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Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Eight months after Donald Trump's shock election, economists and other social scientists remain at odds on his rise and that of right-wing populism in the west more generally.

So we have combed through recent papers on the political wave. Three of the most interesting ideas:

  • Harvard economist Dani Rodrik: we are watching the predictable result of more relaxed international trade and the rise of financial globalization.
  • Boston University's Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota: if just three states had suffered fewer casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hillary Clinton might today be president.
  • And James Montier, an asset allocation team member for GMO, the investment manager: crippling inequality explains the anti-establishment revolt.

Rodrik and history: the anti-establishment wave, he writes in a new draft paper, "has been on the rise for at least a decade ... and was perfectly predictable." He writes:

  • Populist movements everywhere are the result of an "advanced stage of globalization," when international trade becomes highly integrated.
  • An example: at the end of the 19th century, multiple countries cut trade barriers; allowed capital, through the gold standard, to move freely across borders; and permitted relatively free immigration.
  • In the U.S., this period culminated in the impactful presidential campaigns of populist William Jennings Bryan, who denounced big banks, monopoly power, and the gold standard, and, later, legal alcohol and the teaching of evolution in schools
  • Rodrik's prescriptions: restrict foreign investment, protect sensitive industries, and enact a more robust safety net to blunt the effects of global competition on workers.

Kriner, Shen and the effects of war: Deep dissatisfaction with establishment political figures is especially prevalent among communities that have suffered a disproportionate share of the casualties from a decade and a half of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They write:

  • A pillar of Trump's presidential campaign was an indictment of both Republican and Democratic foreign policy, specifically the invasion of Iraq, which he called a colossal blunder and a waste of money that could have been spent on domestic problems.
  • There is a link between military casualties and support for Trump. "Even controlling ... for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community's rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump."
  • "If three states key to Trump's victory—Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—had suffered even a modestly lower casualty rate, all three could have flipped from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House."

Montier and economic inequality: The global economy is a period of "secular stagnation" — widespread slow economic growth, low inflation, and a global middle class with little increase in spending power. He writes:

  • Politicians seeking to avoid tough political fights over fiscal policy have instead relied too heavily on central banks, like the Federal Reserve.
  • Governments should target specific, low unemployment and inflation rates, and offer a jobs guarantee until that target is hit, singling out high-priority work like caring for the elderly.
  • The rationale: "The government offers a fixed wage. ... This wage acts as the de facto minimum wage, below which no labor will be forthcoming to private sector employers. When unemployment is high, workers will flow into the government scheme, and when the economy starts to grow, private employers 'hire off the top' of the scheme by offering a [higher] wage."

Thought bubble: The Trump election and the success of other populist movements in Europe have emboldened establishment economists like Rodrik to reassess the costs and benefits of globalization, and led respected City-of-London vets like Montier to advocate radical policy changes.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.