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Social Mobility Explains Populism, Not Inequality or Culture

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  • Eric S. M. Protzer

    () (Center for Global Development)

Abstract

What is driving contemporary populism, for example Brexit, Trump, the Gilets Jaunes, and Five-Star? Commonly-accepted answers are divided into two schools of thought, one economic and one cultural. The main explanation in the former camp is income inequality; those in the latter are social media-induced ideological polarization, unprecedented levels of immigration, and older generations reacting against millennial values. This paper exploits geographic variation in the incidence of populism to apply cross-sectional regression analysis to these arguments, and concludes that they are highly unconvincing. Instead, the thus-largely overlooked factor of social mobility is found to have far greater explanatory power. Four settings are analyzed: the 2016 US Presidential Election, the 2017 French Presidential Election, the 2019 European Parliament Elections, and the political stability of developed countries in 2018. The article contends that the decisiveness of social mobility as an explanatory variable for populism is plausibly rooted in universal human conceptions of fairness.

Suggested Citation

  • Eric S. M. Protzer, 2019. "Social Mobility Explains Populism, Not Inequality or Culture," CID Working Papers 118a, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
  • Handle: RePEc:cid:wpfacu:118a
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    File URL: https://growthlab.cid.harvard.edu/files/growthlab/files/2019-09-cid-fellows-wp-118-social-mobility-populism-revised.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Xavier Ramos, 2014. "Inequality And Happiness," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 28(5), pages 1016-1027, December.
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    6. Miles Corak, 2013. "Income Inequality, Equality of Opportunity, and Intergenerational Mobility," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(3), pages 79-102, Summer.
    7. Paul Hufe & Ravi Kanbur & Andreas Peichl, 2018. "Measuring Unfair Inequality: Reconciling Equality of Opportunity and Freedom from Poverty," CESifo Working Paper Series 7119, CESifo Group Munich.
    8. Hufe, Paul & Kanbur, Ravi & Peichl, Andreas, 2018. "Measuring Unfair Inequality: Reconciling Equality of Opportunity and Freedom from Poverty," CEPR Discussion Papers 12989, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    9. Chul-In Lee & Gary Solon, 2009. "Trends in Intergenerational Income Mobility," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(4), pages 766-772, November.
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    12. Marie Connolly & Miles Corak & Catherine Haeck, 2019. "Intergenerational Mobility Between and Within Canada and the United States," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(S2), pages 595-641.
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    Keywords

    Inclusive Growth; Populism;

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