And what is Trump’s agenda? A revived and unapologetic American nationalism, which will stand for American interests abroad while defending the traditional conception of the American nation at home.
This is in line with Yglesias’s long-standing support for an aggressive nationalist (dare one say Trumpist) approach to economic policy, that was a consistent theme of his writing for the Moneybox column at Slate:
Japan is on the move again.
What’s the secret to its success? Mostly determination. Japan was marooned in a sea of macroeconomic despair. Short-term interest rates were at zero, the dread lower bound. But years of slow growth and failed fiscal stimulus programs had also saddled the country with the highest debt-to-GDP ratio on the planet. Conventional monetary policy was out of ammo, and running an even larger budget deficit with so much debt already on the books seemed insane. Abe decided, essentially, that when the macroeconomy gives you lemons, you make lemonade…When Abenomics enthusiasm began to hit the economic blogosphere months ago, many longtime Japan watchers urged caution. Abe, they warned, was little more than a crude nationalist interested in using short-term stimulus to hide the need for real reforms. And a crude nationalist he may well be. Massive, expectations-jarring stimulus isn’t the kind of thing that countries undertake lightly. One plausible account of why the Japanese elite were finally spurred to action was alarm at the extent to which China was overtaking Japan. A firm nationalist perspective and a deeper commitment to foreign policy issues than economic ones may be exactly what it took for Abe to roust Japanese leaders out of their complacency.
Yglesias didn’t just think that Japan’s expansionary nationalism was right for Japan, he thought that America should follow its lead:
If your economy is facing tight supply-side constraints—you’re out of workers and your factories are already running full-tilt—that just means inflation. But an economy with plenty of extra workers, empty offices, and idle factories will benefit from higher prices because it will be an encouragement to produce more stuff, thereby employing those extra workers. That’s why even though not every country can simultaneously increase its net exports, we can all increase our exports. If we all adopt more expansionary policy, America will export more airplanes and Japan will export more cars and Europe will export more machine tools. Everyone gets more jobs, higher incomes, and more stuff. It’s not a war, it’s a party! Instead of complaining about Japan’s initiatives in this regard, Western governments should be hopping on the bandwagon.
Indeed, Yglesias argued that as long as it didn’t cause wars, aggressive nationalism helps economies specifically by resisting a harmful deflationary consensus, “Sometimes it takes a national security hawk to beat the inflation hawks.”
Even before working at Slate, moreover, Yglesias shared Trump’s view that elites do not understand the extent of economic hurt for non-college graduates:
This chart is the key to understanding today’s political economy:
Virtually every single member of congress, every senator, every Capitol Hill staffer, every White House advisor, every Fed governor, and every major political reporter is a college graduate. What’s more, we have a large amount of social segregation in the United States — college graduates tend to socialize with each other. And among college graduates, there simply isn’t an economic crisis in the United States. This is not the best of times, but it’s perfectly rational in gradland to be balancing concern about the labor market situation with dozens of other concerns.
As early as 2009, Yglesias articulated Trump’s foreign policy remarkably well as the public’s consensus on the U.S.’s appropriate role in the world, often ignored by foreign-policy elites:
Notably, the mass public is less enthusiastic about trade agreements and less enthusiastic about U.S. “global leadership” on geopolitical issues. The mass public is simultaneously more unilateralist as a matter of principle and also more interested in burden-sharing with other countries.
So with interest rates low and the private demand for construction workers also low, it’s an ideal moment for the government to borrow money and spend it on infrastructure. That doesn’t — and shouldn’t — mean an exclusive focus on sexy megaprojects like high-speed rail.This country does not suffer from a shortage of potholes, cracked sidewalks, or other minor problems that tend to not get fixed in a timely manner because of lack of money. Given the slack demand in the economy and low interest rates, we should be leaping to execute any quick-fix project of this kind ASAP.
More generally, Yglesias has argued for “the limits to elite-driven policymaking” in a way that makes it clear he agrees with Trump that economic policy is often made with greater attention to elite ideology than ordinary voters’ opinions or interests:
What happened is that the Eurozone’s political leaders spent the 1990s not explaining this correctly to the citizens they purported to represent…Of course politicians all over the world lie, but normally you expect partisan competition to at least put this kind of issue on the table. But there seems to have been an adequate degree of elite consensus to keep the fundamental question off the table…Which is fine, but the decision should have been put to them before getting the countries bound up in a remorseless logic of integration. A lot of people are going to be put through an awful lot of avoidable suffering before this ends, and I’m guessing nobody’s going to say “sorry” or admit to error. If the continent’s mainstream political parties manage to end up discrediting themselves in the process, it’ll be hard to say they don’t deserve their fate no matter how distasteful some of the rising extreme movements are in many ways.
Vox is a highly influential publication, especially among Democrats, and given the ample common ground between its executive editor’s views and those of the President-Elect, I look forward to the promise of bipartisanship on behalf of the nation during the coming Administration.