EconoMonitor

Ed Dolan's Econ Blog

Deplorables Didn’t Elect Trump, Jams Did

Hillary Clinton famously characterized Donald Trump’s voters as a “basket of deplorables,” but she was wrong. Our friends, the British, have figured it out: Trump was elected not by deplorables, but by jams.

“Jams,” short for “Just About Managing,” is the new term has swept British political discourse. They are defined as a social class consisting of people who have jobs and a home, but little by way of savings or discretionary income; people who see themselves as precariously comfortable at best, with nothing to fall back on if adversity strikes.

The instant popularity of the term may have something to do with the way it echoes another typically British political expression, “jam tomorrow,” meaning an often made but never fulfilled promise.

James Frayne of the British think tank Policy Exchange has written a thorough and thoroughly wonky report on jams. For statistical purposes, he equates jams with the middle half of the British class structure, sandwiched between professional and managerial classes above, and unskilled workers and those who live on social benefits, below.

What Frayne says about jams certainly makes them sound a lot like Trump voters. They work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules. What they want is to see “society run in a fair way.” American translation: They want to see that the system is not rigged.

Like most people, jams vote more on values than on policies. In public opinion polls, they emphasize four values above all: Family, fairness, hard work, and decency. Equality and freedom are also positives for them, but farther down the list.

A plurality of British jams think that government could be a force for good, if it would only do more to help ordinary working people. At the same time, a strong majority tell pollsters that politicians are not competent to run essential public services.

A strong majority of jams think that there is never any excuse for breaking the law and that those who do so deserve punishment rather than sympathy. They see human rights laws as a tool abused by lawyers to make spurious cases on behalf of criminals.

Much of Frayne’s report is devoted to a detailed analysis of voting patterns. He finds that jams have less party loyalty than those above or below them on the social scale. They do not ask which party their candidates belong to, but rather, whose side they are on. They no longer see the Labor party as their natural home base, but rather, are ready opportunistically to vote Conservative or UKIP or Scottish Nationalist depending on the issue of the day.

Frayne also finds that jams are more a rural than an urban phenomenon in the UK, and that they constitute a majority of voters in swing constituencies. All of this sounds very much like those middle  American counties where voters supported Obama in 2012 but switched to Trump or a third party, or stayed home, in 2016.

Although Frayne tells us that politicians have paid too little attention to jams in the past, Financial Times columnist Janan Ganesh thinks that is changing rapidly. Something strange is happening to the way we think and talk about need, says Ganesh. Brexit and Trump voters are not at the very bottom of the economic pyramid, but the angriest are not always the worst off.  Jams remember, or imagine remembering, an industrial golden age in which things were better. Theirs, he says, is “the rage of dispossession rather than the rage of unique hardship.”

Politicians are visibly responding to that anger. In their fear of again ending up on the wrong side of populist voters, continues Ganesh, “the politico-media world is going along with a reordering of moral priorities whose principal victims stand to be the quantifiably, unmistakably poor”. The jams’ sheer weight of numbers, when multiplied by the force of their anger, is not something that the poor can equal or that politicians can withstand.

I agree with Ganesh that the have-nots, in the US as in the UK, are going to see their political clout seriously diminished in the new political order. But the real contest on this side of the Atlantic, I think, is going to be between the perceived needs of the jams and those of the truly wealthy. The jams want economic security and better public services, while the wealthy, eager for tax relief, want to cut public spending for education, healthcare, and retirement benefits. The jams want better jobs and better pay, while the wealthy want relief from regulation, from labor unions, and from anything else that adds to their cost of doing business. Yes, politicians are afraid of ending up on the wrong side of populist voters, but their terror of ending up on the wrong side of the donor class may outweigh even that.

At the moment, Trump seems to have America’s Just About Managing class in the palm of his hand. Can he hold onto them? Yes, if he keeps his many campaign promises. If he does, or even seriously tries to do so, Trumpism could well become a lasting feature of American political landscape, much as Peronism did in Argentina. That is all the more likely if the Democratic party remains a coalition of have-nots and coastal elites. If, instead, he lets his promises fade into the usual Washington “jam tomorrow,” and if a populist candidate breaks through on the left (as almost happened with Bernie Sanders), Trump and Trumpism could be in trouble.

Either way, it seems that the jams, as a socio-political-economic class, have become a power to recon with, here as much as in the UK. If so, we may as well adopt this snappy new British term, thank you very much.

2 Responses to “Deplorables Didn’t Elect Trump, Jams Did”

windrivenDecember 14th, 2016 at 10:53 am

Jams. I love it.

We are social animals. We band together in families, clans, tribes, villages and nations and share commons. Politics is nothing more than managing the commons. Of course managing anything requires some set of goals, some object of the managing process. To whose best interests will the commons be managed?

The facile answer is that the commons are managed to all of our interests. Our management is said to be, "of, by, and for the people." But as Napoleon noted in Animal Farm, some are more equal than others. It would seem the Jams have grasped this and found it not to their liking.

Dr. Dolan has touched the fulcrum:

The jams want economic security and better public services, while the wealthy, eager for tax relief, want to cut public spending for education, healthcare, and retirement benefits.

We are entering a new phase of development where the role of labor will be increasingly supplanted by automation. There will, for the foreseeable future, be jobs for the best and the brightest, but opportunities for unemployed semi-skilled labor, miners, truck drivers are receding rapidly. Meanwhile, the seriously wealthy want to "cut public spending." Yes, well, to what end? Three fortunes aren't enough? One should have four? Five? Twenty? That is managing the commons to the benefit of the community?

There was a time when it was necessary to encourage massive capital formation and turn that capital into industrial investment. But have a look around. We have a global glut of capital desperately searching for a place to be. We have a global glut of supply amid tepid demand. There have been massive changes in agronomy, manufacturing, research, transportation, all delivering massively more goods and services with diminishing labor inputs. We seem, at least in the industrialized world, to be running into diminishing marginal utility of more 'stuff' while simultaneously producing ever more of it.

There was a news piece a while back exploring the mass push into automation of Foxconn, a large electronics assembler employing tens of thousands in China. Yes, that China, where labor is cheap. Because however cheap that labor is, automation is or soon will be cheaper. In the US, one can buy a pretty useful robot called 'Baxter' for about $20k. Depreciated over 7 years that is $3k per year, and Baxter doesn't punch out at 5:00 or take lunch breaks. As automation increasingly assumes more low skill jobs, where will the disposable income for massive consumption in developing nations come from?

StellaJuly 17th, 2017 at 7:31 am

Those truths would be to touch the third rail, to put the lie of the self-flattering narrative that everything is about persecution. Never mind comparing the world we live in to a theoretically perfectly non-discriminatory one, they would not look all that different would they?
So invisible enemies must be conjured up to do battle with, 'white privilege' which, if you think about it, is the crime of being born and not discriminated against, or in a more self-actualizing subculture, talk about a racist concept. Those advantages, as a dissertation helper states, are not some special privilege, you could also rage against the attractive, smart, tall, athletic, etc. 'privilege' too, same thing. You can conjure up invisible glass ceilings and The Patriarchy too, as if these cartoons exist rather than being the aggregate attitudes of one hundred and sixty million individuals. 'Equal pay' proposals are not about no discrimination based on gender (something that few disagree with) are really discriminatory compensation schemes to counterbalance the hypothetical monsters. The Trump vote was about the left has losing its way and the rest saying enough is enough. The complaint is no longer about individuals being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, without discrimination, now it is quite the opposite, Any scant causation is accepted as proof an idea approaching white, Christian, patriotic male are to blame, as a group, guilty and those individuals of that group should be disrepsected must pay for it, the race races.
I love social scientists using statistics about systems they can't compeltely define, violating several basic tenents of empricisim to prove -whatever- the same people that predicted a Clinton win by a large margin. It is not about being racist, it about the abuse of the cause of anti-racism.
It doesn't even mean 'racism' it means that you don't have to be an authoritarian to attribute problems more to a sub-culture's sensibilities rather than a conspiracy against them.
This is the natural result of left identity politics and the media nurturing resentment by pointing out disparities by race and gender and figuring that alone was enough of a case against individuals as another class, white males, somehow guilty for being born. Never mind that differences are certainly the result of historic socioeconomic and sub-cultural differences, that they have much less to do with anything individuals now living are doing. Disregard that some groups have lower educational achievement, broken families, teen pregnancy and cultures of criminal activity towards each other, so you would expect lower prosperity and quality of life. Equality is not prosperity, two very different things. Disregard that women of their own volition tend to go into lower paid careers and take time off work to rear children, or that most states have community property laws that share 50/50 the income of their spouse. Disregard the minorities, some Asian communities for instance, that do well even better than average (or more specifically individuals of all races and genders) because of what those individuals do, the sensibilities of their sub-cultures.