Much has been written on the dangers of a Trump presidency in past weeks, but little has been said about the danger of a comfortable Clinton win.
A strong win would create the equally strong delusion that it was the Clinton camp’s economic plan that won the day, rather than its leader ‘not being Donald Trump’.
That’s not to say Hillary Clinton has no plan. Her tax-and-spend approach to the economy is much more likely to restore growth than Mr Trump’s cut-taxes-raise-tariffs approach.
But there is a tendency in politics for election winners to start believing their own spin, and the key piece of PR thrown around by the Clinton camp is that unemployment has fallen from 7.8 per to 4.9 per cent in the past eight years.
That figure is supposed to underline the Democrats’ ability to keep the economy growing and job creation booming.
But while that number is statistically correct, it is one of the more misleading figures released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
I can’t see you!
As in most developed nations, the US headline unemployment rate reflects the number of people actively looking for work who have not found work within the survey period – usually the previous calendar month.
In the US jobs market there are approximately 7.8 million unemployed people and 150 million employed – a total potential workforce of 157.8 million. The 7.8 million unemployed works out to be 4.9 per cent of that total.
So if most people have a job, why have so many Americans been seduced by Donald Trump’s promise to “bring back the jobs”?
The answer is two-fold.
Firstly, Trump has tapped into nationalist and racist sentiment by blaming Mexicans or Chinese workers for job losses – conveniently ignoring the fact that many jobs have been lost to the ‘robots’ of automation.
But Trump’s racism and nationalism could not have flourished in better economic times, which brings us to the second, more important, factor.
Simply put, the lived experience of many Americans is at odds with the 4.9 per cent unemployment figure.
In fact, many Americans would hardly disagree with Mr Trump’s claim that: “The [unemployment] number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 per cent.”
That may sound over the top, but not once you start digging into the data.
The BLS has six measures of unemployment, the broadest of which includes those “marginally attached to the labour force” and “discouraged workers”. When these groups are counted, the headline unemployment rate is over 10 per cent.
Furthermore, as the Huffington Post put it recently: “… when you add college students who want to work, older people who were forced into retirement, people on disability who would work if they could, and women with children who would work if there were adequate day care, the hidden unemployment rate for the United States is probably over 30 per cent.”
The 4.9 per cent figure used by Hillary Clinton is masking an under-employment crisis – not unlike Australia’s own.
That crisis, often referred to as a ‘hollowing out of the middle class’, is the result of more than three decades of naive (some would say sinister) neo-liberal economic thinking.
At the core of neo-liberalism is the assertion that the wealth created by free markets and globalisation will trickle down and make all social groups as prosperous as possible.
Instead, the neo-liberal project has delivered a global financial crisis and created a post-GFC ‘working poor’ who know in their bellies that the 4.9 per cent jobless rate is a sham.
Donald Trump’s prescriptions for addressing that concern are ludicrous – trade war with China, tax cuts for the rich, the bonkers ‘wall’ across the southern borders.
He is an obvious danger to the US and global economy.
But to return to Ms Clinton, a comfortable win for her would make her administration a more insidious menace – an administration that gets away with pretending things are good, and therefore that fails to admit that the lion’s share of jobs created in recent years have been low-skill, low wage.
In such a climate, voter anger would continue to grow, and the rise of an even more extreme Trump-like figure in four years’ time would be assured.
And, of course, that’s assuming Trump 1.0 isn’t declared the winner this time.