Paul Krugman: Trump's Supporters Have Voted for Their Own Economic Ruin

News & Politics

The regions of America that elected Donald Trump voted for their own economic destruction. Sure, he campaigned on a promise that he would magically bring back long-closed factories and their long-gone jobs, but as we've learned many times over, that was a lie. 

America is incredibly polarized and especially so along economic lines. "Some parts of America, mainly big coastal cities, have been getting much richer, but other parts have been left behind," writes Paul Krugman in his Tuesday column. "On the political side, the thriving regions by and large voted for Hillary Clinton, while the lagging regions voted for Donald Trump." 

That doesn't mean life is perfect in coastal cities—the soaring housing costs alone disprove that—only that "regional economic divergence is real and correlates closely, though not perfectly, with political divergence." 

Krugman points to Mississippi, which is America's poorest state. "In the 1930s," he argues, "per-capita income in Mississippi was only 30 percent as high as per-capita income in Massachusetts. By the late 1970s, however, that figure was almost 70 percent—and most people probably expected this process of convergence to continue. But the process went into reverse instead: These days, Mississippi is back down to only about 55 percent of Massachusetts income."

Krugman also cites a new paper by Austin, Glaeser, and Summers, which suggests the same is true for other states with similar income ratios. So why is this happening? To answer that question, Krugman turns to a 2012 book by Enrico Moretti called The New Geography of Jobs. Krugman explains Moretti's argument: 

Structural changes in the economy have favored industries that employ highly educated workers—and... these industries do best in locations where there are already a lot of these workers. As a result, these regions are experiencing a virtuous circle of growth: Their knowledge-intensive industries prosper, drawing in even more educated workers, which reinforces their advantage.

And at the same time, regions that started with a poorly educated work force are in a downward spiral, both because they’re stuck with the wrong industries and because they’re experiencing what amounts to a brain drain.

The Austin, Glaeser and Summers paper advocates for a national policy to help struggling regions. Compounding the problem is the fact that the Republican governors of many of these states have declined federal assistance that could offer their constituents some financial relief. Krugman notes that, "Many of the states that have refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would foot the great bulk of the bill—and would create jobs in the process—are also among America’s poorest."

Places like Oklahoma and Kansas, which have fallen behind in recent decades, have attempted to remedy their ills not with aid, but with draconian tax cuts. These cuts have decimated education in Oklahoma and are a large part of the reason teachers are on strike today.

Krugman is not optimistic things will change any time soon. "The truth is that doing something about America’s growing regional divide would be hard even with smart policies," he warns at the end of the column. "The divide will only get worse under the policies we’re actually likely to get."

"Trumpland," he concludes "is in effect voting for its own impoverishment."

Read Paul Krugman's column at the New York Times.

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