Bernie Sanders was a low-profile U.S. Senator who had been mayor of Burlington, Vt. Further burnishing his national political credentials: He is a proud socialist. These are not the typical attributes of a promising national political candidate. Yet, when running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders won 23 primary contests against deep-pocketed, prohibitive favorite Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, at the end of last year, anyone predicting that Donald Trump would emerge as the Republican presidential nominee would have been laughed out of the conversation. He is a career private-sector deal-maker, self-promoter and showman bordering on caricature.
As a candidate, Trump has proven to be thin-skinned, impertinent and frequently uninformed. These aren't the traits normally associated with successful candidates, either.
Yet, barring a coup at the Republican Convention, Trump is the nominee.
Finally, the defeat of the Brexit in the U.K. was considered a fait accompli by bookmakers, experts and markets, and then the Brits voted to leave the European Union with 52% of the vote.
Have we entered bizarro world, or is there some other explanation for Sanders, Trump and the Brexit?
All three are manifestations of the same global dynamic, and there is probably more to come. When public disaffection reaches sufficient breadth and intensity, improbable outcomes can become realities.
But what are the roots of this antipathy toward the status quo?
A disparity in income growth in advanced economies or income inequality hasn't produced social unrest historically. In fact, rising income inequality has often coincided with periods of broad prosperity, which isn't a coincidence.
Income inequality doesn't appear to present meaningful societal problems, provided that lower-earning cohorts' living standards are rising in real terms and there is opportunity for upward mobility out of the lower-income brackets. The stubborn persistence of the bottom quintile of earners representing a small percentage of overall income, which is frequently cited as evidence that lower-income earners aren't participating in the rising tide of wealth accumulation, is largely just a static reflection of young people starting their careers.