Joseph Stiglitz struggles to maintain his trademark composure as he describes the economic, psychological and political disintegration of post-industrial America.
Stiglitz is particularly outraged by the “cynical” betrayal of the working classes by an elite who exploit economic adversity. The evidence, he says, shows that four generations of relative poverty has caused political and psychological weakness, resulting in “deaths of despair” and the popularity of extreme “solutions” such as “America First”. It is cynical because those in positions of responsibility know Trump’s economic policies will most adversely affect those people who voted for Trump, but they also know such adversity will only make the demagogue more popular, since their suffering is the cause of their support for Trump.
Indeed, the same phenomenon is now widely seen around Europe, and as Stiglitz suggests, particularly in the U.K. Here austerity is now widely recognised as the cause of concern about immigration which lead, for example, to the 2015 E.U. referendum result. As with Trump voters, many of those who will be most adversely affected by leaving the E.U. voted for Brexit, a situation cynically exploited by politicians such as Johnson, Rees-Mogg and Farage who stand to benefit personally and politically. Likewise, many of the poorest parts of the U.K. repeatedly vote for the Conservative party and austerity policies, even though it appears against their interests.
As is made clear by Stiglitz, American and UK-style extreme inequality awaits all nations who likewise follow the sophistical illusions of neoclassical economics. What is not made clear enough however, is why people vote against their interests. This is because Stiglitz adopts a materialist reductionism and so misses the fact people are moral beings who rightly expect their leaders to uphold justice and protect their better interests. Stiglitz should also be outraged with the many generations of politicians, left and right, who have sold out to false materialist ideologies which posit amoral understandings of man, nature and community.
But it is also true that we are guilty of neglect, for we have not conserved rights hard-earned by previous generations of similarly gilded ages, nor have we voted for the advantage of our communities. Instead, just like our politicians, we have pursued materialist delusions of personal gain.