Job and Cultural Insecurity, More Than Inequality, Fuels Populism

Jobs and religion: US presidential candidate Donald Trump champions plight of working class; UK politician Nigel Farage exploits fears of a migrant tide

For many workers, insecurity is a more pressing concern than inequality. They worry more about jobs threatened by global trade and automation, their communities’ vanishing way of life, and children’s future than inequality and increasing amounts of wealth controlled by a small percentage of the population. Populist leaders, many wealthy themselves, convince substantial numbers of voters that that the educated, the experts and established political leaders do not care about the plight of ordinary workers. Middle-class liberals may support the causes that benefit the poor or working class, but they can also “insulate themselves with residences in gentrified cities, assortative marriage patterns and cosmopolitan professional occupations,” explains economist Pranab Bardhan. “Sociologists often point out that the part of inequality that is salient to us is the contrast between our own lifestyle – and housing and school choices – and that of those who may be just above us. The inequality with the billionaires is too distant.” Bardhan offers practical proposals – on wage subsidies, global skill partnerships, and trade union and church initiatives – for countering populism and easing the insecurity over culture, immigration and inequality. – YaleGlobal