Theory and Society

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 1–36 | Cite as

Folk economics and its role in Trump’s presidential campaign: an exploratory study

  • Richard SwedbergEmail author


This article focuses on an area of study that may be called folk economics and that is currently not on the social science agenda. Folk economics has as its task to analyze and explain how people view the economy and how it works; what categories they use in doing so; and what effect this has on the economy and society. Existing studies in economics and sociology that are relevant to this type of study are presented and discussed. A theoretical framework for analyzing folk economic issues is suggested, centered on the distinction between episteme and doxa or between scientific knowledge, on the one hand, and everyday knowledge, on the other. This is then applied to an exploratory case study of the role that folk economics played in Trump’s presidential campaign. It is shown that Trump and his voters thought in a parallel way on key economic issues, especially protectionism.


Doxa Economic sociology Economic theory Financial literacy Folk economics Phenomenology 



For help with the general argument, I thank Michela Betta; and for help with Aristotle and Plato, Lambros Roumbanis. I am also very grateful to Karen Lucas, two reviewers for Theory and Society, Megan Doherty Bea, Alicia Eads, Meaghan Mingo, Trevor Pinch, and Kate Watkins.


  1. Abbott, A. (2010). Varieties of ignorance. American Sociologist, 41(2), 174–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Abolafia, M. (1996). Making markets: Opportunism and restraint on wall street. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined communities. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  4. Aspers, P. (2001). Markets in fashion: A phenomenological approach. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Baker, P. (2017). As Trump drifts away from populism, his supporters grow watchful. New York Times April 18. Downloaded on April 18, 2017 from:
  6. Barlassina, L., & Gordon, R. (2016). Folk psychology as mental simulation. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), forthcoming URL =
  7. Baughn, C., & Yaprak, A. (1996). Economic nationalism: conceptual and empirical development. Political Psychology, 17(4), 759–778.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bea, M. D. (2017). Social foundations of economic outlooks: How race and ethnicity influence consumers’ economic expectations. Qualifying paper, Cornell University, Dept of Sociology.Google Scholar
  9. Beckert, J. (2016). Imagined futures: Fictional expectations and capitalist dynamics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Beckert, J., & Zafirovski, M. (Eds.). (2006). International encyclopedia of economic sociology. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. Garden City: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  12. Berlin, B., Breedlove, D., & Raven, P. (1966). Folk taxonomies and biological classification. Science, 154(3/46), 273–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bertoni, S. (2016). Exclusive interview: How Jared Kushner won Trump The White House. Forbes November 22. Downloaded on April 11, 2017 from:
  14. Blinder, A., & Krueger, A. (2004). what does the public know about economic policy, and how does it know it. Brookings Papers on Economic Activities, 1, 327–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Borg, E. (2003). Discourse communities. ELT Journal, 57(4), 398–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Bourdieu, P. (1963). Travail et travailleurs en Algérie. Paris: Mouton & Co..Google Scholar
  17. Bourdieu, P., Boltanski, L., & Chamboredon, J. C. (1963). La banque et sa clientèle: Eléments d’une sociologie du credit. Etude réalisée sous la direction de P. Bourdieu par L. Boltanski & Chamboredon, J.C. Unpublished manuscript. Paris: Centre de Sociologie Europeenne.Google Scholar
  18. Bourdieu, P., Chamboredon, J.-C., & Passeron, J.-C. (1991). Sociology as a craft: Epistemological preliminaries. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Burawoy, M. (1982). Manufacturing consent: Changes in the labor process under monopoly capitalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  20. Burawoy, M. (2017). On Desmond: The limits of spontaneous sociology. Theory and Society, 46, 261–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Caplan, B. (2007). The myth of the rational voter. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Caplan, B. (2011). What makes people think like economists? Evidence on economic cognition from ‘the survey of americans and economists on the economy’. The Journal of Law & Economics, 44(2), 395–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Carnes, N., & Lupu, N. (2017). It’s time to bust the myth: Most Trump voters were not working class. The News & Observer [The Blog Post of Washington Post], June 5. Downloaded on June 17, 2017 from:
  24. CNN Politics. (2016). Exit Polls, November 23. Downloaded on April 16, 2017 from:
  25. Crowe, P. (2017). GEORGE SOROS: Trump is a con man and he will fail. Business Insider January 19. Downloaded on April 10, 2017 from:
  26. Curran, E., & Lau, A. (2016). Stiglitz grades Donald Trump an F on economics. Bloomberg News, September 19. Downloaded on April 10, 2017 from:
  27. Dalton, M. (1959). Men who manage: Fusions of feeling and theory in administration. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  28. de Tocqueville, A. (2004). Democracy in America. Tr. A. Goldhammar. New York: The Library of America.Google Scholar
  29. Desilver, D. (2016). Just how does the general election exit poll work, anyway? Pew Research Center November 2. Downloaded on April 9, 2017 from:
  30. Diamond, J. (2016). Trump: I could 'shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters'. January 24. Downloaded on May 27, 2017 from:
  31. DiJulio, B., Firth J., & Fellow, M. B. (2015). Data note: Americans’ views on the U.S. role in global health. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Survey January 23. Downloaded on April 2, 2017 from
  32. Dominitz, J., & Manski, C. (2004). How should we measure consumer confidence? The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18(2), 51–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Douglas, M. (2003). Rules and meanings: The anthropology of everyday knowledge. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Durkheim, E. (1964). The rules of sociological method. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  35. Economist, The. (2017). Q & A transcript: Interview with Donald Trump: The Economist talks to the President of the United States about economic policy. May 11. Downloaded on May 12, 2017 from:
  36. Edsall, T. (2017). When the President is ignorant of his own ignorance, New York Times March 30. Downloaded on April 12, 2017 from:
  37. Fernandes, D., Lynch, J., & Netemeyer, R. (2014). Financial literacy, financial education, and downstream financial behaviors. Management Science, 60(8), 1861–1883.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Fisher, M. (2016). Donald Trump doesn’t read much. Being President probably wouldn’t change that, Washington Post July 17. Downloaded on April 11, 2017 from:
  39. Fitz, N. (2015). Economic inequality: It’s far worse than you think. Scientific American March 31. Downloaded on October 7, 2017 from:
  40. Fligstein, N. (2017). Youtube lecture: Trumpism and the crisis of the American liberal world order. April 26. Downloaded on October 1, 2017 from:
  41. Fourcade, M. (2009). Economists and societies: Discipline and profession in the United States, Britain, and France, 1890s to 1990s. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Frank, D. (2000). Buy American: The untold story of economic nationalism. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  43. Gardiner, M. (2006). Everyday knowledge. Theory, Culture and Society, 23(2–3), 205–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  45. Gentner, D., & Stevens, A. (Eds.). (1983). Mental Models. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  46. Golbeck, J. (2017). When and why Trump’s tweets are inappropriate, an analysis. Psychology Today February 13. Downloaded on April 11, 2017 from:
  47. Götz, N. (2015). ‘Moral economy’: Its conceptual history and analytical prospects. Journal of Global Ethics, 11(2), 147–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Gouldner, A. (1954). Patterns of industrial democracy. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  49. Gross, M. (2007). The unknown in process: dynamic connections of ignorance, non-knowledge and related concepts. Current Sociology, 55(5), 742–759.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Halpern, S. (2017). How he used Facebook to win. New York Review of Books June 8:59–61.Google Scholar
  51. Harrington, B. (2008). Pop finance: Investment clubs and new investor populism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Hayek, F. (1945). The use of knowledge in society. American Economic Review, 35(4), 519–530.Google Scholar
  53. Hicks, K. (2016). Michael Bloomberg: DNC speech transcript, Vox July 27. Downloaded on April 10, 2017:
  54. Holmes, D. (2013). Economy of words. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Holmes, D. (2016). Public currency: Anthropological labor in Central Banks. Journal of Cultural Economy, 9(1), 5–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Holtz-Eakin, D., et al. (2017). On open letter from 1, 470 Economists on immigration. Downloaded on October 6, 2017 from:
  57. Holyoak, K., & Morrison, R. (Eds.). (2012). The Oxford handbook of thinking and reasoning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Huang, J., et al. (2016). Election 2016: Exit polls, New York Times November 8. Downloaded on April 9, 2017 from:
  59. Husserl, E. (1970). The crisis of European sciences and transcendental phenomenology. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Johnson-Laird, P. (1983). Mental models: Towards a cognitive science of language, inference, and consciousness. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Katz, D., & Allport, F. (1931). Student attitudes. Syracuse: Craftsman.Google Scholar
  62. Keegan, J. (2016). Clinton vs. Trump: How they used twitter. Wall Street Journal July 19. Downloaded on April 11, 2017 from:
  63. Kiatpongsan, S., & Norton, M. (2014). How much (more) should CEOs make? A universal desire for more pay. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(6), 587–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Kissell, R. (2016). Ratings: Viewership falls off for civilized GOP debate on CNN. Variety, March 11. Downloaded on April 4, 2017 from:
  65. Knorr Cetina, K. (1999). Epistemic cultures: How the sciences make knowledge. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Knorr Cetina, K., & Bruegger, U. (2002). Global microstructures: the virtual societies of financial markets. American Journal of Sociology, 107, 905–950.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Krugman, P. (1996). A country is not a company. Harvard Business Review January-February. Downloaded on April 10, 2017 from:
  68. Krugman, P. (2017). Ignorance is strength. New York Times February 13. Downloaded on April 10, 2017 from:
  69. Lamont, M. (2010). How professors think: Inside the curious world of academic judgment. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Leonhardt, D. (2017). Trump lies often, documented e.g. Here: All the President’s lies, New York Times March 20. Downloaded on May 10, 2017 from:
  71. Lester, R. (1946). Shortcomings of marginal analysis for wage-employment problems. American Economic Review, 36, 63–82.Google Scholar
  72. Lewis, M. (2016). Donald Trump and the rules of the New American Board Game. Vanity Fair December 18. Downloaded on April 11, 2017 from:
  73. Lusardi, A., & Mitchell, O. (2014). The economic importance of financial literacy: theory and evidence. Journal of Economic Literature, 52(1), 5–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Machlup, F. (1946). Marginal analysis and empirical research. American Economic Review, 36, 519–554.Google Scholar
  75. MacKenzie, D. (2006). An engine, not a camera: How financial models shape markets. Cambridge: The MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Malinowski, B. (1922). The argonauts of the western pacific. London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd.Google Scholar
  77. Mankiw, G. (2017). What the President could learn from professional economists. March 11. Downloaded on April 10, 2017 from:
  78. Mayer, J. (2016). Donald Trump’s ghostwriter tells all. New Yorker July 25. Downloaded on June 2, 2017 from:
  79. McCloskey, M. (1983). Intuitive physics. Scientific American, 248(4), 122–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Medrano, J. D., & Braun, M. (2012). Uninformed citizens and support for free trade. Review of International Political Economy, 19(3), 448–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Merton, R. K. (1973). Age, aging, and age structure in science. In R. K. Merton (Ed.), The sociology of science (pp. 497–559). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  82. Micklethwait, J. (2017). Would you let Trump run your company? BloombergBusnessweek downloaded on May 18, 2017 from:
  83. Mingo, M. (2016). The race for a republican presidential nominee: A lone voice of threat and decline. Unpublished paper, Cornell University, Department of Sociology.Google Scholar
  84. Moore, W. E., & Tumin, M. (1949). Some social functions of ignorance. American Sociological Review, 14(6), 787–795.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Moss Kanter, R. (1977). Men and women of the corporation. New York: basic Books.Google Scholar
  86. Nelson, L. (2016). Steve Bannon hails Trump’s ‘economic nationalist’ agenda. Politico November 18. Downloaded on October 1, 2017 from:
  87. Newcombe, S. (1893). The problem of economic education. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 7(4), 375–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Newport, F. (2016). American public opinion on foreign trade. Gallup April 1. Downloaded on April 6, 2017 from:
  89. Norton, M., & Ariely, D. (2011). Building a better America – one wealth quintile at a time. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(1), 9–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Patterson, T. (2016). News coverage of the 2016 general election: How the press failed the voters. Shorenstein Center, Harvard Kennedy School. December 7. Downloaded on April 10, 2017 from:
  91. Perrez, M. (1991). The difference between everyday knowledge, ideology, and scientific knowledge. New Ideas in Psychology, 9(3), 227–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Pettypiece, S., Olorunnipa, T. & Deaux, J. (2017). Trump makes paperwork, not jobs, in ‘economic nationalism’ push. Bloomberg News April 21. Downloaded on October 1, 2017 from:
  93. Pew Research Center. (2016). Campaign exposes fissures over issues, values and how life has changed in the U.S. March 16. Downloaded on March 17, 2017 from:
  94. Piore, M. (1979). Qualitative research techniques in economics. Administrative Science Quarterly, 24(4), 560–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Piore, M. (2006). Qualitative research: Does it fit in economics? In S. Curren & E. Perecman (Eds.), A handbook of social science (pp. 143–157). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.Google Scholar
  96. Plato. (1998). Gorgias. Tr. Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  97. Power, T. M. (1996). Lost landscapes and failed economies. Washington, D.C.: Colvelo CA.Google Scholar
  98. Proctor, R., & Schiebinger, L. (Eds.). (2008). Agnatology: The making and unmaking of ignorance. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  99. Rappeport, A. (2017). Trump’s reversals hint at wall street’s sway in White House, April 12. Downloaded on April 13, 2017 from:
  100. Ravenscroft, I. (2016). Folk psychology as a theory. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), URL =
  101. Ravetz, J. (1994). Economics as an elite folk science: the suppression of uncertainty. Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, 17(2 (Winter)), 165–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Reisberg, D. (Ed.). (2013). The Oxford handbook of cognitive psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  103. Rose, C. (2017). Breitbart’s bannon declares war on the GOP. CBS 60 Minutes. September 10. Downloaded on October 6, 2017 from:
  104. Rothwell, J., & Diego-Rosell, P. (2016). Explaining nationalist political views: The case of Donald Trump. Gallup, draft working paper. Originally SSRN August 15. Downloaded on March 17, 2017 from:
  105. Roy, D. (1952). Quota restrictions and goldbricking in a machine shop. American Journal of Sociology, 57, 427–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  106. Rozenblit, L., & Kiel, F. (2002). The misunderstood limits of folk science: an illusion of explanatory depth. Cognitive Science, 26(5), 521–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  107. Rubin, P. (2003). Folk economics. Southern Economic Journal, 70(1), 157–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  108. SAEE. (1996). Survey of Americans and economists on the economy. The Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University Project. Downloaded on March 31, 2017 from
  109. Schumpeter. (2016). Family values: Donald Trump is running his campaign like a family business. The Economist August 20. Downloaded on April 11, 2017 from:
  110. Schutz, A. (1971a). Collected papers. Volume I. The problem of social reality. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  111. Schutz, A. (1971b). Collected papers. Volume II. Studies in social theory. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  112. Sheffrin, S. (2013). Tax fairness and folk justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  113. Shiller, R. (2017). Narrative economics. Presidential address, American Economic Association. Yale University: Cowles Foundation Discussion Paper No. 2069.Google Scholar
  114. Silver, N. (2016). The mythology of Trump’s ‘working class’ support. FiveThirtyEight May 3. Downloaded on May 9, 2017 from:
  115. Skocpol, T., & Williamson, V. (2012). The tea party and the remaking of Republican conservatism. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  116. Sloman, S., & Fernbach, P. (2017). The knowledge illusion: Why we never think alone. New York: Riverhead Books.Google Scholar
  117. Smith, B., & Casati, R. (1994). Naïve physics: an essay in ontology. Philosophical Psychology, 7(2), 225–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  118. Stack, C. (1974). All our kin: strategies for survival in a black community. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  119. Stokes, B. (2016). Republicans, especially Trump supporters, see free trade deals as bad for U.S. Pew Research Center March 31. Downloaded on April 11, 2017 from:
  120. Sturtevant, W. (1964). Studies in ethnoscience. American Anthropologist, 66(3), 99–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  121. Summers, L. (2016). Donald Trump is a serious threat to american democracy. Washington Pos t March 1. Downloaded on October 5, 2017 from:
  122. Surowiecki, J. (2017). Trump’s budget bluff. New Yorker February 13–20: 34.Google Scholar
  123. Swales, J. (2016). Reflections on the concept of discourse community. Asp. La revue du GERSAS, 69, 7–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  124. Swedberg, R. (2011). The economic sociologies of Pierre Bourdieu. Cultural Sociology, 5(1), 67–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  125. Taylor, C. (2004). Modern social imaginaries. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  126. Thaler, R. (2015). Misbehaving: The making of behavioral economics. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  127. Thompson, E. P. (1971). The Moral economy of the English crowd in the eighteenth century. Past and Present, 50, 76–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  128. Treas, J., & Drobnič, S. (Eds.). (2010). Dividing the domestic: Men, women and household work in cross-national perspective. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  129. Trump, D. (2011). Time to get tough: Make America great again! New York: Regnery Publishing The book was reissued in a slightly different form in 2015.Google Scholar
  130. Trump, D. (2015). Remarks announcing candidacy for President in New York City, The American Presidency Project. Downloaded on April 10, 2017 from:
  131. Trump, D. (2016a). Republican candidates debate in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6. The American Presidency Project. Downloaded on April 5, 2017 from:
  132. Trump, D. (2016b). Republican candidates debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 10. The American Presidency Project. Downloaded on April 5, 2017 from:
  133. Trump, D. (2016c). Republican candidates debate in North Charleston, South Carolina, January 14. The American Presidency Project. Downloaded on April 5, 2017 from:
  134. Trump, D. (2016d). Republican candidates debate in Simi Valley, California, September 16. The American Presidency Project. Downloaded on April 5, 2017 from:
  135. Trump, D. (2016e). Republican candidates debate in Miami, Florida, March 10. The American Presidency Project. Downloaded on April 5, 2017 from:
  136. Trump, D. (2016f). Remarks to the Detroit economic club, August 8. The American Presidency Project. Downloaded on April 8, 2017 from:
  137. Trump, D. (2016g). Presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. September 26. Downloaded on April 7, 2017 from:
  138. Trump, D. (2016h). Presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri October 9. Downloaded on April 7, 2017 from:
  139. Trump, D. (2016i). Presidential debate at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas October 19. Downloaded on April 7, 2017 from:
  140. Vallas, S. (2011). Oxford bibliographies: Sociology of work and employments. Downloaded on April 10, 2017 from:
  141. Waldenfels, B. (1982). The despised Doxa: Husserl and the continuing crisis of western science. Research in Phenomenology, 12, 21–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  142. Weber, M. (1946). Science as a vocation. In H. Gerth & C. Wright Mills (Eds.), From Max Weber (pp. 129–156). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  143. Weber, M. (1978). Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  144. Weber, M. (2012). Collected methodological writings. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  145. Wikipedia. (2017). United States Presidential Debates, 2016. Downloaded on April 7, 2017 from:,_2016.
  146. Williamson, K. (2016). A Country can’t be run like a business. The National Review May 8. Downloaded on April 10, 2017 from: http://www.nationalrev
  147. Willis, L. (2011). The financial literacy fallacy. American Economic Review (Papers and Proceedings), 101(3), 429–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  148. Woodward, B., & Costa, R. (2016). Transcript: Donald Trump interview with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Washington Post April 2. Downloaded on April 4, 2017 from
  149. Wuthnow, R. (1993). Communities of discourse: Ideology and social structure in the reformation, the enlightenment, and european socialism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  150. Zelizer, V. (1994). The social meaning of money. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  151. Zelizer, V. (2005). The purchase of intimacy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  152. Zetterberg, H. (1989). Ödesmakter och ideologier (powers of fate and ideologies), Svensk Tidskrift (Sweden) 4-5. Downloaded on April 10, 2017 from:

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

Personalised recommendations