President-elect Donald Trump has promised a massive investment in the renovation of public infrastructure – bridges, highways, frontier walls, etc. – in the USA (originally, a Democrat proposal). He is right that many bridges and other structures badly need repairing. However, as an indirect solution to US economic problems, it is a wrongheaded idea.
The USA – in contrast to most of the developed world – does not have an employment problem in absolute terms. US unemployment currently stands at around 5%, which is pretty close to full employment. The problem is not the quantity of jobs available but the quality. The job market has polarized – as it has all over the developed world5 – between a lot of McJobs and a few very highly paid positions. Those who considered themselves middle-class (in terms of salary) have seen their relative social status and their absolute economic position eroded more or less continuously for decades.
An infrastructure building program is the perfect solution to high unemployment. Indeed, it saved the USA in the 1930s and 1940s. But construction jobs are not what Trump’s supporters want. In fact, the construction boom would be a draw for immigrants under normal circumstances, except that Trump has vowed to expel millions of them. Unless unemployment rises significantly, it will be very hard to find the workers needed for Trump’s building boom.
The fact is that skilled manufacturing jobs are not coming back and neither are middle-class clerical jobs. Don’t expect to get a job in an office unless you are willing to pay extra to be attended by a human at the travel agency. If cheaper manufactured goods from abroad are banned so that they have to be made in the USA, then they will be made by machines, not humans. The whole dynamic of late capitalisms is toward the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few; victimizing immigrants or putting up tariff barriers will only make matters worse.
Mr Trump understands speculative construction and has gambled very successfully – and spectacularly unsuccessfully – on such building projects in the past. However, his wealth over the past two decades has been based primarily on brand management; the name ‘Trump’ was linked to conspicuous consumption and the high life so that it could be used to make ordinary ties, steaks, whiskey and a string of other products seem like luxury items. Could this be a model for future US prosperity?
Perhaps. An important aspect of the boom of the early years of the Blair Government in the UK was the ‘Cool Britannia’ rebranding; selling the UK as a modern, open, cosmopolitan, sexy, fashionable place. Incidentally, Brexit has shown how uncool Britannia really is! Transferring Trump’s branding success within the USA to the world is a tall order. The election campaign has created an international image of Mr Trump as a sexist, racist, loud-mouthed oaf – ‘a punk’ to use Robert de Niro’s description. No doubt in private Mr Trump isn’t quite so obnoxious but rebranding at this point will be almost impossible. Blair had Blur, Oasis and a period of national optimism and openness on his side (until he got involved in somebody else’s war); Trump has a nation divided and a world that is both hostile and fearful. His infrastructure proposals won’t solve the malaise but they will increase the astronomical national debt. His other big economic proposal is to reduce taxes on companies and the very rich. This will lead to more polarization and more resentment.
Most people understand “Make America Great Again” as referring to the 1950s. Well, at that time the top US marginal tax rate was 90%. This meant that the Administration had the resources to promote the biggest consumer boom in world history. Trumponomics will not make America great again. When Donald fails his resentful followers, who will they turn to then?
 investment – expenditure on useful things
 highways – intercity roads
 need repairing – should be fixed, need to be mended
 wrongheaded – misguided, showing bad judgement
 the developed world – the First World, rich countries
 to stand at (stand-stood-stood) – be
 pretty – (in this case) reasonably
 McJob – low–paid job with few prospects
 indeed – (emphatic) in fact
 supporter – follower
 draw – (in this case) magnet, attraction
 to vow – promise
 to rise (rise-rose-risen) – increase, go up, augment
 hard – difficult
 skilled – specialist
 clerical – administrative
 to be willing to – be prepared to, be ready to
 to be attended by – interact with
 goods – products
 abroad – overseas, foreign countries
 to ban – prohibit
 wealth – riches, capital
 tariff barrier – fiscal impediment to importation
 to make matters worse – cause the situation to deteriorate
 to gamble – take risks, speculate
 brand management – the supervision and promotion of a specific name in business
 to link A to B – associate A with B
 conspicuous consumption – buying luxury products to increase one’s prestige
 the high life – the extravagant life of the rich elite
 ordinary – normal, standard
 (neck)tie – a piece of textile worn around one’s neck (typically by a businessman)
 a string of – a series of
 rebranding – changing the public image of a corporation (or in this case, of a country)
 incidentally – by the way, en passant
 branding – brand management26
 within – inside
 to be a tall order – be a formidable task, be sth. that will be very difficult to do
 oaf – ‘Neanderthal’, ‘gorilla’
 punk – (US English) worthless person, criminal
 obnoxious – extremely unpleasant
 on his side – in his favour
 to get involved in – start to participate in
 proposal – plan, program
 malaise – unhappiness, anxiety
 to lead to (lead-led-led) – result in
 resources – money, financing
 to fail – be unsuccessful, not triumph
 to turn to – follow, support