Why Donald Trump's Election Victory Isn't a 'Black Swan Event'

Donald Trump
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives for his election night rally at the New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan, New York, November 9. Andrew Kelly/REUTERS

In considering today’s momentous event, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America, I am reminded of the phenomenon known as a "black swan event." This phenomenon is essentially something that is such a surprise that its occurrence would not have been reasonably contemplated. However, once the event has indeed occurred, there is usually a frenzied attempt to explain or rationalize it.

The notion of "black swan events" has been around for centuries and means, quite literally, the belief of a bird that did not exist. The term gained widespread popularity as a result of a book published in 2007 by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, in which, using his knowledge of mathematics and philosophy, as well as business, the writer was a sole voice in predicting the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. As Taleb asserted, there are some events that occur with such speed and are of such an unpredictable nature that previous experience provides no clues.

The election of Donald Trump is, in reality, not a "black swan event." After all, in a two-horse race, which is effectively what the American presidential election is, the fact is that one horse is going to win. However, Trump’s election is a surprise as only Tuesday we were being told by pollsters that his rival Hillary Clinton was likely to win.

What is sending shock waves around the world is the fact that the man who will become the most powerful person in the world has no experience of being involved in public service or holding any government office whatsoever. There are also the issues of his controversial statements and outbursts during the election campaign too, some of which border on racist.

However, as the expression goes, “it’s the economy, stupid”—a term coined by James Carville, the campaign strategist of Hilary’s husband Bill during his 1992 presidential campaign against president George H. W. Bush. The expression was meant to send a powerful message that change was required to make people feel better. Ironically, it is Trump who has made the argument that he can bring change to those who feel impoverished as a consequence of losing jobs in America’s "rust belt" due to international competition. Conversely, Mrs. Clinton argued that what was needed was continuity rather than radical change.

Voters in the U.S. have voted for change to be carried out by a man who has promised to make them feel better off. The question is, what this will mean in practice and what it will mean for the rest of the world, including the U.K?

Trump’s pledge to "tear up" international free trade agreements will severely disturb relationships that have existed for decades and, many argue, will be negative for global economic growth throughout the world. The idea of protectionism, something Trump is an advocate of, was believed to be outdated in a world in which barriers and borders are less important.

The early signs are that markets are taking time to consider what the realities of Trump’s victory will really mean. Because of his distinct lack of pedigree or experience—this is a man who has been criticized for poor judgement in running his own business and who has been widely disowned by many significant figures in the party he represents (including ex-president George Bush junior)—there is uncertainty.

Given we continue to experience the vicissitudes resulting from Brexit and there are still concerns about the Chinese economy, Trump’s election as president of the United States really does add to the sense that we live in "interesting times."

Dr Steve McCabe is an economist, business expert, lecturer and active researcher from Birmingham City University’s Business School.