A few days ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine who teaches economics and finance at the university level. I wondered out loud why the invisible hand of the market didn’t generate increased production of N95 masks and other protective equipment for medical personnel, not to mention life-saving equipment like ventilators and respirators. It seems to me, I said, that the risk-taking entrepreneurs who drive free markets should have been able to recognize an upcoming requirement for expanded production by late January. Even if not sold immediately, these items will eventually sell, if only for government or health care system stockpiles.
My friend chuckled a bit and explained two things to me. First, the people who make decisions for late capitalist firms do not gamble. They are risk averse and wait for orders to come in so they don’t get stuck with inventory they cannot sell. This is why you can’t find bathroom tissue at your local grocery store. More importantly, my friend continued, late stage capitalists use their market power not to innovate but to block the threat of innovation by other firms by securing control of production and markets.
Reading the news this morning I happened to spot a good example of this.
So, in the argument between Merrill and Buttigieg, who is right? They both are. And the fact that Merrill doesn’t understand that point is part of the problem; and it’s a sign of what the 2020 Democratic nominee must fix.
One cannot even begin to talk about this issue without acknowledging that the white working class is quite literally dying. Mortality rates for middle-aged white Americans have been ticking upwards for nearly 20 years, led primarily by a sharp rise in “deaths of despair”—suicide, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse—among those without college degrees. According to research, these deaths are primarily driven by a lack of good jobs and the dysfunction that economic anxiety creates in the social fabric.
Buttigieg is right that Trump pretended to offer solutions for these voters specifically, and that certain aspects of Clinton’s messaging did not convey the urgency that people in these communities feel about their circumstances. It’s no accident that “learn to code” has become a scornful joke on both the right and the progressive left.
Merrill is also right that the solutions Trump offered were racist, vitriolic, and full of false promises. Trump blamed economic and social problems on immigrants, promised to use his supposed skill as a negotiator to fix trade deals and bring jobs back, and promised to use his bully pulpit to strongarm companies into keeping existing factories open and getting new ones built.