On the US elections, Brexit, populism, and the role of academics
Since the outcome of the US elections was confirmed, my Facebook feed has been a mess. I have not yet commented about Trump’s victory, and it seems that almost all has been said already. But here is my bit…
I do agree that Trump was elected for the same reason why the UK voted Brexit, and for the same reason why M5 in Italy is gaining popularity. Voters are fed up of the establishment, and I think this is as close as the communist revolution as we can get, in the Capitalist West. Commentators (and also some friends) talk about the ‘uneducated masses’ who did ‘this’ in the most unflattering terms. But we need to remind ourselves that the so-called uneducated voters have rights, dreams, aspirations, as well as they have fears too. They have voted, and democracy has triumphed, more now then ever before. And yes, this is disastrous. But some serious thinking will need to be made about how and why have we gotten to this point. Have we (academics) pro-actively engaged with the political debate to a sufficient extent? Addressing this mess should be our commitment for the future. As an academic, I feel that this will be my objective. We all need stepping down from the ivory tower, and engage even more.
On a similar fashion this video is making the rounds on social media. Despite being overly dramatised, and full of swear words, I share the message. I was discussing it with a friend on Facebook, as he was sharing his pessimism about political engagement, and the dominance of populist views. I very much agree with him that, against Trump, it should have been much easier to win an election than what it turned out to be. (I believe the same about the outcome of the Brexit referendum). I cannot blame him for being pessimistic about the political situation. Yet, I cannot admit defeat, and one of the reasons why I cannot give in to pessimism is because of the job I do. We (academics) have been recently accused of being useless by the political class: Michael Gove and Glyn Davies lead the race. The academic community responded quite strongly: see #realworldacademic, for instance. But the best reflection was given by Kate Dommet from the pages of the Guardian, as she concedes that we also have to raise our game. I entirely agree with her, and most certainly I will not retreat up the ivory tower. I am convinced that -even more through teaching than through research- I can give my contribution to change society. Educating the younger generations to uncover lies, unfounded populist claims, and unfeasible policies, is what every social scientist should do, each with the tools proper of his/her own discipline.
I always tell my students that Economics is an intrinsically political matter. By declaring my political ideas to them, right at the start of my course, I am giving my students a chance to develop their critical skills, and I am setting them free to form their own ideas. I also warn my students against economists who will go to them claiming that their research results are free from political bias, or ‘true’ on the basis of numbers…numbers can also be politicised unfortunately. The ultimate objective is training students to be critical of me, not to be like me. The ultimate objective is training students to be critical of everything and everybody.
The world needs more good, politically engaged, and intellectually honest educators. Education is the only way out of this mess, and I am rolling my sleeves up.