Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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Irrationality asphyxiates the electorate

Populism, nationalism and anti-establishment concepts have been gaining momentum in recent years and months and that impetus resulted in Brexit and the coming to power of Donald Trump. By referencing the socio-economic, political and security related environment and institutional setups of the day, psychology of ideology, a subsidiary of behavioral and institutional economics, has ample explanations on the current global dynamics in terms politics, economics and security, writes Habtamu Girma.

One core issue that is grabbing the attention of people across the world in 2017 is the decision-making behaviors of the West. The global populace has often hailed the West to be educated and rational. However, after observing the referendum in Britain and national elections in the US and France, our world has been taken by surprise, questioning the rationality of polities in those countries. At the heart of the decision-making is the concept of rationality. When people make happy-go-lucky decisions without taking into consideration the consequences of their choices, the result will be detrimental.

In simple terms, the concept of time demonstrates that those who decide on issues determine the end result. Hence, it is important to understand what shapes the decision-making behaviors of people. That, in turn, enables us to understand what is happening in our world today and why it is happening. Recent developments in social sciences are attracting the attention of those of us in the academia and research circles. There are promising endeavors so far in modeling the behaviors of people. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that there are emerging schools of thoughts in social science, which include positive psychology, behavioral economics and institutional economics.

What molds the decision-making behaviors of people?

Essentially, motives (behaviors) and institutions are the two factors that shape the decision-making behaviors of people. Today’s behaviors are tomorrow’s institutions and time is inherent in influencing the motives and institutional structures. Peoples’ perceptions, levels of understanding and affective status change as time goes by. And that, to a large extent, is manifested in their decisions. Such conception is a clear departure from conventional psychological and economic teachings, which regard behaviors or motives of people as stagnant. Conventional teachings suggest that rationality is a human trait that is unaltered, irrespective of changes in time and institutional set up.

Explaining recent global political dynamics

Populism, nationalism and anti-establishment ideas have been gaining momentum in recent years and months and that impetus resulted in Brexit and the coming to power of Donald Trump. By referencing the socio-economic, political and security related environment and institutional setups of the day, psychology of ideology, a subsidiary of behavioral and institutional economics, has ample explanations on the current global dynamics in terms politics, economics and security.

So why do people become irrational?

Broadly defined, irrational people are those who are eccentric, erratic and do not look far ahead. They are driven by instinct and whims rather than rules and principles. According to the teachings of psychology of ideology, people do not always behave in a somewhat rational manner; it is natural that people behave in an illogical manner. In times of crises, whatever the level the crisis is – both at an individual or collective level – irrationality looms.

Our time is a time where major global powers are bewildered by economic and security problems. As a manifestation of those crises, political groupings that adhere to nationalistic and populist agendas are constantly rising. These groups live on crises. Instead of being logical and trying to find solutions to the problems, they add fuel to fire and preserve the instabilities. However, people would eventually sense how they are being cheated by populists when things get back to normal. The recent episode with regards to Brexit attests that. Indeed, the British people were victims of the growing populism. Nigel Farage, a populist and arguably an esoteric politician, who spearheaded Brexit, was unable to go further with his agenda. For a significant number of Britons, his moves amount to betrayal. Most Britons, who voted for Brexit, did so out of confusions. Because of that, they asked for a second referendum. However, that move was too little too late. The Americans too are undergoing similar confusion under the stewardship of the capricious Donald Trump.

Why Trump triumphs?

Trump, an anti-establishment Republican, who happens to be opposed by his fellow right wing politicians, still remains to be an enigma for many. Psychology of ideology has something with regards to unlocking the Trump puzzle. Accordingly, for those who question how on earth Trump, a man with a perplexing personality, is able to lead America, the answer is quite clear. He is the product of our time. Trump has defied the traditions and sometimes the ideals of his own party by noticeably manipulating the politically ill-educated average Joe.

The teaching of psychology of ideology entail that time is a critical variable that explains the current political dynamics in the US. For anyone who looks into the workings of the American political machinery, it is neither merit nor the objective policies of either Republicans or Democrats that determine the outcome of elections. In the American political tradition, Democrats are likely to take power at a time when economic problems are growing. On the flip side, when the economy is doing relatively well but security is becoming a concern for Americans, Republicans would be the ones who would take power. Hence, Democrats are elected to heal economic woes while Republicans are called when Americans feel that their security is under threat.

During the race for the White House, economic problems were not high on the agenda. Rather, the growing influence of the Islamic State inn Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Boko-Haram and Al-Shabaab – terrorist groups that threaten the ideals of the West – took center stage and became the number one priority for Americans.

Though polls gave Hillary Clinton the presidency, time was instrumental in changing what the polls predicted. Post-election analyses conducted on the electorate, who voted for Trump, revealed that their reason to support the Republican candidate was because they perceived his policies would better shield them from the ever growing fear of terrorism. Indeed, for many Americans, it was high time for a tougher response to their potential enemies threatening their security.

Trump portrayed himself as a candidate who will meet those demands.

In that regard, after Trump relocated from New York City’s Trump Tower to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and sat behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, he did not waste time in issuing executive orders like issuing a travel ban on citizens that come from predominantly Muslim countries to the US and ramping up US military engagement in countries like Somalia.

These steadfast moves made by the Trump administration prove that his primary agenda is solidifying US hegemony. In effect, that was what was reiterated in his campaign slogan – Make America Great Again. In that regard, he has given US generals and commanders in charge of missions in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Somalia the green light to show their military might.

In the same manner, the 2017 French Presidential Election has also showed us the importance of time as an important variable that determines political happenings and eventual outcomes. The rise of Marine Le Pen was considered to be an unprecedented occurrence the French political landscape. Le Pen, who represents the far right political camp, was able to garner the support of millions of people because of the problems that emanate from our times.

Though the final results did not favor her, she has managed to show the world something very important. Le Pen tried to take advantage of the problems of the time. She did not focus on policies to draw supporters. Rather, what she promised was responding to the security fears of the French people by perpetuating xenophobia and propagating an anti-migration agenda; issues that are gradually becoming major concerns in France. Indeed, as per the psychology of economic ideology, such conditions would make far right political parties and their affiliates grow to be influential.

Ed.’s Note:  Habtamu Girma is a lecturer of Economics at the Department of Economics, Jigjiga University. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].


Contributed by Habtamu Girma


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