What’s Driving Global Populism?
By David Gordon
Mises.orgJuly 15, 2017 FacebookTwitter
The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics by John B. Judis
Columbia Global Reports, 2016Donald Trump’s victory in the November 2016 election for president of the United States astonished the world. Though he had never held political office, he won the Republican nomination. The leading polls predicted his loss to Hillary Clinton in the general election, but he prevailed. How was this possible? John Judis’s book was written before Trump’s ultimate triumph, but it offers an important account of the reasons for Trump’s rise to prominence.
Unfortunately, this account rests on bad economics.Judis sets the Trump movement within the broad context of populism. “There is a kind of populist politics that originated in the United States in the nineteenth century, has recurred in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and in the 1970s began to appear in Western Europe.
Whereas populist parties and movements in Latin America have sometimes tried to subvert the competition for power, the populist campaigns and movements in the United States have embraced it. In the last decades, these parties and movements have converged in their concerns, and in the wake of the Great Recession [of 2008], they have surged. That’s the subject of this book.”
Buy Gold at Discounted PricesThe type of populism Judis considers comes in two varieties. “Leftwing populists champion the people against an elite or establishment. Theirs is a vertical politics of the bottom and middle arrayed against the top. Rightwing populists champion the people against an elite they accuse of coddling a third group, which can consist of Islamists or African American militants. Leftwing populism is dyadic. Rightwing populism is triadic.
It looks upward, but also down upon an out group.”The Populist Explosion…John B. JudisBest Price: $5.28Buy New $7.24Judis is right to see populism as a revolt against the elite, but his answer to the obvious question that next arises suffers from a fundamental flaw. If populists are against the elite, why do they think the elite has failed? As Judis sees matters, the capitalist economy periodically breaks down.
It proves unable to provide adequately for large groups of the population, hence people rise up against the elites until government limits the market to deal with their concerns. But he fails to show that the difficulties result from defects in the free market but instead takes for granted that government intervention is needed.This pattern began with what Judis sees as the origins of populism. American farmers near the end of the nineteenth century were being crushed by the unregulated market that both the Democrats and Republicans favored. “The populists were the first to call for the government to regulate and even nationalize industries that were integral to the economy, like the railroads; they wanted government to reduce the economic inequality that capitalism, left to its own devices, was creating. …
Eventually, much of the populists’ agenda … was incorporated into the New Deal and the outlook of New Deal liberalism.”Capitalism, according to Judis, again needed the guiding hand of government to cope with the Great Depression. Once more, he holds, populism led the way. Judis’s unlikely hero is Louisiana governor Huey Long, whose “Share Our Wealth” nostrum worried Franklin Roosevelt. He had been elected on a conservative platform; but unless he could move in Long’s direction, he would face popular discontent.
“That fear was an important factor in Roosevelt and the Democrats joining forces to pass what was called the “second New Deal.” Unlike the first, it dealt directly with the issue of economic inequality that Long had repeatedly raised.”Judis views with approval the New Deal policies that prevailed from the 1940s to the 1960s; unfortunately, in his view, after that a dire new policy challenged the established order. The menace was “neoliberalism.”
“This meant, in the United States, the modification, but not the wholesale abandonment, of New Deal liberalism — support for the New Deal safety net, but beyond that, priority to market imperatives.”The new policy led to trouble, and free trade bore a substantial amount of the blame. “[M]any Americans were troubled by the continuing loss of manufacturing jobs to Japan and Western Europe.” Dissatisfaction with the economy led to the Ross Perot movement, but this soon fizzled out. “Neoliberalism,” which Judis considers the chief economic error of modern times, prevailed; and inequality and loss of manufacturing jobs continued apace.
“With the economy booming in the late 1990s, neoliberalism seemed to be working. The gap between the very rich and everyone else was growing, legal and illegal immigration was soaring, and America’s trade deficit was increasing, but neither Perot … nor [Pat] Buchanan … could get any traction.”Matters changed dra………