Of Two Minds.

In 2016, Donald Trump captured the Republican Party.  However, his own base lies—so goes the conventional wisdom—in the “white working class.”[1]  That class feels that they have been abandoned by their own country and by their traditional party—the Democrats.[2]  Almost half (47 percent) of the voters who approve of President Trump feel estranged from the country.[3]  Now, with President Trump in the White House and Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, almost as large a share (44 percent) of those who disapprove of President Trump feel estranged from the country.

Since President Trump’s election, those on the left have “lamented the erosion of values around tolerance and diversity.”  This means, apparently, “a weakening of values around voting rights, abortion rights, [and] L.G.T.B. tolerance.”  This view of the situation is puzzling.  It appears to suggest that what liberals believe is what they think is established orthodoxy for everyone.  What has been emphasized by the election of President Trump is rather that there never existed a national consensus on these matters.

Thus, in 2008 President Obama opposed marriage equality.  In 2012, when a bare majority of Americans had come to favor it, he switched to supporting marriage equality.  That still left a large, but declining, share of Americans who had not evolved their position with the same speed as had the president.[4]

Similarly, there has existed substantial opposition to unrestricted right to abortion.  In 2009, 47 percent of Americans thought abortion should be legal in most cases, but 44 percent thought that it should be illegal in most cases.  Since then, the gap has widened, with 57 percent thinking it should be legal in most cases and 40 percent thinking that it should be illegal in most cases in 2017.  Breaking it down by age cohorts, it looks like legalization is the wave of the future.[5]  People don’t vote their future opinions.  They vote their current opinions.

These examples barely scratch the surface.  There are the issues around the Second Amendment, urban policing, capitalism, immigration, affirmative action, and elite cosmopolitanism versus mainstream nationalism.

In a telling quote, one scholar remarked about Trump’s insistence that many of his supporter remain disdained by the elites that “if you’re already primed to feel that way, getting a sort of regular dose of that rhetoric I think would cause you to continue to believe it.”  That makes sense, but it fails to examine the impact of media, entertainment, and Democratic political tropes on Democratic voters.  They, too, have spent years fostering a culture of grievance.  For example, just before the 2016 election, one poll reported that 48 percent of African-Americans felt estranged from their own country.  That was at the end of eight years of President Obama’s administration and in the midst of Hillary Clintons “Stronger Together” campaign.  It is worth asking if Democratic rhetoric played a role in fueling this sense of alienation.

[1] Emily Badger, “Estranged in America: Both Sides Feel Lost and Left Out,” NYT, 7 October 2018.

[2] The white working class long formed the core of the “New Deal” coalition assembled by Franklin d. Roosevelt and bequeathed to his successors.  They were celebrated as the salt-of-the-earth.  See, for example, Norman Rockwell, “Freedom of Speech” and “Homecoming Marine.”

[3] Which isn’t quite the same as approving Donald Trump they human being.

[4] Probably, that is because they were motivated by bigotry or principle, while he was motivated by expedience.

[5] http://www.pewforum.org/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/

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The Arms Barometer

Great attention has focused on the dangers posed by Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). However, more than 80 percent of the violent conflicts waged during the 1990s employed only “small arms” (weapons ranging from pistols to RPGs). Consequently, the availability of small arms is a matter of real concern. How many guns are there circulating in the world? A lot. The Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, runs an annual Small Arms Survey. The 2002 edition estimates that there are about 640 million small arms worldwide. Some of these guns are newly manufactured. About 8 million new guns were produced in 2000 alone. Some of them are used guns left over from earlier conflicts. Back in 2002, there were estimated to be about half a million small arms in Cambodia, which the Cambodians were busy selling all over the place through the conduit of Thailand.

The “belle of the ball” in small wars appears to be the old AK-47. (See my post on “The Gun That Made the Nineties Roar.”) The black market price of an AK-47 works as a barometer of conflict in a particular society. When the price is really low (say $40 for a used, but functional assault rifle), every little thug in the neighborhood can afford one. Violent robberies and the settlement of petty quarrels by means of homicide spread like wildfire. This is typically the case in the aftermath of some conflict, when the demand for guns has fallen sharply. A price range between $230 and $400 per weapon is the normal market price. Prices above $1,000 a weapon indicate a desperate, time-sensitive demand for weapons. Civil war is about to break out, so people will pay any price to get an assault rifle.

What do local market prices tell us about the state of civil peace in various countries around the world? Well, in 2002, an AK-47 sold for $15 in Mozambique, $40 in Cambodia, $90 in Sudan and Afghanistan, and $100 in both Nigeria and Nicaragua. Happy days were here again in these places after bitter wars. Other places, not so much. At the same time that the price of an AK-47 fell below market level in those places, they were bringing $800 each in Columbia, $1,200 in Bangladesh, $2,400 in Kashmir, $3,000 on the West Bank (more than twice as high as in 1999), and $3,800 in Bihar state in India. This indicated that a new catastrophe loomed over South Asia. It wouldn’t have to turn into a nuclear war to be deadly.

It is worth noting that the “merchants of death” aren’t always, or even mostly, Western industrial nations. One of the key forms of industrialization pursued by developing economies appears to be an arms industry. Many developing countries seem to want to alter their balance of payments by producing arms for sale abroad in a burgeoning world market, rather than importing arms in exchange for other exports. Small producers of arms now include Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Portugal, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Columbia, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and Australia. To some extent, these countries obtain the means to produce arms by attracting European arms manufacturers to license factories in the developing countries. Take the example of Heckler and Koch. The German-based firm licensed factories in Greece and Iran. However, Greece exported some of the weapons manufactured in the licensed factory to Libya. Reportedly, Libya transferred some of these Heckler and Koch weapons to Lebanon. The Iranian Heckler and Koch factory exported some of their weapons to the Sudan. From Sudan the weapons went to Lebanon, Algeria, and Egypt.

I suppose that somebody could use the AH-47 index to run a futures market in No Future.

 

Don Peck, “The World in Numbers: The Gun Trade,” Atlantic, December 2002, pp. 46-47.