Irrational choices spring from rational motives

November 16, 2016 11:35
Leung Chung-hang (right) and Yau Wai-ching may have made a bad decision in using derogatory language in their failed oath-taking, but the important question is why they did it and why many teenagers side with them. Photo: Reuters

With 2016 nearing its end, it is Donald Trump's election as the next US president, rather than Britain's decision to leave the European Union, that probably will be considered the most stunning world news of the year.

Perhaps the overwhelming majority of American people, maybe even Trump himself, did not take his bid for the White House seriously when he first announced his candidacy back in June 2015.

Nor did any mainstream political analyst both inside and outside the United States really believe that he had a realistic chance of winning at all, given that he had been behind Hillary Clinton in basically every major poll before election day.

So how on earth did Trump manage to pull off the biggest election upset in US history when the odds seemed to be stacked against him in every single way?

Perhaps Lawrence Summers, the former US Treasury secretary, has the answer to the 64,000-dollar question.

He says the rapidly widening wealth gap and sluggish pay rise in the job market have led to deepening social divisions and mounting public grievances across America in recent years.

In particular, many middle-class families are feeling deeply frustrated with the fact that they have been unable to benefit from the slowly recovering economy, and the quality of life for them has basically regressed to the 1980s level.

Worse still, many college-educated professionals find themselves unable to pay off their student loans even if they are already pushing 40.

Completely disillusioned and angry, these people who used to form the main pillar of American society have become so fed up with the empty promises made by mainstream politicians.

Desperate for change, they were eager to take a chance, and many of them eventually cast their vote for the unorthodox Trump rather than the pro-establishment Hillary Clinton.

As we can see, the seemingly irrational choice made by many American voters on Nov. 8 could actually have been driven by a rather rational motive: to facilitate drastic social change and improve their own lives by casting a vote of no confidence to the political establishment.

And that raises some interesting questions: While many adults and elderly in our city have been outraged by the “poor” choice of words of the Youngspiration duo during their oath-taking, why is it that the vast majority of our teenagers are so indifferent to the whole controversy? Where does that deep sense of alienation come from?

On the other hand, could the seemingly irrational acts of the two young localists and those who support them also have been prompted by rational motives?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 15.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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