Podcast • January 4, 2018

Mark Blyth’s State of the Union

The people’s economist Mark Blyth is a perpetual fan favorite for Open Source listeners. The Brown University professor, who never left behind his working-class Scottish roots, brings a vernacular wisdom and wit to his deep ...

The people’s economist Mark Blyth is a perpetual fan favorite for Open Source listeners. The Brown University professor, who never left behind his working-class Scottish roots, brings a vernacular wisdom and wit to his deep analysis of inequality, austerity, and popular unrest. He also often sees what the rest of us tend to miss. In 2016, he predicted both of the year’s major upset victories: the American election of Donald J. Trump as well the British vote for Brexit. You can listen to our own shell-shocked phone call with Blyth just after the Brexit vote here:

For all the gritty and scandalous detail in both scenes, he’ll keep telling you: it’s a malady in the money system, a global tsunami of populist resentment that’s driving events.  And furthermore: at the start of 2018, that populism is still popular. Today, we couldn’t imagine a better guest to help us ring in this topsy-turvy new year.

So what’s the matter with the world today, according to Mark Blyth? He sees at least two major issues: class warfare and intergenerational struggle. The former problem is, in some ways, an old story—one which our party leaders have largely ignored for over the last three decades. The rhetoric of resurgent populism and nationalism are really just responses to deepening inequality in a rapidly globalizing world, as Blyth explains:

Has politics fundamentally changed because of Trump? No. Politics fundamentally changed because the people in charge basically ignored millions of Americans and what was happening to their standard of living their communities what was happening to the life chances and opportunities. [The people in charge] basically lived on the coasts and said to each other, “Gee isn’t everything swell?” And they got a really surprise when about 40 million of them said actually no we don’t like what you’re doing.  … meanwhile, our “elites”— whether it’s Tony Blair, whether it’s the Clintons, or whoever has the means thinks “everything’s great, the new global economy! We’re all doing fabulous!” But you’re only doing fabulous because you only talk to each other. You only live in half a dozen places and you all have tons of cash so if you travel internationally everybody’s like you. You’re not a nationalist, you don’t have a national or local identity, you’re rich enough to be a global cosmopolitan and you can enjoy all of the fruits of globalization, but not everybody else can. Put that all that together and it’s self-explanatory.

The second major issue Blyth lays out is the hoarding of wealth by those who grew up and entered the work force during the so-called “golden age” of economic prosperity in America. So, if you’re looking for someone to blame, Blyth says, blame the boomers:

They’re not  awful in the sense that they are awful people. They’re just following the incentives mean laid out to them in a free market system to accumulate as much assets as possible and leave it to their kids which means they hate inheritance taxes they want to pay a little marginal rates and they continually vote down things like bonds for schools bonds for subways Boston et cetera et cetera. So they’re acting in a completely understandable way which for them is individually rational but it’s just really crap for everybody else who come in behind them who can’t accumulate assets in the same way precisely because they’ve done that.

If you’re still eager to hear more from Mark, you can search the archives here on our site and find more than a dozen conversations with the scotsman stretching back to 2008. As always, make sure to drop us a note in the comments section below.

November 10, 2016

Seeing Red in Trump’s America

So! It happened. Hillary Clinton failed. Donald J. Trump will become the 45th of the United States. His election marks an earthquake in American politics – one that the seismic monitors of Big Media political pundits, data ...

So! It happened. Hillary Clinton failed. Donald J. Trump will become the 45th of the United States. His election marks an earthquake in American politics – one that the seismic monitors of Big Media political pundits, data heads and op-ed waxers all failed to predict.

On January 20th, 2017, Trump will take the helm of a “broken system” and lead a scarred and divided nation—fractured along lines of race, gender, and education.

Feelings of disenfranchisement and neglect were the ruling sentiments for a majority of Americans on election day. 72% of the voting electorate reported in exit polls that “the economy is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful.” And 68% said that “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me.”

Our guests this week provide us with a prismatic view of America standing at a precipice.

Noted Roman historian Mary Beard reminds us that democracy has always been “more than putting a piece of paper in a box.” That it’s a process, a way of thinking. “Democracy can’t function if people don’t have information.” Later, civil war historian Eric Foner locates the seeds of the economic and cultural discontent Trump has parlayed into his victory. He argues that the cultural resentment stems from the social changes in the 1960’s, the progressive movements of feminism, civil rights and immigration reform. Also joining us in the studio: Ron Suskind, Randall L. Kennedy, Kathy Cramer, and Nathan J. Robinson.

August 13, 2015

Trump This!

If Jeb Bush were caught, on a secret recording, dissing John McCain for getting captured by the North Vietnamese, he’d be denounced by every Republican living, even his dad. If Ted Cruz told a female staffer she’d look ...

If Jeb Bush were caught, on a secret recording, dissing John McCain for getting captured by the North Vietnamese, he’d be denounced by every Republican living, even his dad. If Ted Cruz told a female staffer she’d look better on her knees, he’d be sent back to Canada.

So why is that from the billionaire candidate Donald Trump, wide-open narcissism, sexism, and anti-Mexican racism are accepted, even applauded? Maybe because Trump fits so comfortably into a mood of malcontent skepticism. Think George Wallace and Curtis LeMay before him: crazy or cynical, maybe, but in a familiar, American way.

So this week we’re looking for the many meanings in the Donald’s for-now popularity, and asking what his long candidacy might mean a new understanding of what America’s looking forward after Obama. So with historians Rick Perlstein and Heather Cox Richardson, and a chorus of voices, let us count the ways. 

1. Trump’s a TV brand.

Trump has brought a certain televisual atmosphere with him — the look of entertainment news, The Apprentice and advertising, roasts and resort vacations — into an otherwise stale and overcrowded horse race. Our guest Jeet Heer says the Trump candidacy works like professional wrestling — it becomes scripted battle, and spectacularly vulgar. (We shouldn’t forget Trump himself has thrown a few punches at Wrestlemania.)

2. He’s a high-school archetype.

The novelist of Election and screenwriter Tom Perrotta told us that Trump’s a kind of callback to high school: the entitled-and-he-knows-it prom king who has the car, the girl and the grades (despite not working). And all he sees around him are losers. Look at Trump’s first appearance in the New York Times: at age 27, already with a monogram license plate on his Cadillac.

3. He’s an aspirational figure.

Through it all, says Mark Singer of The New Yorker (who’s gone ten rounds with Trump), Trump represents a hypercharged version of the American dream that appeals to blue-collar voters, what Rick Perlstein called “a poor person’s version of a rich person”: he bet on himself, against the odds, damned the doubters, and built what they call a “personal brand” long before that was mainstream. Now he flies a jet with his name on it, and he’s willing to lie or go bankrupt to keep the show going.

4. He’s a truth-teller in a corrupt country.

 Trump is leveraging Citizens United the way Stephen Colbert did before him: slamming our “broken” system and at the same time proving it’s broken by his mere presence. Trump donated to the Clinton Foundation, so the Clintons came to his wedding (see above). Before they were adversaries, Gov. Scott Walker gave him a thank-you plaque for his support — now Trump won’t let him forget it. 

5. He’s a populist clown — and some clowns are scary.

Trump’s not alone: he’s part of a global class of outré anti-political politicians. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders, once the Senate’s hippie scold, has preached socialism to a hundred thousand Americans on the trail.  Rob Ford, Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor, remains a city councillorFor now Italy’s second-place pol is the ex-comedian Beppe Grillo, and Geert Wilders, a xenophobe with almost Trumpian hair, is way up in the Netherlands.

But Buruma conjures prior clowns with a caution: Hitler, Mussolini, and Putin were all laughingstocks before they won power — on an aura of emotional connection with their people and a promise of national resurrection. All this, Buruma’s clear, is not to call Trump Hitler, but to remind us that outrageous demagogues can turn serious in a hurry. The dynamics of The Great Dictator are in play:

https://youtu.be/yPQKFDf2BEM?t=17m53s