Return of the 1950s

In putting it on Twitter, I was just rereading a recent post, in which I said, “I get the feeling that what the 1950s are to economic liberals– a supposed golden era that will surely never return– the 2000s will be to social liberals.”

The problem with that is that if Trump’s supporters get their way and high tariffs become a regular thing, the 1950s will in some limited degree return.

The 1950s were a unique time.  The world was still recovering from the destruction of World War II, leaving us the main supplier of finished goods for the world.  In other countries, the knowledge of manufacturing techniques was limited; they were not yet the competitors they now are.  But that decade was also before the effects of free trade on law.  International capital flows was one effect of globalization.  Even countries that did not, like England, try to prevent people from taking capital out of the country were not terribly friendly to international capital flows.  But law was also much more direct and ancient about trade: tariffs were much more common and better thought-of back then.  So were unions, which are in their essence a form of protectionism.

Even if anyone wanted to destroy the manufacturing capacity of the rest of the world, even if anyone could, and less still could be done to take away the rest of the world’s knowledge of manufacturing.  But free trade is very much on its heels right now.  No one has discussed restricting international flows of capital yet, since it’s too dry and Byzantine for populism, but it might happen.  If so, and if tariffs do return to their mid-century popularity, the circles of politics and economics in a Venn diagram of America will return toward the high degree of overlap they had in the 1950s.

And when that happens, the impact of votes upon economics will rise– and unions are likely to return to some degree.

Political IEDs

One of the things I hate most about moralists is the way they lie about the past.  I don’t mean that I hate that they lie about the past– lots and lots of people do that.  I hate the way they do it.  They apply the moral standards of today to the people of the past and hate on them for not living up to moral ideas they’d barely heard of and which would probably have gotten them lynched or ostracized from their communities.  Which today’s moralists, with 20/20 hindsight, assume they’d have blithely ignored in their thoughtless, narcissistic righteousness, had they lived back then, instead of caving in immediately, as their conformity and activist piety today suggests they would have.

The timing and success of moral movements, such as abolitionism, is to me a function of societal wealth.  How much work must one trade to get the basics of life?  That’s societal wealth.  Societal wealth, I believe, is a function of population growth plus technological advances in manufacturing, transportation and communications, with free-market ideas facilitating trade as much as possible.  It’s as though “morality” or “compassion” is one of the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  The more your basic needs are taken care of, the richer you feel.  The richer you feel, the more receptive to moral arguments you are.

It must necessarily follow that economic conservatives are the true natural allies, in effect, of social liberals.

Some years back, I was at the house of a friend of mine who’s a fan of military history and a gun collector, and bullet technology at the turn of the century was what we were discussing.  Spitzer bullets (the pointed-nose kind that most rifles fire these days) had been invented and were known to be better in many ways.  But, my friend told me, they couldn’t be used in repeating rifles back then until they invented the vertical-feed magazine, in which the bullets are above or below one another, which displaced the horizontal-feed magazine, in which they’re in a line (for example, in the Spencer rifle diagram above).  “Why is that?” I asked.

“Because if you put spitzer bullets in a horizontal-feed magazine, you’ve basically built a bomb,” he explained.

What he meant was that if spitzer bullets are in a line in a gun, the pointed nose of each bullet will act as a firing pin for the cartridge in front of it.  They’ll all go off in a string and in a confined space like deadly dominoes.

So– to return to the train of thought above– what happens if Trump does put in place the tariffs he has threatened, and it increases the cost of living…and people become less receptive to moral arguments as a result, and more parochial, and they vote for more tariffs?