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The Great Disruption

Understanding the Populist Forces Behind Trump, Brexit, and LePen

Anil Hira

The Great Disruption: Understanding the Populist Forces Behind Trump, Brexit, and LePen aims to put the shocking events of 2016–17 into a long-term, historical perspective. The seemingly disparate and separately discussed election of Donald Trump, Brexit vote, success of Marine LePen’s National Front Party, and the wider spread of populism have an overlooked commonality: They all start with a similar core constituency of disaffected older blue collar workers. Using a data-driven analysis, author Anil Hira shows that racism and xenophobia are linked to economic populism—xenophobia becoming widespread under conditions of economic stress. Hira shows further that since economic stress is felt very deeply, conventional solutions are inadequate. There is a perception among the affected group that politicians can not offer "normal" solutions and thus turn to populism. The Great Disruption traces long-term and largely un-linked shifts in the economy from globalization to automation to uncover the deeper sources of populist outbreaks. This book demonstrates that racial and immigrant attitudes have not changed, rather any backlash is a scapegoating effect of economic loss and dislocation. Populism not only misdiagnoses the situation but also misses the wider long-term threats of climate change, demographic shifts, and the rise of China. Recognizing the transformational nature of such threats depends on the maturation of the Millennial generation and its willingness to evolve towards a more global style of governance, in the process rejecting the shallow promises of populism.

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Chapter 10. Global Problems Need Global Solutions


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While the future of the West appears bleak, let us not forget that previous periods in Western history have been alarming. The fall of the Roman Empire, the misery of two world wars, and the Great Depression are all episodes from which we have recovered. In modern times that recovery was based upon pro-active policies to create new institutions, from the Bretton Woods system to the social welfare systems, that improved the way of life for millions. We need a new New Deal now, not just for the West, but for the planet. Such a deal can create the same kinds of multiplier effects among populations in the developing world. As increasing numbers start to reach the middle class, population will drop off rapidly as well the demographic, migration, and environmental pressures we have discussed. Overall economic growth is important, but more important still is how to better distribute it. The ready answers at the domestic level would be to increase access to education and create stronger safety nets, particularly for youth. As we saw with the cognitive dissonance around “Obamacare” whereby “red” (conservative) states increasingly reject it, but would like to have health care, there is increasing recognition, especially among Millenials, that increasing growth has to be accompanied by expanding the size of social safety nets. If casualization and churning through jobs will become the norms, the state has to step in where companies once provided...

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