What happens when free trade’s ‘losers’ realise that Trump can’t help them?

Sombre column by Dani Rodrik on the new conventional wisdom that’s evolved as a response to the populist surge. “Gone are the confident assertions”, he writes, “that globalization benefits everyone: we must, the elites now concede, accept that globalization produces both winners and losers”. He quotes Nouriel Roubini’s assertion that the backlash against globalization “can be contained and managed through policies that compensate workers for its collateral damage and costs. Only by enacting such policies will globalization’s losers begin to think that they may eventually join the ranks of its winners.”

The problem is that even if one accepts that Trump was genuinely concerned by the plight of the victims of globalisation who voted for him (a big ‘if’, given his narcissism), he cannot actually do anything to help because he is himself a prisoner of a Republican Congress that has no intention of doing anything other than buttressing the interests of the wealthy.

Conventional wisdom about finding ways of helping those ‘left behind’ by globalization, writes Rodrik,

presumes that the winners are motivated by enlightened self-interest – that they believe buy-in from the losers is essential to maintain economic openness. Trump’s presidency has revealed an alternative perspective: globalization, at least as currently construed, tilts the balance of political power toward those with the skills and assets to benefit from openness, undermining whatever organized influence the losers might have had in the first place. Inchoate discontent about globalization, Trump has shown, can easily be channeled to serve an altogether different agenda, more in line with elites’ interests.

As far as the US is concerned, the game’s up. What happens, one wonders, when the angry brigade realise that they have been royally screwed?