Donald Trump, Brexit and neoliberal politics were some of the topics discussed by Mark Blyth, professor of political economy at Brown University, when he spoke to University of Nebraska-Lincoln students, staff and local community members on Tuesday night, Oct. 10.
The event titled, “Why People Vote for Those Who Work Against Their Best Interests,” was part of the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues taking place at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. It was opened with a pre-performance talk by Kevin Smith, the chair of the department of political science at UNL.
Smith said this gives credit to the idea that people sometimes vote against their own interests. To illustrate this point, he provided the example of Grant County, Nebraska.
Grant County has the highest percentage of Affordable Care Act enrollees in the nation. One in three of its residents under the age of 65 bought insurance through former president Barack Obama’s health care act. Donald Trump received more than 93 percent of the votes cast in Grant County last November, a candidate who many times vowed to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Smith provided many different rational reasons as to why people may vote against their interests: none of the available candidates may match their views, people tend to vote for parties over individuals and some voters consciously vote for a candidate to send a message, not to serve their interests.
Blyth, the main speaker of the night, joked that the title of the presentation was created without his input, and that citizens actually do vote in their own interests.
“I think the idea that you somehow know better than that person about what is in their best interest is incredibly pretentious,” Blyth said.
Blyth, who predicted events including Great Britain leaving the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, focused on the causes and solutions to the rise of populist ideas across the globe.
Blyth claims the reason populism has seen such a resurgence around the world, is because of the increase of neoliberal economic policies that were put into place during the 1980s. He said this has led to many economic problems such as high debts, low wages and low inflation being unable to eat away at the debts.
These issues have resulted in poorer individuals feeling left behind and forgotten by their governments. Blyth said that after so many politicians claimed to care about them, but then failed to fix the problem, the voters felt betrayed. He said he believes this is the reason Trump was elected, as a way to send a message they will no longer be ignored.
Blyth said that in general, liberals blame these problems on capitalism, while conservatives blame them on immigration.
“Immigration is the solution, not the problem,” Blyth said.
Immigration, according to Blyth, increases the populace that can be taxed to ease the pressure of debt. He also said capitalism is not to blame, as it was working fine prior to the surge of neoliberal politics.
Blyth proposed some probable solutions to these issues. He said free college tuition, the subsidization of childcare and a single-payer healthcare system, if enacted, would result in populism effectively disappearing.
The ideas and data Blyth presented caused some UNL students to re-evaluate how they consider global politics. Sophomore agricultural education major Christy Cooper, who was in attendance, said we need to consider everyone’s perspectives, not just our own.
“We tend to put things in averages, such as [how] immigration on average helps an economy,” Cooper said. “But people don’t live in averages; they live through their own personal experiences and stories.”
Sophomore environmental sciences major Halle Ramsey said it helped her to look at the bigger picture.
“There’s a lot of countries going through a Trump-like event,” Ramsey said. “The media sometimes portrays it as if it’s just a problem with us. We need to keep in mind that this all has a global impact.”
Blyth ended the night with a message of hope for those in the audience.
“I believe that the moment of change is coming where the ones who were once laughed at for their ideas will soon be embraced for their brilliance,” Blyth said.