By Karen Petrou
…foreign competitors get to make the goods, and we just buy them.
And then they buy up American companies with the profits. And
yes, in this bargain there are lots of jobs—jobs on Wall Street, or in
Hollywood, or in Silicon Valley…At the same time, it has encouraged
multinational corporations to move jobs and assets overseas to chase
the cheapest wages and pay the lowest taxes. And it has rewarded
these same corporations for then turning around and investing their
profits not in American workers, not in American development, but in
financial instruments that benefit the cosmopolitan elite. And where
has this left middle America? With flat wages, with lost jobs, with
with declining investment and declining opportunity. We don’t make
things here anymore—at least, not the kinds of things a normal person
without a fancy degree can build with his hands.
Are these the comments of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or anyone on “The Squad?” No, they come from a very conservative Republican senator, Josh Hawley of Missouri, who goes on to say that, “the great divide of our time is between the political agenda of the leadership elite and the great and broad middle of our society.” Tragedies such as the weekend’s gun violence and persistent cultural discord dominate day-to-day political discussion. But economic inequality underlies all too much of what divides the U.S. If market volatility persists, then Sen. Hawley’s populist demands will merge with progressive ones to press economic isolationism, big-company dissolution, and radical financial-market redesign.
This isn’t to say that both ends of the political spectrum agree on everything. The ellipsis in the quote above is where Sen. Hawley says, “The cosmopolitan economy has made the cosmopolitan class an aristocracy.” Blaming cosmopolites implies evil “globalists” who for some are then synonymous with Jews – surely not what Sen. Hawley intended but still a rhetorical divide from the pluralism that characterizes progressive rhetoric. Indeed, Sen. Hawley spends a good deal of time attacking liberalism, distancing himself from the niceties of liberal inclusion rhetoric.
Even so, Sen. Hawley’s economic populism is almost identical to Sen. Warren’s “economic patriotism.” Like her, Sen. Hawley excoriates an “economy driven by money changing Wall Street” and calls for emphasizing infrastructure investment, not financialization. He wants more R&D outside urban centers, challenges the “economic concentration” that threatens small business, demands more job training, calls for ending the “mountain of debt” created by the “higher-education monopoly,” and demands trade policies that put workers first.
Pointing to the bipartisan reach of this populist, progressive agenda, Sen. Hawley recently introduced legislation with a progressive Democratic colleague, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. The bill creates a “market-access charge” – essentially an excise tax on foreign capital held in U.S. financial markets. It won’t be enacted into law, but it – not to mention all the common features of the populist/progressive economic agenda – speaks to a fast-emerging political trend: consensus not just that the U.S. is unequal, but also that elites have purposefully made it so to advantage themselves. Joe Biden doesn’t see things this way and Donald Trump only does when it suits him, but they and other candidates will almost surely swing to their left or right if the winds from each end of the political spectrum push them thither. Indeed, the ends seem quickly to be the middle.