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Fiona Hill on Russia, the US, Economic Decline, and Demagoguery
16th March 2022 • Trending Globally: Politics and Policy • Trending Globally: Politics & Policy
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Fiona Hill became a household name in 2019, as a witness during President Trump’s first impeachment hearing. But before all that, she was an intelligence analyst specializing in Russia and Europe for Presidents Obama and Bush. And she watched closely as economic stagnation and inequality in Russia fueled populism and authoritarianism. 

As her new book explains, a similar trajectory has been playing out in her birthplace in the North of England, and in her new home – the United States. 

The book, titled ‘There Is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century,’ combines a personal history with a global history, and in the process explains the social and economic forces that lead to anti-democratic movements.  

This episode was originally broadcast on the Rhodes Center Podcast, another show from the Watson Institute that’s hosted by political economist Mark Blyth. It was recorded in late February, so some references to the conflict in Ukraine may be a little out of date by the time you’re listening to this. But regardless of where this conflict stands as you hear this, Fiona’s analysis of what brought Russia, the UK, and the US to this troubling reality is as timely as ever.  

Watch a recording of the talk Fiona gave to students on our YouTube Channel.

Learn more about and purchase Fiona’s book

Recent analyses on the conflict in Ukraine from other experts at the Watson Institute

Transcripts

[MUSIC PLAYING] SARAH BALDWIN: From the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, this is Trending Globally. I'm Sarah Baldwin. Fiona Hill became a household name in Twenty-Nineteen as a witness during President Trump's first impeachment hearing.

FIONA HILL: The Russians' interests are frankly to delegitimize our entire presidency. The goal of the Russians was really to put whoever became the president by trying to tip their hands on one side of the scale under a cloud.

SPEAKER 1: Fiona Hill.

SPEAKER 2: Fiona Hill.

SPEAKER 3: Fiona Hill.

SPEAKER 4: Please welcome, Fiona Hill.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

SARAH BALDWIN: But before all that, she was an intelligence analyst specializing in Russia and Europe for presidents Obama and Bush. And she watched closely as in Russia, economic stagnation and inequality fueled populism and authoritarianism. And as her new book explains, a similar trajectory has been playing out in her birthplace in the north of England and in her new home, the United States.

The book is called There Is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century. In it she combines a personal history with a global history and in the process explains the social and economic forces that lead to antidemocratic movements. This episode was originally broadcast on The Rhodes Center Podcast another show from the Watson Institute. It's hosted by political economist Mark Blyth.

She and Mark discuss her new book as well as how these dynamics relate to the tragedy in Ukraine today. This talk was recorded in late February. So many things in the conflict will have changed by the time you're listening to this. We'll include in the show notes some links to more recent analysis of the war in Ukraine from experts at Watson and regardless of where this conflict stands as you hear this, Fiona's analysis of what brought Russia, the UK, and the US to this troubling reality is as timely as ever. All right. Here's Mark Blyth.

MARK BLYTH: Fiona, welcome to the podcast.

FIONA HILL: Oh, thanks so much, Mark. Great to be with you.

MARK BLYTH: So let's dive right into this book, There Is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century. It is a story primarily about opportunities, the opportunities that people like you and I were afforded that the current generation earn. But it's also a story about the lack of opportunity in certain places and how that leads to a very nasty politics, the like of which we are seeing today, particularly in the invasion of Ukraine. But previously in various outbursts of populism, et cetera, you weave all that together in the book. Tell us about that. Tell us about how your life story and experience is woven into these moments.

FIONA HILL: So growing up in a very particular context, you don't always realize that the experience that you're having individually is occurring on a much larger scale. And that in fact, this is the kind of thing that social scientists of course know, that every individual is part of a larger aggregate set of data.

And so in my life experience, my father was a coal miner. Everybody around him were coal miners, and so his education was truncated because there was an expectation that he was going to go down the coal mines like his brother, his father, his uncles, his great uncles, his grandfather, et cetera, et cetera. So it wasn't any point in investing in any further education. When he was 14, he went straight down the coal mines. But that meant he left without any kind of qualification.

And when the coal mines closed down, he didn't have the opportunity to take that job onto somewhere else, which would have required a different educational system and a different set of qualifications. And so his opportunities for a new job were limited to a steelworks and manual labor, a brickworks, for example, which is what he did next. Or basically then going to the local hospital and becoming a porter which didn't require any qualifications apart from a good strong work ethic, showing up on time, and basically doing what was asked of you.

I end up in a very different experience because I have the opportunity for a different kind of education. At some point along the way, the educational system changes. Not everybody's being prepared to go down the coal mines. And there's a different educational system that is open to a larger group of people than had been previously. And I have the opportunity then for an education and qualifications that leads me in a different place.

But for many of the people who didn't have that, only 5% to 6% of kids leaving school in the United Kingdom go on to a university. I leave school in Nineteen-Eighty-Four and the place in which I've grown up is devastated by the closure of all the heavy nationalized industries during the process of privatization, and there's not jobs for people. Somebody like me gets out, I become part of a brain drain, I can go on, I end up going to the United States, moving further away from England.

And people in my hometown get stuck in place. There might be opportunities somewhere else, but they don't have the wherewithal to move there. And it's those kind of places that got stuck in place, the people who get themselves stuck in place and time and don't see an opportunity. A lot of people do manage to make a life for themselves and a pretty good life in and around the region, but there's many others who feel that they're absolutely trapped. And it's that sort of sense of grievance, that sense of dislocation of being somehow lost in your own land and your own environment. That ultimately provides the fuel for the kind of populism that we see in the contemporary period.

MARK BLYTH: So let's link this away from where you grew up in the north of England to where you spent a lot of your life studying, which is Russia, because Russia appears in the book quite a lot. When you first went there in the ninteen-eighties, you said it was quite similar in a way to the north of England. You are seeing the same sort of things. Tell us about your early experiences in Russia.

FIONA HILL: Well, it's also important to think about the industrial and economic structure of a place like the north of England. I've already talked about the lack of opportunity and the economic downturn and employment. But partly that was because almost the entirety of industry in the northeast of England, not all of it, but the major industries, the heavy industries that had the largest labor base, were nationalized, so run by the state, which was an artifact of the aftermath of World War II when the state had to step in to build back up again the coal, steel, and rail, and utility industries because of the devastation of the war.

When you get to the Soviet Union the entire country is state-owned. It's all nationalized because that's the essence of the Soviet system and it's centrally planned. And when I got to the Soviet Union to Moscow, the first city I'd ever lived in, what struck me was just the state of decrepitude. I was shocked. I was thinking that this is the capital city of the superpower of the land that was potentially going to blow us up back in the day in the nineteen-eighties with nuclear arms during the Cold War.

This is the land of the Bolshoi Ballet, and the opera, and all of these great art galleries. It's the cultural capital, and yet there are potholes in the road that would swallow up a car, or a truck, or a whole fleet of cars and trucks, and they've not been mended. There's all kinds of bits falling off buildings, and there's nothing in the shops.

Now, in my hometown, there's nothing in the shops either, that's because there's no demand because nobody has any money and half the shops are boarded up, because people don't have jobs. In the Soviet period, everybody has a job. Everybody's, in theory, paid. But the central planning and the whole supply side of the economy has broken down. So that gets me thinking. I mean, it's obviously somewhat different from home. But here we have also a period of industrial crisis.

And later in the nineteen-nineties when I've already started to study Russia and the whole post-Soviet system, you get this period of deindustrialization because the Russian government tries to privatize all the heavy state run industries, turn them into new modern, automated, brand spanking, new profitable industries just like that was the attempt in the UK in the nineteen-eighties. And, of course, it didn't really work very well and you get a whole load of people then unemployed.

And not only is there no supply, but there's also no demand because people don't get paid with their wages. They don't get their pensions paid. And actually for a whole chunk of time in the nineteen-nineties, Russia is a barter economy. And people are literally out there selling their household goods just to kind of keep abreast of being able to afford the basic staples. And I'm seeing all of this unfolding and it's really-- I'm completely struck by how similar these two phenomenon are in the northeast of England. And then I lived the experience that I have in one of the major cities of the world, Moscow.

MARK BLYTH: So just as in the United Kingdom, privatization didn't create the millions of millionaires that was hoped. It created enrichment of a particular part of the country called London. There was the growth of finance and other sorts of things. And Moscow followed a similar sort of trait, shall we say, a developmental tree after a while. But we then have to mention someone you've written a book about who in a sense both symbolizes and actually stabilize that system. And that, of course, is Vladimir Putin.

So he makes fleeting appearances is in the book, because the book is more about Russia as a whole. But I want to bring him in for a moment here because in a way he changes the system, right? He manages to stabilize it in such a way that it creates a kind of autocratic version of democracy. What was your read on all of that when it was happening, then you decided to write this book about Putin the operative? What was your thinking there at the time, because it was quite different from what most Russia observers were thinking?

FIONA HILL: Yeah, well it's very interesting what Putin does, and if it wasn't for what we're seeing now in his-- well, he's been 22 years in power, and right now he's invading Ukraine and smashing the place up. If we went back to the first two terms of his presidency, we might have a very different assessment of him. It would be less Vlad the Impaler and perhaps Vladimir Putin the restorer of a very different kind of Russia.

Because as you're suggesting, in the way that you phrased the question, Putin does something that on the surface looks somewhat remarkable. He inherits the country, he's designated as the successor to Boris Yeltsin that is absolutely and utterly bankrupt and insolvent, where millions of people are unemployed or underemployed and underpaid or not paid at all. The currency is crushed. They're indebted to absolutely everyone. The military has faded away because of lack of funding, and it's also just the remnants of the Soviet military.

And Putin then benefits enormously from a couple of changes of fortune when Boris Yeltsin handed Russia over to him at the end of Nineteen-Ninety. Oil, one of the ministers of the Russian economy, was around $10 a barrel, somewhere like that. So Putin has the good fortune of presiding over a meteoric sustained rise in oil prices in those first two terms. From $10 to over $100 a barrel. Then, of course, gas which is another one of the other pillars of the Russian economy increases in price. A lot in tandem at the same time.

There's huge demand for all kinds of commodities that Russia provides also coming out of China in that same time frame. So the rise of China also helps to pull demand for Russian commodities along. But Putin could have squandered all of that, right? That is also looks it could be the star of the United Kingdom at different points when they hit oil and gas in the North Sea, but they don't really turn the country around with oil and gas. They just spend down the money.

Putin doesn't do that. He does spend the money to pay off all of the debts. So he pays off the state debt, the sovereign debt, the Paris Club debt to independent investors. He stabilizes the currency, not him on his own, but he's smart enough to know that he has to hire a crack team of economists, many of whom are actually still in place now 22 years on. These great technocrats, some of them who ended up studying economics with you, Mark, and others in western universities, places like MIT and others. They're world class economists. They know what they're doing.

And he leaves them in charge of things like the Central Bank and the big financial institutions. And then he sets aside a whole series of rainy day funds, sovereign wealth funds, national wealth funds to underpin the budget. And he's very careful not to go on a spending bender. And although the oil and gas revenues kind of maintain themselves as the mainstays of the economy, he's learned from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He does start to subsidize other parts of the economy to build it up. But he's extraordinarily careful and cautious about not spending too much. And as a result of basically stabilizing the economy and building up these revenues for the state from the oil and gas sector, which is heavily taxed and he doesn't tax the population on its labor or its income as he did in the past, he basically then has the wherewithal also to refurbish the military and to build up the Russian military again.

Not perhaps to be the strongest military in the world, but absolutely to be the strongest military vis-a-vis any of its immediate neighbors. That's all part of it too. And then of course there's a different phase that emerges Two Thousand and Eight, Two Thousand and Nine we have the global economic crisis, the financial crisis that sort of starts off in the US and western markets. We get the rise of China, and then we get all kinds of other developments. But those first two terms of Putin's presidency from Two Thousand to Two Thousand and Eight are very instructive and somebody who's very clever about realizing what it takes to turn the economy and therefore Russia around.

MARK BLYTH: So let's jump forward from there, eight years from Two Thousand and Eight to Twenty-Sixteen. We have Brexit in Twenty-Fifteen. This is the backlash from the deindustrialization and that you saw in the United Kingdom, particularly in the north where are you from. And then we have Trump, who basically weaponizes Midwestern grievance to tip the election that [INAUDIBLE] the same issues.

Putin's playing a very different game. He stabilized Russia economically. He then stabilizes it for a particular form of autocratic politics by basically squeezing out any real democracy or opposition. And then he turns his attention abroad. He starts to actually actively intervene in other elections, particularly in the United States.

Now, you end up in the Trump White House in part because they're bringing you in to say, well, how much of this is real. What's really going on here, right? Because the way that the media played it was, as you recall, Trump was obviously a Kremlin agent, et cetera, and they wanted this, et cetera. But they really brought you in and pretty much I read it as a good faith attempt to say, what's going on here, figure this out, right? Was that the case?

FIONA HILL: It was. I'd work with an awful lot of people who were professional people from not just the Republican Party but across the government who'd worked themselves across different governments and who had to step up and were called in to help the Trump transition team, because Trump didn't really have a team. I don't think he was expecting to win the election at all. And he certainly didn't have a Russia team, apart from the ones that all got themselves into trouble in rather spectacular fashion.

And, again, some of the people that I'd work with but as you said, they kind of called me up and asked me if I would consider coming in. And I felt really that it was my duty to do so, to be frank, because I'd already been in the government as an intelligence officer. I knew what was going on with the Russians interfering. I'd spent an awful lot of time looking at Putin himself. I'd written this book by then, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, about Putin, his style of government.

I'd just updated and expanded the book, which I'd written with my economist colleague at Brookings, Clifford Gaddy, to factor in the annexation of Crimea and what Putin had done in Ukraine to explain this in this larger context of the way that Putin operates. And, of course, as he's doing it again. And I really felt that I could work with others who were coming in at the same time to try to push back against this and to reframe the way that we were going to approach the relationship with Russia, because I didn't believe, in fact, that Putin had elected Trump because of this other history that we've been talking about, personal history.

And I had a lot of extended family in the Midwest. I knew that the reasons that they were interested in voting for Trump had nothing to do with fake Russian persona or Vladimir Putin but on more about these socioeconomic grievances and the feeling that they'd been left behind by elites that were completely out of touch in the Democratic Party in Washington DC. And Trump was basically stirring up their feelings of frustration and anger about that.

Now, of course, Trump also got elected by billionaires and billionaires who wanted deregulation and a bunch of people who have different cultural and identity issues and saw their place in the world slipping away from them. But there was an awful lot of people who, like some of my relatives, they'd voted twice for Obama because they wanted to basically have change. And here was somebody else coming along and saying that he was going to give them change. Change that meant more investment in their regions, and maybe a bit of a change of perspective from Washington onto their plight.

MARK BLYTH: And, of course, that didn't happen. Now, one of the things that's amazing about that section of the book is I was really struck by the kind of generic problem of authoritarian leaders that show in talking about your time in the White House, which is everything is about getting proximity to the big guy. Everyone-- it's this kind of chaotic Knives Out, Game of Thrones miniature struggle as everyone's trying to get the attention of the big guy. And whoever gets closest gets to influence the agenda. It seemed to be very chaotic. There didn't seem to be a great deal of planning or strategic vision. What was it like to work in that environment, and can you describe it a little bit?

FIONA HILL: Well, there was planning and strategic vision at the working level of the National Security Council. So the first two national security advisors that I worked for-- I was actually hired by General Flynn who I'd work with at the time when I was in the National Intelligence Council, but he'd gone by the time I started, shortest kind of tenure probably in history of national security advisors. So the first person I started working for was Lieutenant General HR McMaster who was a strategic planner.

And, of course, he was trying to come up with a national security strategy and integrated strategies for a whole host of other regional issues, substantive issues, for example, cyber terrorism, this kind of thing. Now of course, President Trump wasn't in the slightest best interest in this, so in a way, that was also almost like parallel systems. There was the chaotic system that you were talking about in and around Trump and all of his inner circles, and circles that intertwined out with places like Fox News, and then all kinds of oddities of people that we now know more and more about than we did at the time.

And I had no inkling sometimes of some of these people were even there. I didn't even know who they were. And I often said I knew more about the Kremlin than I did about these intertwined, interlocking circles around President Trump. I was like, who are these people? But in the circle around the national security advisors like McMaster and then later Bolton who, Ambassador Bolton, John Bolton, who was a master at intrigue across the bureaucracies in the US government, and for somewhat that I'd also seen in action before, there was more of a normalcy to it.

This looked more like the kind of Washington DC that people think about. But the Trump White House was like the Court of the Tsar. It was just really quite remarkable. And I have to say that it did feel like something out of surrealist fiction. I was often really glad that I'd spent so much time obsessing over Alice in Wonderland as a book when I was a young girl. And I felt like I was living it every day had the potential to turn into the Mad Hatter's tea party.

MARK BLYTH: Now, Trump promised a lot to the working class voters that he seemed to actually, on some level, genuinely identify with and care about, but he was unable or unwilling or both to actually really do anything. The investment wasn't forthcoming. There was no move from the course to the heartland. There's no rebuilding of these industries. There's maybe some tariffs and that's about it.

But in contrast, Putin actually really did manage to do a bit of that. It's not just Moscow. By rebuilding the defense industries, he actually creates real jobs, et cetera. He seems to have, even though we should take it with a pinch of salt, pretty high approval ratings that most western politicians would really like. The war that he's just entered into may, of course, change this. We don't know how that's going to play out. But is there a way in which you could have imagined that Trump could have made good on his promises, or was it just too chaotic and it just was never going to happen?

FIONA HILL: There is a way that he could have made good and in some respects he did, up until the pandemic with the deregulation. And, in fact, if we look back on that time, and I do mention this in the book, there was a massive growth in jobs, and there was a massive reduction in poverty. Now, when we look at it really closely, of course, what are the kinds of jobs that were being created-- Rideshare, Lyft, Uber, service jobs, and they all come without protections. People could create, what I mentioned in the book, it's like a portfolio of jobs.

You could have four or five jobs. You might work in a restaurant. You might do DoorDash. You might have a part time cleaning job. You might have something else here. But you don't have, and this is one of the major problems in the US economic system, the benefits that come along with it. You don't have the health care benefits, which are pretty vital. So they're precarious, I mean, these are jobs that people with a decent portfolio could be living a heck of a lot better than they were. But if anything goes wrong, those jobs proved to be precarious. And, as you say, that you lose your health, you lose your income, and then many cases lose your home and everything else.

It's sort of your well-being, your wherewithal to survive. Another thing that what Trump was doing was actually very similar to Putin. I mean, he was hoping that deregulation would build up a lot more of the major manufacturing on the belief that it was kind of being held back by environmental and other regulations pulling out of the Paris Accord, for example, Climate Agreement that being unleashing, and unfettering, unshackling, as he put it, billionaires. And the idea that there would be a kind of trickle down and it would take more jobs on.

Putin, in fact, instructs a lot of the Russian oligarchs to go out there and create jobs and invest in regions. When Putin wanted to turn the town of Sochi on the Black Sea into a major hosting venue for the Sochi as it became Winter Olympics, he basically instructs a whole bunch of the oligarchs to go and invest their money in turning this into a state of the art ski resort, et cetera, et cetera, and of course that creates jobs in that period as well.

So Trump is also thinking of his oligarchs, billionaire business people, I mean, he even tries to create these round tables. And he's instructing people and Ivanka Trump, his daughter's put in charge of this, to kind of create apprenticeships, and to create kind of jobs, and work placement schemes. And they also thinks that the billionaires of the world, the truly nano percent of the 1%, that as the richer they get, that the more that they will obviously spend in luxury yachts.

Creating that hopefully will be built kind of in some Miami rather than in Monaco or something like this. And it's all that kind of idea that Trump's idea is the largesse, the trickle down. And to some degree, some of this does work. And, of course, a lot of people who are the owners of major industries and who are making money hand over fist in the stock market or increased profits are feeling very happy about it.

MARK BLYTH: But ultimately, it doesn't really work. He's out and now we're in a war with our other favorite oligarch. But putting Russia to one side, the book ends on a more positive note, because the subtitle says it all which is, finding opportunity in the 21st century. So how do we find it? If it's not going to come through populism, and anger, and backlash, and billionaire trickle down, how are we going to find out? How we're going to rebuild the type of opportunities that you and I profited from?

FIONA HILL: Well, there's different levels to that, Mark, and you just mentioned something that many, many people on the podcast might not be aware of, that you and I come from very similar working class backgrounds, lower-middle class from the point of view of the United States. I mean, basically on the very bottom of the economic rung, in the bottom percentage. And we know now that in the United States, only about 7% of people rise from the economic rung that we were to basically the top. And we're some of the few that have managed to do that.

And the reason that we did it, well, part of is because we emigrated to America. There's one way of finding opportunity. We both came to the land of opportunity actually as graduate students. So we didn't kind of just get a one way ticket on a plane or a ship and wing it. We actually came here with something else and a qualification that put us on the right path. But we also came because the education system back at home permitted us to do so. Our educations were paid for by our local education authorities because we came from such poor backgrounds. We also got grants and basically subsidized education LATER ON.

MARK BLYTH: They paid us to go. It's amazing. People. Yeah, they actually paid us to go.

FIONA HILL: That's right. But we got paid to get an education. But if you're stuck in the places that we came from, so to speak, I mean, how do you, as you said, create those kinds of opportunities? First of all, there's a government level. And I say in the book that we have to think about this as development, the kind of things that we've thought about in other context, in other countries, low and middle income countries. You've been writing an awful lot about this yourself. Your book, Angrynomics, was something of an inspiration to me as I was thinking about this in the book and trying to put my own personal lived experience as a non economist into context. I was reading your book and many other economics' books as well.

There is the level of the government, because a lot of things come down to basic infrastructure which, of course, is what the Biden administration have kind got it. There's the infrastructure bill and then there's a Build Back Better bill which is a bit of a grab bag of all kinds of different things, different components that go into what I call in the book the infrastructure of opportunity. First of all, you need roads, and bridges, and rail links, and bus lines, and things like that to be able to get people to be able to go from A to B.

A lot of the people where we grew up didn't have cars, so if you couldn't get on a bus to go to somewhere, and there was a job several towns away, and the train didn't go there or anything like that, you couldn't cycle there or walk there in a reasonable time, you couldn't take that opportunity of a job because you might not be able to afford to move. So there's also issues about housing and housing benefits. And then there's health care which is actually a major issue. And one of the things that struck me the most when I came to the United States, I just still cannot to this day understand the health care system.

And I know how it emerged. I know all the kind of mechanics of it. But it is a shackle for people, it is an obstacle to mobility, and it's an obstacle to entrepreneurship. All the things that the United States thinks it's about, and yet it's kind of totally backwards in the discussion that you have in the United States. Because the creation of the National Health Service, which in the United Kingdom, which is also flawed obviously, and it hasn't kept up with all the demand, but it freed people from their workplaces.

People could move and they could move anywhere. And they would get health care. So they could take a risk and decide to branch out on their own and become an entrepreneur. And they wouldn't have to fear about being the first health crisis completely bankrupted, or having losing their family home, or being chased by debt collectors for the rest of their lives. So that is part of the whole thing, to give people the opportunity to kind of branch out, and to move, and to do something else. Because not just is social mobility very low now in the United States, lower than when you and I came, but also geographic mobility is at the lowest it's been since World War II, because there's also the housing market blew up after Two Thousand and Eight, Two Thousand and Nine with the financial crisis.

When gasoline prices fluctuate, the costs of cars fluctuate. People can't just pack up and go somewhere else. Then there's educational issues and qualifications. Another thing that's bizarre in the United States vis-a-vis England and the United Kingdom, which of course admittedly is a very small place, is a lot of qualifications don't go across state borders in the United States. Even if you're a plumber or an electrician, you might have to relicense somewhere else. You definitely do as a--

MARK BLYTH: Can I give you my--

FIONA HILL: --psychiatrist and a doctor.

MARK BLYTH: --favorite example of this?

FIONA HILL: Yeah, please.

MARK BLYTH: My favorite example is, I looked into this, this is crazy. So if you want to cut hair, you need to go to cosmetology school.

FIONA HILL: Correct.

MARK BLYTH: So if you get a hair cut, you'll see there's actually a license, right?

FIONA HILL: That's right.

MARK BLYTH: Now, you're in the EU, and you're in Romania, and you're like, I cut hair, you could go all the way to Portugal and cut hair and no one will ask you for a license. When you go from Rhode Island to Massachusetts, which is like literally from one street to another, you're meant to take an additional 600 hours of cosmetic school before they'll let you cut hair over the border.

FIONA HILL: Well, that's exactly what we're talking about is a barrier to opportunity, isn't it?

MARK BLYTH: It's a huge barrier.

FIONA HILL: It's a huge barrier. So these are the kinds of things that I talk about in the book, that we need to have the government at the state level, and local level, as well as the federal level change some of these kinds of regulations. But we also then, I think, have to think about opportunities, something that larger networks can create as well. And I do talk in the book about the things that universities can do, for example, things we're sitting here at Brown University and talking about that schools can do to think about people who might be like you and me who come from families that have had no history of further education and higher education and don't really know what to do.

I mean, it's still, to me, miraculous that I am where I am, because I had no clue when I left school about where to apply, and what to study, and what to do. And when I got to university, I was so far behind everyone else because they'd all taken courses to prepare themselves for going to Oxford and Cambridge. And they came from private schools. And they had the education that I couldn't even dream of, the new things I didn't even know I needed to know. And so we need to have these kinds of extra preparation.

And one of the biggest problems that we're facing is not just there's lack of opportunity based on gender, or race, or ethnicity, but there's also lack of opportunity based on specific geographic locations. There's something that we all call, you know, in the business spatial inequality. So you came from Dundee, and I came from County Durham, and we come from places that at the time when we were there had been completely left behind, that had gone into a long-term decline. The taxpayers had disappeared. The educational system was shot. There was few jobs, few opportunities. And people couldn't get retrained. They couldn't get further education.

If you lost your job at 30, good luck with that finding a new skill base. You lose your job at 50 and 60, you might never work again even though you're short of retirement. And so how do you deal with specific places? Now a lot of people would say, well, it's a waste of time to invest in all of these places that have declined. But then you've got to be able to give people the wherewithal to move. As I said before, it's very hard, particularly if you're a hairdresser, and you can't take your qualification just a couple of towns away, [INAUDIBLE] across the state line.

But you also have to think about the educational base back there. But then there's also going to be people who can't move or don't want to move. It's not feasible for them to move, so at different kind of levels. You've talked in your book about, Angrynomics, about how do you create local assets to figure out how you can reinvest in a place to a certain level to improve people's well-being and to give them a kind of a stake in this. It has to also involve the local people, not just local businesses and local governments. But it has to be all kinds of different levels, and at the back of the book, I lay that out.

And in your book, Angrynomics, you talked about a lot of that as well, because it comes from different levels. It's taking things back to the communities, back to the people and giving them a stake, not just different levels of government, but people figuring out themselves about how are they going to improve their well-being. That's the essential idea in the preamble of the Constitution of the United States about the general welfare. And back in the day, welfare didn't mean being on the government assistance.

Welfare meant about how you might provide the well-being of a broader public. In the northeast of England, the miners association set up what they called welfare clubs and welfare societies, mutual assistance that was paid for by their dues, their money that was pooled, you know, supposedly help out the people who had less but also provide educational opportunities and all kinds of things for other people at the local and community level. And that kind of idea, I think, we need to bring back as well.

MARK BLYTH: Unfortunately, we're out of time, but that's a great and hopeful place to leave it. Rebuilding assets, rebuilding confidence, rebuilding mobility. It just remains to be done. Let's hope that it is. Fiona Hill, thank you very much.

FIONA HILL: Thanks, Mark. Thanks for having me.

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SARAH BALDWIN: This episode was produced by Dan Richards and Kate Dario. Our theme music is by Henry Bloomfield. Additional music by the Blue Dot Sessions. I'm Sarah Baldwin. This conversation was originally broadcast on The Rhodes Center Podcast, another show from the Watson Institute. If you enjoyed it, you should definitely subscribe. Again, that's The Rhodes Center Podcast. And, as always, if you like what we're doing here, please help spread the word. Tell a friend about us, and leave us a rating on whatever listening app you use. We'll be back in two weeks with another episode of Trending Globally. Thanks.

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