Mark Blyth: political economist explains why people vote the way they do at E.N. Thompson Forum
While movements like Europe’s Brexit and America’s election of Donald Trump shocked a large number of people across the world last year, Mark Blyth was not one of them.
The Scottish political economist is noted for predicting both events. He discussed how these and other movements happened at Tuesday night’s E.N. Thompson Forum, “Why People Vote for Those Who Work Against Their Best Interests.”
Blyth is a political economics professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The E.N. Thompson Forum is an annual lecture series at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln featuring prominent speakers who examine current issues.
America’s growing economic gap
Blyth pointed to price changes in consumer goods and services in the United States in recent decades, including the rise of services like college tuition, health care, and child care. Blyth said the gap between America’s middle class and top one percent of earners has continued to grow since the 1980s.
“Sixty percent of the country hasn’t had a pay rise when you adjust for inflation since the 1980s,” he said.
When a large number of candidates looked at data that showed America’s gross domestic product was rising while unemployment was falling, Blyth said they didn’t realize these averaged statistics didn’t represent a majority of Americans.
So when many candidates were campaigning across America last year talking about how great things were for millions of Americans, Blyth said many Americans disagreed. For them, things were not great. Many had lost jobs. Others were working but scrambled to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck. To these American voters, said Blyth, those political candidates and other politicians who called out their appalling conditions became appealing.
Blyth said even if these people weren’t fans of the politician, they might admire him or her for “telling the truth.”
Blyth presented a five-step solution to closing the economic gap between so many Americans. This includes free college tuition, subsidized child care, single-payer health care, corporate reform of shareholder value culture and the end of digital monopolies.
“People have had enough,” Blyth said. “In one way or another, they’re going to vote for change.”