Inequitable growth, human cooperation, and right-wing populism

Wed 26 Jun 2019 3:30pm5:00pm


Customs House
399 Queen St
River Room


We regret to inform you that unfortunately this public lecture has been cancelled. The speaker, Professor John Roemer, was involved in a hiking accident and he is unable to travel to Australia at this time. We apologise for any disappointment or inconvenience this has caused, and thank you for your understanding.

Please note: The two-day Inequality of Opportunity conference from 27-28 June will still proceed as planned.

Customs House
Professor John Roemer

About the public lecture

In the United States, total real income growth over the period 1989-2014 was 61%, but only 0.3% of this growth went to those in the bottom half of the income distribution – crumbs from the table.   This extremely inequitable sharing of the economy’s growth is, I argue, what lies behind the victory of right-wing populism in the United States.    In particular,  this inequitable sharing of growth is in sharp contrast to what occurred in the immediate post-war period, 1945-1980, when one-third of the total income growth went to the bottom half of the income distribution.

The United States and western European countries experienced a relatively cooperative ethos among their citizens due to the victory over fascism in World War II, as evidenced by the sharing of growth in this period, and the advent of the welfare state.  I outline a theory of how citizens cooperate with each other, despite the generally pessimistic lesson of modern economic theory, which views homo oeconomicus as a purely competitive animal.   In the light of this theory, we see that Donald Trump is not only spreading non-cooperative behavior in the United States (racism, nativism, misogyny, etc.) but is explicitly attempting to withdraw the United States from its cooperation with other nations.  If he succeeds, the consequences for global society will be disastrous: Trump is the homo oeconomicus of the economics textbooks par excellence. 

About the presenter

John Roemer is the Elizabeth S. and A. Varick Professor of Political Science and Economics. He is a Fellow of the Econometric Society, and has been a Fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation. His research concerns political economy, and distributive justice. He is currently teaching Political Competition and a Workshop in Political Economy. Publications include: Political Competition, Harvard University Press, 2001; Equality of Opportunity, Harvard University Press, 1998, Theories of Distributive Justice, Harvard University Press, 1996.

Inequality of Opportunity Conference

This free public lecture is sponsored by the Australian Institute for Business and Economics.  It is part of the Inequality of Opportunity Conference that is being held from 27-28 June 2019 at South Bank. For academics and policymakers, the two-day conference will draw together research on the topic of economics, inequality and in particular highlight issues related to inequality of opportunity.