Is populism really a problem for democracy?


Former NED board member Francis Fukuyama

Much of today’s populist backlash can be attributed to an “extremely ruthless and competitive version of neoliberalism,” according to Stanford University’s Francis Fukuyama.

“A lot of today’s populist backlash is actually due to this neoliberal economic world, where if you could squeeze the slightest couple of cents out of the supply chain by moving your production out of North America into some Asian country, you would immediately do it,” he tells Persuasion’s Yascha Mounk. “And if you could squeeze your workers, you could insist that they not join a union, and then you could nibble away at their benefits and so forth. You were justified in doing this because there were economists who said, ‘Well, that’s what makes capitalism efficient.’”

“That was one of the versions of neoliberalism, and I think it has made a lot of young people really dislike capitalism,” Fukuyama asserts. “Today, they associate capitalism with this extremely ruthless and competitive version of neoliberalism, and that has had a lot of dire political consequences for all of us.”

Populism offers the promise of democratic renewal, bringing new actors and policies into the political system. But while populist parties in power can make politics more representative, they can undermine accountability when their lack of ability or interest in legislating shifts policymaking to other actors outside the ruling party, analyst Patrick Liddiard observed for the Wilson Center.

Larry Diamond has argued that populism can, at a minimum, threaten liberal democracies when populists reject the notion of pluralism and embrace cultural exclusion, he wrote in Is Populism Really a Problem for Democracy? Populists in government can erode the institutional checks on executive power necessary for durable democracy, even in previously resilient advanced democracies, and populist mobilization has precipitated democratic breakdown in the wealthiest democracies to ever revert to autocracy: Turkey, Venezuela, and Thailand. RTWT


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