Mark Blyth is a Scottish political scientist and a professor of international political economy at Brown University. At an event on November 9 at Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, he spoke about “Global Trumpism” — a worldwide working-class backlash against harmful macroeconomic trends.
“What we have everywhere are creditor-debtor standoffs,” he said. “If you look at the states that really fell hard [for Trump] in the Rust Belt, it is economic. Now, if you recognize that simple fact, you can put Trump in there with Brexit.”
MARK BLYTH: I wasn’t surprised [by Trump’s victory] at all. Many of you have sat here in this room with me and heard me speak about ‘Global Trumpism’ and various things like this. The first time I came out publicly and said I thought he would win was at a Watson event in May last year. I did an interview in Greece that went viral last year where I predicted both Brexit and Trump. And it is not because I have a clairvoyant crystal ball sitting on my desk, or I made a pact with Satan to see the future in a mirror, it is simply pretty obvious if you think about it in a more global way.
This is not a local event. Everything Professor Schiller said is true about this election, but Brexit happened. It is a left-wing version of this that brought us [the new government in] Greece. There is a shrinkage of center-party votes across the entire OECD. There’s the collapse of left wing party votes, in particular, across Western Europe.
Coming up next, [Italian PM Mateo] Renzi is going to fail in the referendum coming up, which will cause a Constitutional crisis in Italy.
Shortly after that, we have the French election coming up. I would like to remind you of the following statistics. The lowest George W. Bush ever got as president in his approval rating was 29%. The president of France currently has an approval rating of 4%. And the National Front have nearly 40% of the intended vote. So even with the design of the French Constitution, which makes it very difficult, and you have to have a second round, etc. The most popular political party, by a factor of two in France is the National Front.
After that we have the German elections coming up. Merkel is vulnerable. How is all of this going to play out, and how is it all connected?
Here’s a simple way of thinking about it: From 1945 until 1975, we targeted a particular economic variable called ‘full employment.’ And there’s a thing called the Lucas Critique, which says that if you keep targeting something, people will game it. And they did. Unions gamed it, employers gamed it, and the result was inflation. And after a while, that inflation became painful. Painful enough that the people who were hurt by it –the creditor classes in these countries– had to band together and form a market-friendly revolution. And they liberated finance, and they deregulated finance and they integrated the economies of the world. And they globalized labor such that labor could no longer demand that it gets its share of productivity. Because if you do, they’ll move your job somewhere else.
And all of those trade agreements that were signed –which is inevitable and we can never roll back. You know you can go on the web and type in: “WTO text.” And you’ll find that it is a very long 700-page legal agreement that took years to negotiate between corporate interests, lawyers, lobbyists, with very little input from civil society. The same is true of the EU’s agreements on capital movements, the banking union, take your pick.
And there was a moment when people began to figure out, for the past 30 years, going from 1985 until now, huge amounts of money have been generated in the global economy. And as we know from the work of Thomas Piketty and others, most of it has gone up to a tiny fraction of the population. There has been a huge amount of growth, but hardly anyone has seen any benefit.
You don’t have to go far to see this. Get off the East Side. Go to Northwest Providence, and walk into the neighborhoods which have check-cashing agencies, pawn shops, broken-down fix-your-mobile and networks you’ve never heard of stores, fried chicken joints. That’s the reality for people here and in many, many countries.
So they’re a bit fed up with this. And they’ve decided that any possible opportunity, whether it is Brexit, the Italian constitutional referendum, or anything, to basically give their elites notice: We’ve had enough of this. And that’s what this is.
Now there’s a macroeconomic underpinning to this one too, and that is that after we decided to target full employment for 30 years, we decided to target inflation for 30 years. I don’t see why the Lucas Critique doesn’t actually apply to that one too. And we’ve managed to create a world in which you can dump 13 trillion Euros into the global money supply through Quantitative Easing and other programs, and not see any inflation anywhere at all.
Here’s your problem: When you levered up your banking system, and bailed it out, dumped it on the public purse and said you need to cut that terrible debt, when people’s personal balance sheets are still bloated from all the credit they took on in the 2000s, and they don’t have wage growth, and there’s no inflation to ease the burden of the debt, the creditor fight harder to get their money back. There is the case of Germany vs. the rest of the Eurozone, whether it is the form of the creditor class vs. the rest of the debtor class. What we have everywhere are creditor-debtor standoffs. And those creditor-debtor standoffs take different forms.
For the left it takes the form of Podemos. For the right it takes the form of the National Front. And for Trump –which is a weird coalition– which is of course sexist, and of course racist, and of course anti-immigrant, and all the rest of it. But one part of it, if you look at the states that really fell hard in the Rust Belt, it is economic.
Now, if you recognize that simple fact, you can put Trump in there with Brexit, you can put Trump in there with Jeremy Corbyn, you can put him in with all the rest of it.
And I’ll leave you with one set of numbers that I found today, which is just an absolute for this whole thing. In 2015, Wall Street Bonuses, not regular compensation, bonuses, seven years after they were bailed out with the public purse, totaled $29.4 billion dollars.
Total compensation paid to every single person in this country who makes minimum wage totaled $14 billion. I’ll stop there…
I think the Wall Street issue goes much deeper than this. If you download from WikiLeaks, the Podesta emails, and start searching for place names, something very interesting happens. One of the place names that comes up the most in Martha’s Vineyard. Another one that comes up after that is Davos. Another one is Washington D.C., and then basically the distribution of real places where people actually live disappears into the tail.
We talk about the Democratic Party — I don’t know who that is. I know there’s a bunch of people who have made very nice six-figure careers in D.C. bouncing from agency to agency, starting wars, getting promoted, never actually paying the cost for it, waiting for the next administration to give them a pay hike. You see a lot of that. If you spend any time in D.C., you’ll bump into them all the time…
I’m not even sure who the Democrats are that are going to make this challenge, who the people that they are going to connect with, the social organizations. The movements, the youth. How do they touch them when they barely even only talk to each other and no one else on the way out to Martha’s Vineyard or Davos to commune with the guys at Goldman who are funding the party?
By Tim Hains