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The Win-Win Fantasy of Liberal Democracy

WASHINGTON, DC – Few analysts expected Britons to vote to exit the European Union or Americans to choose Donald Trump as their next president. Yet it did not take long for a consensus explanation of these miscalculations to emerge. When it comes to such complex and consequential developments, however, we should beware of facile reasoning.

The current consensus blames the “elites” – in academia, media, and business – for becoming so caught up in their relatively cosmopolitan and connected world that they failed to listen carefully to less educated and connected groups. Because the latter groups are those that have benefited the least from globalization, they were the most likely to reject supranational institutions (in the case of Brexit) or establishment candidates (in the case of Trump). Ignoring them was, in many ways, an obvious mistake.

There is considerable merit to this view. “Group think” regularly afflicts today’s financial and intellectual elite, including pollsters, who often have similar educational backgrounds, work together, read the same media, and congregate at the same conferences and events, from Davos to Aspen.

Members of this crowd tend to believe that they have absorbed the great lessons of history. They tend to decry racism and even milder forms of ethnocentrism, and are unlikely to reject feminism. Though these groups are not paragons of diversity, there is a widespread recognition of diversity’s value, and the dominance of men, at least, is beginning to decline.