“Most important global event of 2020? The US election”

Today, we present a guest post written by Jeffrey Frankel, Harpel Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and formerly a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. 

An interview question from Chosun Ilbo (the #1 Korean newspaper) for the New Year:   Which political event of 2020 should concern us the most? (E.g., the U.S. presidential election, the geopolitical crisis on the Korean Peninsula, Brexit…?)

My response:

Perhaps I am too US-centric.  But out of all events in 2020, I see November’s presidential election in the United States as warranting the greatest concern, not just for my home country but for the world.

The global system

To recap briefly a familiar story, in the 2nd half of the 20th century a majority of countries enjoyed a historic path of relative peace and prosperity.  This success was largely the result of a liberal multilateral system which had been consciously designed after World War II to avoid mistakes that had been made after World War I.  American leadership was an important factor (notwithstanding such bad stumbles as the Vietnam War, the invasion of Iraq, and the Global Financial Crisis).  Now Donald Trump and his imitators are dismantling that system, having forgotten the lessons of the 20th century.

If Trump remains president, it is hard to be optimistic about global progress in many areas, including trade and production, financial stability, environment, human development, and stopping nuclear proliferation. To the contrary, I would in that case fear a widespread deterioration in conditions, including problems in the Korean peninsula and many other regions.

Who will win the US presidential election?

My prediction as to the outcome of the US presidential contest?   Election outcomes are to me akin to coin-flips. Having said that, Donald Trump’s candidacy has a natural disadvantage: he is the worst president in US history and much of the electorate senses that.  Accordingly, he should be easy to beat. But a major chunk of Republican voters feel differently. The election will be determined by those in the middle: independently registered voters and “moderates.”

As I see it, the only thing that could get Trump re-elected is if the Democrats choose as their candidate someone who scares off the voters in the middle.  That would be someone who calls himself a socialist, as Bernie Sanders does, or who supports the same policies, such as the proposal to disallow private health insurance.  The median American voter won’t go for such a candidate.  If I am right, the consequences of a far-left nominee would be dire.

This post written by Jeffrey Frankel.

37 thoughts on ““Most important global event of 2020? The US election”

  1. pgl

    “As I see it, the only thing that could get Trump re-elected is if the Democrats choose as their candidate someone who scares off the voters in the middle.”

    OK – he is not for Sanders or Warren. But then whom? I guess it is down to the 3 B’s: Biden v. Bloomberg v. Buttigieg. I noticed that THE BLOOMBERG is following his name with 2020 with the first two numbers in blue and the last two numbers in red. So he is like the old Shimmer commercial (floor wax & a dessert topping). Both a right of center Democrat and and a never Trumper Republican. Spare me!

    1. pgl

      Lord – THE BLOOMBERG is now running an ad taking credit for an improvement in NYC health care. Dude – that was ObamaCare not the billionaire business dude. I guess a former Republican thinks he is entitled to lying in TrumpWorld.

  2. 2slugbaits

    The election will be determined by those in the middle

    Presidential elections are determined by the Electoral College (yet another Founding Father blunder!). So the median American voter plays no role. At best you could say that it’s the median voter in each state that is determinative in presidential elections; but the median voter in Massachusetts is likely to be very different than the median voter in Wyoming. Today’s election strategies are all about voter turnout; i.e., getting marginally attached and uninformed voters to show up at the polls. This is a long winded way of saying that voters are nitwits. The irony is that the Electoral College was supposed to protect the country against the nitwits and the vox populi, but we had to endure failed presidencies in each of the five cases in which the winner of the popular vote lost in the Electoral College. There’s a chance that we could go six for six.

  3. joseph

    “Perhaps I am too US-centric.”

    Perhaps you are. We have seen a surge of authoritarian, nationalistic, racist Trumpism around the world. The UK, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Israel, Brazil, Bolivia, the Philippines, Australia and more.

    This isn’t just a brief Trump phenomena that will be over like waking up from a nightmare after the 2020 election. It is a long term trend toward right-wing authoritarianism around the world.

  4. Ed Hanson


    You call the electoral college a blunder but then proceed to to give example of of the genius of the college (Massachusetts v Wyoming median voter).

    We live in the United States of America, and that is the reason we have 51 separate elections for President. The electoral College reflects that. I know you would prefer a Peoples Republic of America but it is not the case and will never happen.

    Jeffrey Frankel,

    The election of 2020 is important and when Donald Trump wins by a landslide, it will be another example of a free people exerting their right to end the growing dominance of unelected bureaucrats, both nationally and internationally. Freedom of the individual is in serious jeopardy. Another such example – Brexit. Another, Hong Kong. Another, demonstrators in Iran and do not forget the long suffering of Venezuela. The world is awakening to the new breed of tyrant.

    You write of “global progress in many areas, including trade and production, financial stability, environment, human development, and stopping nuclear proliferation.” I consider the reelection of President Trump vital to the promotion of each these lofty goals.


    1. pgl

      Trump winning by a landslide? Ed – you’re exceptionally delusion these days! But this is correct:

      “Freedom of the individual is in serious jeopardy.”

      We are under the rule of King Donald I! MAGA!

    2. 2slugbaits

      Ed Hanson The Electoral College was a failed idea from the get go. The ink was barely dry on the Constitution when it had to be reworked with the 12th Amendment. Voters are nitwits, but the track record of the EC is even worse. In every case in which the popular vote and the EC have diverged, the presidency has been an abject failure. At least with a popular vote we have a fighting chance of ending up with an okay president. The Founders made a lot of mistakes and the EC was only one of many. Most of the Founders were smart guys (and they were all guys), but they depended upon bad historiography and naïve political theory. The version of John Locke that they read is not the one we read today, but of course they didn’t know they were reading an error filled version that Locke himself rejected. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Montesquieu’s “Spirit of the Laws”, which is where they got the idea of three branches of government cut across functional lines rather than class lines, but not only is it a crashing bore to read, its political “science” is embarrassingly naïve. If it weren’t for the fact that the Founders thought Montesquieu was important no one would be reading him today. It’s just a poorly written piece of amateur political science. The EC’s only purpose today is to provide an affirmative action program for rural, white conservatives. They have always believed in their heart of hearts that their votes ought to count more than anyone else’s votes. The president who wins the EC but loses the popular vote is constitutionally legitimate, but in the same way that Erich Honecker was the constitutionally legitimate leader of the old GDR. The EC may have passed muster in the 18th century, but in the 21st century it is outdated political theory and an even more embarrassing historical artifact than the British monarchy.

      it will be another example of a free people exerting their right to end the growing dominance of unelected bureaucrats

      You just contradicted yourself. Trump is very unlikely to win a majority of the popular vote, so any landslide that he gets will come from the EC, not “a free people.” And what is the EC if not a collection of unelected bureaucrats appointed by state party leaders? And you seem to have forgotten that Trump has replaced competent experts (people you called “unelected bureaucrats” with various incompetent “amigos” and crackpots without an official portfolio.

      1. pgl

        That is the only thing that is bothersome with Ed’s latest rant? This sentence alone is beyond pathetic:

        “Another such example – Brexit. Another, Hong Kong. Another, demonstrators in Iran and do not forget the long suffering of Venezuela.”

        What has Trump done for the protestors in Hong Kong? Oh yea – ignored them entirely as he is kissing the rear end of the PRC’s leader. And ask the Scottish and the people in Northern Ireland about Brexit – they hate it. Both regions should tell those racist right wing uppity ups in merry old England that they want independence now.

        1. 2slugbaits

          pgl And ask the Scottish and the people in Northern Ireland about Brexit – they hate it.

          True. And Boris Johnson’s recent victory is yet another example of nitwit voters married to a corrupt voting system. Britain has a first-past-the-post voting system which demands voters to vote tactically if there are more than two parties in a constituency race. That’s asking a lot of nitwit voters and we saw it fail in Britain. The Remain candidates actually got quite a bit more votes than the pro-Brexit parties, which is consistent with polling that showed Brexit was unpopular and would lose in a second referendum. But nitwit voters did not vote tactically and so the Tories won a huge landslide victory.

          Ed Hanson lives in some fantasy world of right-wing AM radio. He should probably move to some remote cabin out in the Idaho woods if he doesn’t live there already. The modern world is just too much for him.

          1. noneconomist

            Haunting EV thought for Ed: close Florida election sees a 512 popular vote win for Biden—Karma 2000–along with a reversal of the 3/10 of one per cent in Michigan, which also goes to Biden by 3/10 of one per cent.
            Combined with the 232 EV likely to remain Democratic as in 2016, that’s 277 EV for the winnah and new President, Joe Biden.
            And that doesn’t count Arizona, or Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, or….but their votes by then will be unnecessary anyway. The result confirms Biden’s popular margin that exceeds 4 million.

      2. noneconomist

        Well, Wyoming and Montana—6 EV combined—have a combined population of about 1.6 million, about the same as Sacramento County, CA, which has no EV. So, Ed, what’s that you’re babbling about freedom of the individual in connection with electoral votes?

  5. Barkley Rosser

    This may not be the best place to put this, and I do not know if he himself wil post on it, but yesterday at the ASSA/AEA meetings in San Diego, Jim Hamilton spoke on a panel about trends in the world economy to a large audience. He spoke between Mary Daly, president of the San Fran Fed and Robert Kaplan president of the Dallas FEd.

    Jim said low probability of recession in US this year. Main current danger is trade war, although if things blow up in MENA and push oil prices up (currently low), that could cause a problem. Slight concern about low long term bond yields, but not that worred.

    Two positives I have not seen mentioned in most discussions are that housing construction and auto sales have not recovered to long term average rates since the Great Recession, suggesting they might rise and not too likely to fall. Kaplan following him said he agreed with Jim.

    1. Med-Econ

      Because economists in general and Fed economists in particular have such a terrific track record in predicting recessions.

      1. Barkley Rosser

        Jim Hamilton is not a Fed economist, although he often advises Fed economists. They take him seriously and for a good reason, as regular readers here should understand. he is at UC-San Diego, which is where the meetings were (now over). He was actually in four sessions, but this was the only one I attended he was in.

    2. Julian Silk

      Dear Folks,

      Let me just add that I was also in the audience, and can verify that Jim Hamilton did indeed say this.


        1. Moses Herzog

          I once met Eddie Mekka from Laverne and Shirley. Why did you name-drop Julian before Julian name-dropped you?? This seems odd……

          1. Moses Herzog

            So many jokes here. OK, based on today’s events I should be sobering up my comments a little. It’s so against my nature though.

  6. sammy

    Joseph: “It is a long term trend toward right-wing authoritarianism around the world.”

    Actually, it is the opposite. People are voting for politicians who promise to return power to the people, and take it away from government and elites. If anyone is “authoritarian” it has been government and elites ( see “Global Warming”), as is always the case (see Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro, etc. etc.).

    1. pgl

      “People are voting for politicians who promise to return power to the people”.

      Trump did make this promise but of course he is doing just the opposite. Thanks for reminding of the twin facts: (1) Trump lies about everything; (2) people like you are such chumps you believe his incessant lies.

      BTW chumpie boy, global warming is a fact. Oh wait – you have bought the right wing lies that it is an elitist plot. Yea – you would even buy the Brooklyn Bridge from Trump.

  7. Moses Herzog

    Doing my usual night owl thing (not drinking any adult beverages, which, sadly, is rare for me nowadays). I just wanted to share I learned a new word tonight reading John Lithgow’s poems in “Dumpty”. I plan on using this word TONS of times on this site between now and at least one week into November if Menzie allows it. Micturition. And some people on this blog don’t think I’m a cultured man….. Really??

    1. ilsm

      Had to go to dictionary!! Merriam Webster:

      History and Etymology for micturate; Micturition synonym for excretory bodily process
      Latin micturire to desire to urinate, from meiere to urinate; akin to Old English mīgan to urinate, Greek omeichein

      Not the thing I planned to learn today, but is something.

      1. Moses Herzog

        For whatever it’s worth I still use Merriam Webster, supplemented by Oxford, so I guess this is another sign I’m an old guy. I don’t like the new Star Wars films or SJWs either. It’s all making sense now.

  8. pgl

    Our Usual Suspects like Ed pretend the U.S. is the home of the free market but it seems that applies only to those European socialists!


    The U.S. Only Pretends to Have Free Markets
    From plane tickets to cellphone bills, monopoly power costs American consumers billions of dollars a year.

    When I arrived in the United States from France in 1999, I felt like I was entering the land of free markets. Nearly everything—from laptops to internet service to plane tickets—was cheaper here than in Europe.
    Twenty years later, this is no longer the case. Internet service, cellphone plans, and plane tickets are now much cheaper in Europe and Asia than in the United States, and the price differences are staggering. In 2018, according to data gathered by the comparison site Cable, the average monthly cost of a broadband internet connection was $29 in Italy, $31 in France, $32 in South Korea, and $37 in Germany and Japan. The same connection cost $68 in the United States, putting the country on par with Madagascar, Honduras, and Swaziland. American households spend about $100 a month on cellphone services, the Consumer Expenditure Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates. Households in France and Germany pay less than half of that, according to the economists Mara Faccio and Luigi Zingales.

  9. Julian Silk

    P.S. During the course of his presentation, Jim Hamilton also suggested that the inverted yield curve might be the new normal. But upon reflection, he may not want to hold to that position.


    1. Barkley Rosser

      Actually he said this is not certain, just a possibility. The issue is the falling long tern natural rate of interest due partly to declining inflation expectations. In such a case the low long term rates that can lead to an inverted yield curve do not predict recessions.

      What was perhaps more important was that he reported on regressions over time testing the stength of inverted yield curves as recession predictors, with them being very strong predictors in the past but essentially going to zero or near zero recently.

  10. Willie

    And now we have Trump threatening to commit what can only be characterized as war crimes. What have we done?

    The usual suspects will pop up and whine that “they did it first” or some such apology for the inexcusable. Maybe not. I sure hope somebody in the administration puts the kibosh on stupid, pre-school belligerence before the US has a problem in the Hague.

    1. pgl

      War crimes? Calling AG Barr. Trump needs a legal brief that declares King Donald I is above international law.

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