The Economic History of the Rise of Trumpism

January 23, 2019 - 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
John Komlos, Ph.D.
Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall
Poster image of John Komlos' talk

One of the main reasons Donald Trump won the election in 2016 is because voters in three states, all in the Rustbelt, who had voted for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012, switched their vote from Democratic to Republican. Economic dislocations played a crucial role in these democratic strongholds to persuade enough voters to take the dramatic step to vote for an anti-establishment candidate even if that meant a leap of faith into the unknown. The sources of the dislocation were the development of a dual economy characterized at one end by low and stagnating wages, increasing indebtedness, downward social mobility, declining relative incomes, and the hopelessness accompanying them while at the other end of the income distribution the economy was simply booming. This was a three-decade process that started with Reaganomics and its tax cuts that privileged the rich and conferred immense wealth, and its concomitant, political power, on them. Reaganomics also accelerated the decline in the power of unions which had supported the middle class. The process continued under Bill Clinton's administration during which both financial deregulation and hyper-globalization continued. George Bush Jr. continued to pamper the superrich with his tax policies. The process culminated with Barack Obama's bailing out the super rich and his disregard of Mainstreet.  Five administration’s indifference to the social group Hillary Clinton ungraciously referred to as “the basket of deplorables” culminated in a revolt of the masses that overthrew the establishment. The talk outlines the economic history of these processes from Reaganomics through the inauspicious bailout of Wall Street.

John Komlos is Professor Emeritus of Economics and Economic History at the Univesity of Munich. He also taught at Duke University, Harvard University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Vienna. Komlos was born in Budapest during the last days of the World War II just as the Soviet army began its assault on the city. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Komlos fled to Chicago as a refugee. While earning doctorate degrees in both history and economics from the University of Chicago, Komlos was introduced to the field of anthropometric history by Nobel-Prize winning economic historian Robert Fogel. Excited by the field, Komlos devoted most of his academic career towards developing and expanding this research agenda. In 2003, his work culminated in founding the field of “Economics and Human Biology” with a published journal of the same name.

Read more about John Komlos work here:

This presentation is sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Center and the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies. A light lunch will be served. Parking is available in nearby Trent Rd. and Erwin Rd. parking decks. The series provides 1-hour parking vouchers to guests.

Contact name

More event info


  • Duke University Center for International and Global Studies
  • John Hope Franklin Center
  • Wednesdays at the Center Series