Mark Blyth on The Origins of Neo-Nationalism

It's not often you stumble across some professor who says he's going to explain the world, and then watch him actually do it.

I stumbled across Mark Blyth via MetaFilter. Mark Blyth is political science professor at Brown University — Wait! I know, you're thinking Brown University, the tiny, ultra-expensive US liberal arts college which is a hotbed of the most demented form of political correctness? Can any professor there be capable more than soft-focus P.C. pieties?

Well, Mark Blyth can. Perhaps because he's Scottish. Very Scottish, if you listen to him. In 2016, Blyth accomplished a pretty impressive trifecta in 2016: he accurately predicted Brexit, the Italian constitutional referendum, and Trump. His big idea is Global Trumpism, which involves defections both to the right and the left from the globalist neoliberal consensus. Whether it's Podemos in Spain or Trump in the U.S., middle-class voters in the West are reacting to 30 years of tectonic changes in the global political and economic landscape which have seen their quality of life being gradually eroded.

The end result is a sense of seething frustration in the middle and lower classes of Western countries. Unions have been crushed, more and more risk shifted onto the shoulders of individuals, job security is a thing of the past, international competition and automation are destroying millions of jobs which will never come back, the small luxuries of middle-class life are drifting out of reach, and each generation is seeing a decline in its standard of living compared to the last one.

All the while, the rich are getting almost exponentially richer, and mainstream politicians — whether center-right or center-left, there is no meaningful difference — seem at best helpless or disinterested at worst actively corrupt.

Here's some remarks he published in Foreign Policy (previous link), which are a bit heavy on the economics but still get the point across:

Back in 1943, [Michal Kalecki] he argued that once you target and sustain full employment over time, it basically becomes costless for labor to move from job to job. Wages in such a world will have to continually rise to hold onto labor, and the only way business can accommodate that is to push up prices. This mechanism, cost-push inflation, where wages and prices chase each other up, emerged in the 1970s and coincided with the end of the Bretton Woods regime and the subsequent oil shocks to produce high inflation in the rich countries of the West in the 1970s. In short, the system undermined itself, as both Goodhart and Kalecki predicted. As countries tried harder and harder to target full employment, the more inflation shot up while profits fell. The 1970s became a kind of “debtor’s paradise.” As inflation rose, debts fell in real terms, and labor’s share of national income rose to an all-time high, while corporate profits remained low and were pummeled by inflation. Unions were powerful and inequality plummeted….

But if it was a great time to be a debtor, it was a lousy time to be a creditor. Inflation acts as a tax on the returns on investment and lending. Unsurprisingly in response, employers and creditors mobilized and funded a market-friendly revolution where the goal of full employment was jettisoned for a new target—price stability, aka inflation—to restore the value of debt and discipline labor through unemployment. And it worked. The new order was called neoliberalism.

Over the next thirty years the world was transformed from a debtor’s paradise into a creditor’s paradise where capital’s share of national income rose to an all-time high as labor’s share fell as wages stagnated. Productivity rose, but the returns all went to capital. Unions were crushed while labor’s ability to push up wages collapsed due to the twin shocks of restrictive legislation and the globalization of production. Parliaments in turn were reduced to tweet-generating talking shops as central banks and policy technocrats wrested control of the economy away from those elected to govern.

Seen this way, what we see is a reversal of power between creditors and debtors as the anti-inflationary regime of the past 30 years undermines itself—what we might call “Goodhart’s revenge.” In this world, yields compress and creditors fret about their earnings, demanding repayment of debt at all costs. Macro-economically, this makes the situation worse: the debtors can’t pay—but politically, and this is crucial—it empowers debtors since they can’t pay, won’t pay, and still have the right to vote….

The traditional parties of the center-left and center-right, the builders of this anti-inflationary order, get clobbered in such a world, since they are correctly identified by these debtors as the political backers of those demanding repayment in an already unequal system, and all from those with the least assets. This produces anti-creditor, pro-debtor coalitions-in-waiting that are ripe for the picking by insurgents of the left and the right, which is exactly what has happened.

In short, to understand the election of Donald Trump we need to listen to the trumpets blowing everywhere in the highly indebted developed countries and the people who vote for them. 

The global revolt against elites is not just driven by revulsion and loss and racism. It’s also driven by the global economy itself. This is a global phenomenon that marks one thing above all. The era of neoliberalism is over. The era of neonationalism has just begun.

Blyth actually shines in videos; he's an outstanding and engaging speaker. I switched this video on to run in the background while I did some housework, but found myself repeatedly rushing to the computer to replay something I didn't quite get. This video is the best exposition of his theory as a whole. You'll have to get used to his Scottish burr:

Although his main critique is aimed at the technocratic managers of national and international economic policy, he also directs withering critiques at center-left politicians, who hurl accusations of politically-incorrect thoughtcrime to appear "left" while simultaneously suckling at the teat of the financial and technological elite and doing nothing to improve the lot of the middle class.

Blyth thinks the U.S. will stumble through, but Blyth believes that the outlook for Europe is much bleaker (this discussion starts at about 41:00). The Euro is a disaster which cannot be fixed, but European technocrats still refused to understand this, and continue to inflict crippling austerity on the European South in a doomed attempt to save it.

7 thoughts on “Mark Blyth on The Origins of Neo-Nationalism

  1. A simple man

    Professor Blyth very well understands Trumpism as being both left and right, or rather a revolutionary synthesis of both; but he disagrees with it, especially Trump’s “stupid wall”, because there is no problem with immigration on foot or something of the sort I could not catch – but he then mentions 11 million possible deportees jacking up the US population. Now where did they all come from? They must be illegal, mustn’t they? And did he mention Obama’s own 3 million deportees – I don’t right remember. And he forgets Trump is harping on about criminal aliens and the trafficking of drugs one way (and weapons the other?). To be fair, Trump was not yet in office, so it was, well, easier to scoff him. And yes, Europe is f*cked.

    But many people have not yet really understood the bold and beautiful simplicity of Trump’s style of reign in the first few days.

    Andrew will correct me on this, but AFAIS Trump has not had to break – or make! – a single law (which he would not be allowed to do anyway) to live up to felt 80% of his campaign pledges – he simply has to see to it that any official not enforcing the already existing laws will be fired. Perhaps with one exception, him actively banning lobbyism. He campaigned on exactly this idea, BTW (We have such beautiful laws…).

    His “Muslim Ban”, for instance, does not ban a single Muslim, nor does it even mention a country of origin; it simply enforces a congress act (or law?) passed under the Obama administration. Of course, the people organizing the fake protests knew this – they had to look it up to find the countries, didn’t they?

    And of course, this makes Frau Blücher / Merkel look bad – an elected leader that keeps campaign promises and enforces existing laws! What has the world come to!? This is highly contagious! It must be stopped before it’s too late! Protest like you’ve never protested! The Antichrist is here!

    And it shows the Obama administration (and some others) up to be fake government, making laws and breaking, or ignoring them in the same breath. Trump has turned fake government into a reality show, and the trumpists around the globe will take that cue.

    And yes: the Democrats were dumb enough to block his nominations for cabinet, leaving The Donald at home alone without his wolf pack, and plenty of time on his little hands. These high- caliber CEOs and Generals disagree with him on a number of things, and Trump’s opponents knew this, but found it better to play window politics. Ok. Their decision.

    From voter fraud to election acceptance, The Don has suckered the Dems into every bad move they could possibly make. And he will go on doing this until they wake up.


  2. Oh, this is wonderful; oh, this is so beautiful.

    The Donald has done it again! Does this guy read Machiavelli in his sleep?

    To wit: The German government, which continues to insist on demeaning and insulting the President of the United States, and berating him on open borders, is showing bewilderment, frustration and anger at the fact that the US has closed theirs, including to Germans who hold additional citizenships, of which we have, so they tell us in their outrage, one hundred thousand – one hundred thousand? – and of which now ten thousand are affected by the US ban on certain countries. Ten thousand? We have ten thousand people from seven fractured warring countries in the middle east and northern Africa, holding German and multiple citizenships, and potentially wanting to travel to the USA?

    Who are these people? “Refugees”? Hardly. Those throw their citizenship away, remember? And real refugees want to stay here and become quiet Germans, so we keep being told. Did not the 9/11 attackers, who came from Hamburg, fall into this picture? I’d say there is quite a good chance that a few of these multiple passport holders are not harmless. And they seem to have money. It is exactly the kind of people that the US wants to check on what business they want to enter their territory.

    And here it comes. These people are now pressuring the German gvt for information and aid to get into the US – and it can’t, because the US is withholding necessary information. So said the German gvt spokesman yesterday, with a face of fear, desperation and helpless anger. The British are getting this information; their citizens with multiple citizenship are getting the possibility to apply for entry to the US. The Germans are not, and this infuriates the German gvt – I really do imagine some of those pressuring the German gvt are really not very nice, and are now putting threats to bear on corrupt openings.

    The German government is now openly at the mercy of the US, for having let in people it cannot handle. Angela’s voice was shaking. In one single swoop, DJ Trump has her up against the wall with his arm across her throat, isolated, simply by remaining silent, withholding information which is at his discretion to withhold, until the German gvt stops obstructing him. The US will not deal with a failed state. He will let her go, of course. The German government is ordering Lockheed Martin military aircraft, as was announced by our very own Uschi von der Leine.

    This is a public demonstration of who gets to throw the punches around here, and the unruly ones will smell fear and scent blood instantly.

    I repeat: this is beautiful. The Donald is not a politician? You bet he is.

    Never underestimate your enemy.


  3. Thanks for putting up that link, I’ll send it around. The global problem in a nutshell.

    Twitter moves fast, so I’ll explain the link I put down below:

    Keep in mind, the US is currently bombing 8 countries:

    South Sudan

    – which, except for Afghanistan, corresponds with the list of 7 countries of banned entry. There may be a connection there, as both stem from the previous US administration.


  4. The US is bombing Yemen and South Sudan? Since when? Did I miss anything there? You probably mean that the Saudis are using American weapons in Yemen. Oh wait, they’re also using German weapons…


  5. Blyth has some good points regarding the economic system. Looking back from 2008 onwards, one could indeed argue that there might be a return to Keynesianism after three decades of Hayekian monetarism.

    The political analysis has some fundamental flaws, though. Most of the new right-wing parties are actually very pro-establishment in their economic program – the Front National possibly being the only exception here (although Marine Le Pen showed no sympathy for the recent protests against the proposed social reforms). Of course you could argue that the current governments of Hungary and Poland had a social agenda in their election campagins, but their actual economic policies are so far not Keynesian, but corporatist – which is probably a better description for Trump’s agenda as well. Orbán has been pursuing a “Hungary First” policy long before Trump went full Pat Buchanan. In fact, he’s even trying to prevent Hungarians from going abroad through an aggressive education and economic policy. This new right-wing surge is more about cultural identity (and possibly ‘white identity politics, i.e. nationalism not in the economic sphere, but in the social sphere) than about economics, whereas the left-wing surge is more economic, but has a complete different outlook in the cultural sphere.

    People make a fuss about blue-collar workers voting Trump. The question is: Why didn’t these people go for Bernie? During the Democratic primaries it was often pointed out that Bernie Sanders’ core base were affluent New Yorkers and white New Englanders rather than the black, white or Hispanic working-class voters (who preferred Clinton). Some people claimed that Trump was the anti-establishment warrior, but he’s packed his administration not only with the people sucking the lobbyists’ dicks, but with the lobbyists themselves!

    Or let’s take the UK, since Blyth mentions the SNP and UKIP as the prime exponents of an anti-Westminster vibe. If we look at their agenda, you can hardly find any agreements among them. The SNP wants to get rid of Trident, UKIP wants more nuclear weapons. The SNP wants more welfare state and NHS funding, UKIP wants to get rid of both. The SNP wants Scotland to remain in the EU, UKIP was the spearhead in the “Leave” campaign. The SNP wants a proportional representation voting system (although it benefits from majority rule), UKIP wants to keep majority rule (although it would benefit from PR). And so it goes on and on… In other words: the SNP represents classic Labour themes before New Labour came along, whereas UKIP is basically Margaret Thatcher coming back.

    It has become a cliché to say “There is no Left and Right anymore”, but I’d actually say that the battle lines are drawn more firmly than ten or twenty years ago. You can even see it in Andrew’s articles here, which now seem to feature cheap jibes at the “politically correct” Left more often than a few years ago. It’s rather the centre that’s fading away.


  6. Hi there Dr. Benway!

    I thought you might.

    For one, I’m quoting a tweet there. You can take it up with them. But, with 5 seconds of googling:

    This was on the news a day ago. “The operation began at dawn when a drone bombed the home of Abdulraoof al-Dhahab and then helicopters flew up and unloaded paratroopers at his house and killed everyone inside,” said one resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    But, I’m not sure about why the Sudan is listed there. I’ll give you that. AND I must add that Iran, which is on Obama’s last (and now reinstated for 90 days) entry ban list, is not being bombed either. So, to correct myself: Of the seven countries banned on Obama’s 2016? entry ban list, five are (or were then) under US attack. The ones not bombed, but banned are Sudan and Iran; that seems to be correct.

    The US are having a long-term tiff with Iran; but why Sudan is on it, only Obama or the CIA can say.


  7. … and never overestimate your friends.

    Just watched the popular tv talk show “Maybrit Illner“, titled “Trumps Ego trip…” of Feb.2.2017; with long-standing German politicians, correspondents, and friends of the good.

    What did I learn?

    – “The (entryban) list was from Obama’s term. Saudi Arabia is not on it, because it is, traditionally, the Unites States’ most faithful ally in that region” Oh! Not Israel?!

    – “Under Bush Sr. (!!) we (the USA + Germany) were ‘Partners in Leadership’, but now we have been put on the bench because of what we did and do…” Oh, how true.

    – “Obama, at the beginning and at the end of his office, said NATO was obsolete” – Peter Altmaier, CDU, Chief of the German chancellery. What?! Nobody corrected him… Are those people even listening to each other? That was Obama?! Not Trump?? Oh, deary me…

    – “We must accept, even if we, in Germany. perhaps are not used to it in politics, that this man means what he says and does what he pledged to do” Oh, how so very true.

    – “The USA is a torn country“- Uh- That was Trump? He tore the US apart in ten days? Single-handedly? Wow.

    – “The vote for Trump is a reaction to political failings and negligence“- uh- yes?? His? Even better: “These people have no jobs indeed and therefore must be allowed to complain“. Oh. I thought they were allowed to vote to have that changed in their way. Vote; not club. Sweety-pooh’s remedy: Money for everyone.

    Oh, Jebus! (H. Simpson) Boring. Skip skip skip back to skipped teaser at the beginning whawhazat?

    – “It took days to even understand Trump’s order at the foreign office” Right. The Germany’s foreign office has become as incompetent as its ministry of the interior, and every other one I can think of, except perhaps the one for finance (in the German interest).

    After 70 years of transatlantic drushba, inseparable friendship, Bilderberg conferences, common values, English as a second language and what not, their legal staff cannot interpret a legal US paper that concerns them, and are afraid to ask the fiendish people that issued it. Were they spoon- fed up to now?

    I feel sh*t filling the room. The sh*t of decades.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s