, and at least some of their members may actually have pretty heavily supported some of the Republicans. This business needs some clarification.

Paul Jay

Am I correct in my understanding that the Republicans did not won the majority of the working class? That it’s just that Trump was able to win a little more of the working class than traditional Republicans do, which in 2016 was decisive, but then it seems like he lost at least some of that in this current election.

Tom Ferguson

Actually, my memory on this is he actually did a little better among people making $200,000-plus. Not hugely. I mean, in general, the big point about these election returns is they don’t vary all that much. They vary just a bit, but not a lot, from 2016. But as best as I can tell about what’s going on with Trump support in middle income levels there is that it’s really a sort of regional or rural section. It’s not entirely clear to me who’s doing what in there.

But the notion that they’re working-class? No. And there was this Hispanic swing against the Democrats. The percentage of Hispanic voters that went for Trump was substantially larger than people had expected. That wasn’t universal. In particular, when you start looking at this, everybody mentions Florida and Texas. Now, that’s pretty interesting because I’m being told by people down in Miami that the Democrats down there did not mention minimum wages hardly at all in their campaign. I have not seen that discussed in any press report. Instead, we hear stories about, “Well, we all thought that Hispanics were going to vote for Biden and they didn’t.” Well, what exactly was said down there? I think that bears some analysis. If my friend’s claims are true, and they live down there or watch on TV, that’s really interesting.

In Texas. I’m looking at that myself with my colleagues. And there what I’m finding is a pretty straightforward interaction between oil and Hispanic percentages of the population. That’s clear. On the other hand, the swing in Texas and parts of other states, are bigger than that. Now, what I actually think probably happened there is that along the border where construction for the wall was a big deal, a lot of contractors basically did what they would do. As a matter of fact, if anyone was on the other side of that wall debate in the south, they simply told their workforce that there isn’t going to be any more contracting jobs if they stop building the wall. And I can’t find anybody discussing this. It is testable. My colleagues and I are trying to test it.

But I’d say the swing among Hispanics is bigger than that. And of course, out in some places, Hispanics did vote heavily for Biden. That usually gives people a chance to do the bromide of, “Well, they are, of course, a diverse group.” Yeah, they are. So, tell us about what keys what diversity. I mean, Hispanics were really important in Bernie Sanders’ victories against Biden out in some of those areas.

Paul Jay

So, the short version is, it’s about the economy, stupid, even though there may be all kinds of cultural issues at play here. Not maybe: there are.

Tom Ferguson

Interaction between the economy and culture is extremely important. I think it’s directly testable. But stories that identity politics drives this stuff, frankly, they’re just stupid. I mean, people need to do a little thinking.

Now, I can’t resist adding this, Paul, knowing that we’ve talked about this. You want to know what the religious swing is that really helps Trump in this election? Now, you haven’t heard this anywhere else. You haven’t seen it. It’s in the Mormons. You say, “What?” The answer is, remember back to 2016. I was actually working on trying to predict this and I realized Utah and these other states were way off. In 2016, the Mormons were quite skeptical about Trump. Now, it’s not like they became enormously enthused. It’s that they became sort of normalized in the intervening four years. And so, what we find in some of our studies — well, you can see it directly in the Utah vote. It just went sort of normal-Republican for Trump. He wasn’t “normal Republican” in 2016. That shows a big jump. And so, you know, I’m not trying to tell you that any angel came down and told anybody, this is really the Word of God. That’s not what I think. But I think they were handed a choice between Biden and Trump and they sort of appreciated him by then as maybe not really a normal Republican, but they went for him with normal-Republican tendencies.

Paul Jay

So, if the issue of the economy going forward is going to be critical. Clearly, for everybody, but also for the 74 million people that voted for Trump. And Biden’s in this position of having two masters, if you will. It’s not new for the Democratic Party, but it may even be more extreme now. The majority of Wall Street-finance money seems to have gone to Biden. What they wanted, apparently, was a Biden presidency because they had come to the conclusion that Trump was nuts and not trustable. And they want a Republican Senate. We’ll see if they get what they want in early January.

But what Biden’s going to be facing is a calamitous situation of deepening pandemic and deepening economic crisis. The only way he’s going to deal with this inequality crisis is some really transformative stuff which Wall Street ain’t going to like. They probably don’t mind infrastructure projects if they can find a way to make money out of it, and I’m sure they can. But they’re not going to want higher wages. They’re not going to want the kind of unionization that Biden was promising in the election campaign.

So, what’s your take on what’s necessary? What do you think Biden’s likely to actually do here?

Tom Ferguson

Well, OK, this is pretty tricky. But let me start with the question about what finance actually did. There are all kinds of reports. In the last six weeks of the election, there were people who should have known better writing articles about how the whole business community was moving toward Biden. Now, a substantial number of people clearly did that. But when I read those articles, I was laughing out loud because you could see straight away, for example, vast numbers of energy-sector folks, a good chunk of healthcare people, people in paper and other heavily polluting industries — chemicals — they’re very unlikely to have gone against the Republicans at any level. The pollution issue is still huge. I mean, my colleagues, Paul Jorgenson and Jie Chen, and I have shown you the importance of all these polluters as a basis for a large, large chunk of Republican finance in 2012 and 2016.

Now, there are also lots of claims that the Democrats were massively more supported in total campaign spending. Those might be true, but those reports were coming from reports filed before the election and before the final week and a half or so. It’s just the case that in the final week and a half, you usually see an almost literally exponential growth in financing coming in. And in 2016, there is no question. We showed it in a piece that attracted a fair amount of attention, that in particular it saved the Senate for the Republicans. And it almost certainly helped Trump win because in effect, they were just pushing the whole ticket in the final days of 2016, and it was a close election. We know that some late money in the main from private equity folks, helped turn the election around for Collins, the Republican [Susan Collins of Maine]. That’s, I think, clear, but we don’t know what the rest of the situation looks like. We’ll find out in December. And at that point, I’d feel a lot more confident about assessing stuff. I think it is clear that a good chunk of Wall Street backed Democrats. There’s enough on the record that you can see that. Thus, you size it up pretty well, I think. This is going to be very tricky.

And I would add it’s all infinitely complicated by the Covid problem. Yeah, you are coming in not only with a deep recession since the Covid aid was allowed to run out at the end of the year. But you are also going to be coming in with a country where people are literally getting sick, I’m sorry to say, at an exponential rate. It’s spreading like crazy. And the country has nothing in place to deal with that at all. That’s just plain. The US rates now look among the very worst in the world. I mean, Phillip Alvelda, John Mallery and I just published a piece on that on INET [The Institute for New Economic Thinking’s website]. It’s bounced all over the planet; it’s being translated into French. It shows you how crazy the American state responses have been. So, the Biden folks have to come up with an effective coronavirus response, they have to try to fix the economy, and they’ve got to do it pretty much all at once because they can’t do this in pieces.

In 1994, Clinton got his head handed to him when he talked about national health insurance. He actually did talk about national health insurance, then switched the subject to first gays in the military and then famously that other health care plan that Hillary Clinton was said to have crafted. And then Obama did not do the big stimulus that he was advised to do by his own economic advisers. Not all of them, of course, famously not Larry Summers.

But now Biden’s got to do something and he’s got to solve all of this at once. This is a very tall order. And I have this bad feeling here. I mean, the scorched-earth policy — I can’t read what the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, just did except as a scorched-earth policy. It’s just a fact. Yes, the government did give some money to help states and localities for Covid expenses, but their general revenues are collapsing because of the economic downturn. And, you know, you can’t sit there. You can’t contain Covid without fixing up your transport system. It takes money to put in the right type of air filters, those so-called HEPA filters and things like that.

People know how to do this. It’s not overwhelmingly expensive, but you gotta do it, and you gotta do it promptly. When you poll like the state and municipal facility, which was operating with prices set so high that it made almost no sense for anybody even to try. And I think they made two loans? When you set that out and when you cut out the so-called “mainstream thing,” you can’t fix this thing. You will note that some of the more general programs apparently survive for Wall Street. You do not need the economic collapse of a bunch of cities right in the midst of coming to power in the middle of a serious pandemic. And, you know, with plenty of climate implications, too. I mean, the wild wildfires are burning in January, but they’ll be around next fall.

Paul Jay

What does the appointment of Yellen at Treasury tell us about what Biden might be planning?

Tom Ferguson

Well, it tells you there’s some rationality there, actually. I mean, I’m Yellen did move the Fed away from those crazy old, non-accelerating inflation-rate models, Philips-Curve type stuff. That’s to oversimplify. She did push that along and they began to sort of experiment. On the other hand, you know, it’s the Fed, and they were slow on a lot of consumer and just income-distribution issues. But she’s at least sensitive to that stuff. Most of the other Democratic candidates for that who were practical? I didn’t see them [doing well in the role]. That suggests to me that somebody is still somewhat rational there. They know they can’t just sit there and go completely with the old Clinton-Obama policies. On the other hand, what are they willing really to try? I’m not sure.

Paul Jay

If the Republicans do continue to control the Senate, how much can Biden do through executive order? How much can the Fed do without the approval of Congress?

Tom Ferguson

Well, the Fed can do a lot without the approval of Congress. There was an enormous debate about this when the so-called 13(3) Federal Reserve provisions were rewritten in the wake of 2008. But as I read that language, it would still justify a lot of things — and in an emergency, almost anything. But we could all debate it forever. People are debating it already. But fundamentally, if the Fed wants to keep doing what it was doing in the last few months, they need somebody to sort of give them a loss cushion, which the Treasury was providing. Now, that’s apparently been withdrawn. The sort of fundamental — 

Paul Jay

Hang on, hang on for one sec. Just for people that may not know this, the Fed can’t take a loss. So, how does the Treasury give them a loss cushion?

Tom Ferguson

They had that fund, and any losses would have been absorbed out of that. That means the Fed would have had to send less money back [to the Treasury] because it typically sends a lot of money back to the US government.

But the bigger story is this: people here, just like in 2008, are all walking around saying, “Oh, it’s just terrible. The Republicans will control the Senate and nothing can be done.” That’s not really true. There were some efforts to push on Republicans, but Obama mainly didn’t do it. He was defending himself the other day. Well, you know, the truth is, they blew the first two years and they brought you to 2010. That really stuck gridlock in the system and brought you Trump. They did everything too little, too late.

I mean, let’s repeat that: you got Trump because of the Obama administration failures in economic policy.

Now, in the case of Biden, the president’s got real power to persuade. And you’re sitting in the middle of a deep recession. If he goes out there and says, look, we really need this and it would be helpful if other groups would get in behind him…you could at least make the effort. There’s nothing like TV ads in states where Republican senators are up for re-election in two years. They did a few of those [during the Obama years]. Just a little, but hardly any. They don’t have to sit there and be passive and just say, “Oh, that’s really bad. Mitch McConnell won’t get along.” Everybody is vastly underestimating what you can do if somebody wants to make the effort. We haven’t seen anybody make the effort. Clinton did not in ’93 and ’94.

Paul Jay

By effort, you mean, spending the money to persuade people that the senator blocking support that might come to your family — 

Tom Ferguson

Yes, that, but also naming names. Now, look, if you read the daily press accounts, — I mean, just read the accounts of what was holding up the current action on trying to renew the CARES Act. They rarely carry it down to any granular detail. Like, “We were told that several Republican senators objected to having wages too high.” Tell us more. I mean, basically reporters, don’t write very much more than what they are handed off a fork by somebody. I mean, one thing I gotta say here: yeah, I’d like a free press and I’d like one that’s factual to. You will forgive my plain English here, but it beats Fox News. But, you know, you’re a long way from [a free, factually based press] in the United States. That’s why I’m talking to you, as it were. I mean, you’re not going to see me on any major network any time in my life, I don’t think.

The truth is that the press just won’t cover this stuff. They all follow very clear implicit rules, sometimes made very explicit, where if some politician in power actually says something, they’ll usually cover that. Not quite always. We saw some very interesting things coming in the final weeks of the election. But in general, they will cover it. But what typically happens is that the press is given briefings on all sides for public purposes that are very general. They don’t name names. I remember one that was wonderfully topical. It’s nice to look back in the news today because he just got appointed yesterday to the climate position. But I remember when John Kerry held up and tried to ban — and I think he succeeded — the use of the Dartmouth Medical Atlas to sort of drive down costs in the medical sector back when they were doing the legislation on cost controls and Obama’s thing [the ACA]. You know, that’s ridiculous. They didn’t report that in The Boston Globe for years.

Paul Jay

Let me ask you, to wind this one up and we’ll talk more again soon. Do you see any indication that the Sanders/Warren/AOC part of the Democratic Party — and that’s a big part of the Democratic Party when you look at the primaries — are going to have any influence in this administration? And if they don’t have much or any, what are they going to be the repercussions of that?

Tom Ferguson

Well, my reading of what’s going on right now — I mean this is to get into more detail than we have time for. I’m conscious of the fact we need to wind up. I could see that the Biden people are listening a bit there. I don’t regard this as all a zero, at least not yet. I also think that that wing of the party has not really engaged. They’ve been defending themselves, which, of course, since they were under attack, I quite get that. But they ought to be championing the fairly straightforward, high-tech approach to Covid. They’re all pretty quiet about that stuff. I mean, I’m not hearing the sort of things that folks should be doing. Just pushing testing. Though, the Biden people are coming late on this and they came late to the OSHA integration of that [into the testing push]. They are now doing it. But I’m not hearing the type of economic stuff, except we could spend anything we want, which is actually clearly not true. I am not the only person: Lance Taylor and other folks have all made the point about Modern Monetary Theory [MMT]. You can, in fact, put your currency at risk. Now, we’re a long way from that. We’re not anywhere near that right now. But in the next few years, you’re going to see one inflation scare after another. You’re going to see all of these funny things, flight to gold, which you saw somewhat earlier, all this stuff. My sense is that the macroeconomics and the Covid responses are, frankly, a little behind best practice. And progressives sort of need to get their act together.

I mean, it’s absolutely clear that we have a severe racial justice problem in the United States. They have got to do something about that. And that’s one of the glories of that wing of the party that they’re spotlighting it. They also have to deal with the vast number of other Americans. We’re pauperizing people of all colors. I mean, it’s an equal-opportunity pauperization scheme right now in the way wealth and income are being redistributed under this pandemic recession. Folks got to address that in very broad terms, and they’ve got to do it fast. They have to deal with the fears of large numbers of folks when they start to do major programs, that they’ll just turn us into Weimar, Germany or something. Now, you don’t have to do that. I have written and done a lot of work on Weimar; we’re not there yet.

Paul Jay

You’re talking about hyperinflation. There’s no certainly no sign of any inflation right now.

Tom Ferguson

Yeah, except in food. Look at food. You will see that food prices have risen, and rather fast, actually.

Paul Jay

As have grocery store profits.

Tom Ferguson

Yeah. Look, in general, if you set up a situation where you are subsidizing firms but not workers, you’re going to create a lot of unemployment. People gotta go to work. They go to work even if they get sick and firms continue to make profits. This is a really ugly sequence.

But my point is folks have to think in broad terms quickly. You’ve got enormous numbers of people who are getting pauperized, and they’re going to have to sort of reassure folks who are afraid. I mean, the whole upper-middle-class vote that turned so heavily [against Trump]: that’s a place where I think you can see some change. Not an enormous one. It’s pretty small. But it mattered against Trump. And they’re concerned about Covid, I think, as much as anything else. I mean, basically, Biden was sort of a very reassuring teddy bear for folks who were anti-Trump. With Bernie Sanders there, I’m not sure what would have happened. I was a strong Sanders supporter. But I also wonder about all these business execs who in the last few weeks urged a peaceful transition and told Trump to go home to Florida.

Paul Jay

They may not have done that if it had been Sanders.

Tom Ferguson

You think they would do that for Sanders? That would be an interesting discussion, wouldn’t it?

Paul Jay

All right. Thanks for joining us, Tom. We’ll do it again soon.

Tom Ferguson

Thanks for having me.

Paul Jay

And thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.News podcast. Please don’t forget our matching-grant campaign. Just go to the homepage, it explains everything, and thanks again.


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  1. I strongly agree there is no one person more responsible for a President Trump than President Obama. With the possible exception of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who I’m convinced strongarmed Obama into pusuing the policies he did. Or lack of policies if you like. Six-hundred thousand gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park on November 4, 2008, to celebrate Obama’s election. Obama had an unprecedented mandate. He also controlled for his first two year both houses of Congress, including a supermajority in the Senate until Ted Kennedy died. And accomplished nothing. With the nominal exception of the Affordable Care Act, a plan written by the Heritage Foundation and previously instituted in Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts.

  2. What “hard data” lies behind Thomas Ferguson’s supercilious assertions: “I went out and actually broke open the American National Election Studies [ANES] to actually look at the survey data.” Ferguson’s pretentious claims about the election are apparently based almost wholly on his arm-chair review of national surveys of voters in the U.S., surveys which are conducted before and after every presidential election.

    Does he imagine these surveys accurately reflect voters’ real feelings and beliefs? Did he follow-up with the people surveyed and conduct in-depth, face-to-face interviews with those surveyed? How can anyone (apparently) familiar with administering surveys and analyzing their results fail to criticize Ferguson’s conclusions? Do those kind of surveys tell researchers anything at all? Do scholarly researchers like Ferguson believe the ANES surveys are conducted in a scientific manner like, say, double-blind studies?

    Do the voters surveyed in ANES assert that they feel somewhat anxious over the changes they have witnessed in American society in the past two, three, four or five decades, changes like the demographic makeup of the U.S.? Do they openly speak of their feelings of resentment or their nostalgia for the “good old days,” the days of WASP dominance reflected in TV shows like Father Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet, that is, those days described in Stephanie Coontz’s text: “The Way We Never Were”? Does Ferguson actually misconstrue Trump’s MAGA acronym, displayed so ostentatious by him and his followers, as somehow–possibly, impossibly– meaning: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

    “And it was also true what Trump said, which was that Blacks, Hispanics, all kinds of groups out of labor markets — they were all out there finding jobs. There were even theories that went to sociology, which I never advise or almost never, you got theories about why these people culturally didn’t want to work or something like that?”

    Does Ferguson really mean to suggest that economics is a relatively “hard” social science and that sociology–whose findings he never advises friends/students to seriously consider–is, by contrast, a relatively “soft” social science, meaning: its theories/studies should be rejected by all mature adults, like himself, out of hand?

    Does Ferguson really mean to suggest, in short, that a cup of hot coffee should be understood through an examination of the consumer’s experience of it: as steam/heat rising from its surface, a jolt of hot liquid on the tongue travelling down the human throat to the stomach and eventually spreading through the entire body, bringing with it a feeling of comfort, relief, and a boost of energy, while every other consideration of it–the type of coffee beans used, its chemical composition, including its caffeine content–should be treated as hearsay?

    Listening to Ferguson’s analysis of the election is like suddenly discovering a “new knowledge of reality” because he focuses wholly on his “ideas about things” as opposed to the “things themselves.” He seems to suggest to listeners: “You must become an ignorant man again/And see the sun again with an ignorant eye/And see it clearly in the idea of it.” And: “How clean the sun [is] when seen in its idea,/ Washed in the remotest cleanliness of a heaven/ That has expelled us and our images . . . “

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