Fukuyama on Nationalism and Class

Francis Fukuyama is one of the big thinkers of our generation.  
The question he asked in his 1989 essay “The End of History?” was
answered in his 1992 book “The End of History and the Last Man.”  The question was dropped in
favor of
a simple declaratory sentence.  History, characterized by
ideological conflict, was over.  Western liberal democracy won. It was a
notable example of the triumphalism at the end of the Cold War.

Fukuyama has understandably modified his views over the past quarter of a
century, and he now offers another paradigm.
  He sees Trump’s election
in the US as ushering in a new age of populist nationalism.

At the same time, Fukuyama argues that class divisions are primary and
come before all other sources of identity.  
To be sure, Fukuyama
is not Marxist.  In an essay last
year in the Financial
Fukuyama writes,” Social class, defined today by one’s level of
education, appears to have become the single most important social fracture in
countless industrialized and emerging market countries.”

Class, which is the education level,
determines the way people think about politics, according to Fukuyama.  
imagines that it is the poorly educated who have not done well economically who
have become passionately anti-elitist.  He recognizes that they do not see
themselves in economic terms, but rather racial, ethnicity or nationality

A review of voting in the British referendum on EU and the US 2016
presidential contest appears to support Fukuyama’s claim.
Silver of FiveThirtyEight fame analyzed
US voting on a county basis and concluded
that education was a better predictor than income in how people voted.  At
the risk of oversimplifying, Clinton consistently did better than Obama in
nearly all of the 50 counties with the highest education and income. 
Clinton did significantly worse than Obama in the 50 counties with the lowest
education and income.  

Of course, education and income are often highly correlated.
tried to tease out the more significant variable by finding counties that had a high education but low income (e.g. counties government, or
hospitals or educational institutions were significant employers.  Clinton
did well.  In countries where education was
lower, but incomes were strong.
  Trump outperformed Romney in most
of the counties that incomes were well above the national median and where a
little more than a third of voters had a college degree.  

Fukuyama’s argument seems to be predicated
on the link between education and economic well-being.
However, this link appears to be weakening.  In the US and UK, which have
typically experienced more social mobility than continental Europe, young
people are entering the labor market with considerably less mobility than their
parents or grandparents.   The link between social class origin and
education attainment remains close.  

There is greater differentiation between elite and common colleges and
  That differentiation seems to be, at least in part, a
response to the success of a larger percentage of the population getting a
college degree.  Also, a large number of college graduates are working at
jobs that don’t typically require a college degree,  On average in 2015,
nearly 45% of the recent US college graduates had such jobs.  It has been
rising since the end of the tech bubble
when it had been a little below 38%.  

by a couple of economists at the University of Massachusetts in
Boston conclude that:  “It is increasingly the case that no matter
what your educational background is, where you start has become increasingly
important for where you end.”
    Like other social
developments, the lower mobility has numerous causes.  The economists cite
the work of others who found that the number of low-pay jobs and extremely high-pay jobs have increased, but middle-income
jobs have fallen. 

Income equality may also play a role.  The earnings of the
highest 10% are much higher compared to the overall population.   “In the presence of increasing equality,” the UMass economists argued,
” falling mobility implies that as
the rungs on the ladder have moved further apart, moving between them has
become more difficult.”  

There are some studies that show
that technology-related job disruption that resulted in manufacturing job losses and contributed to the wage stagnation
for the better part of two decades has begun impacting a wide swathe of white
collar professionals, including accountants, lawyers,
and doctors.
  Lawyers and doctors increasingly
employees rather than small business owners.  A majority of
lawyers work for private and corporate legal offices and government.  This appears to be the first year that a
majority of doctors in the US work for large hospital conglomerates than
private practice. 

Social mobility in Continental Europe typically lags behind the Anglo-American
   We have been skeptical of claims that
populist-nationalism is sweeping across the world.  We have linked the
success of the populist-nationalist agenda to the two-party system in the US and UK.  The populist parties did
not win there, but part of their agenda was
adopted by the center-right party
in both countries.  It may have
also been partly a function of the loss of upward social mobility. 
Expectations not being met may be fueling the political response.  

Education previously was an important route to social mobility.  
That this is becoming less so has far-reaching
implications for Fukuyama’s analysis, social trust,
and economic performance.   Many social commentators see identity as
an alternative to class politics.  However, the disparity of wealth and
income and upward mobility rigidities may allow identity to complement rather
than compete with socio-economic class.  Rana
from the Financial Times is critical of the US Democrats for
embracing identity politics over what she said was Sander’s message.  Yet, the most successful Democrats on a
national and local government level appealed to the interests of numerous
identity political groups–a true rainbow coalition.  


Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email