Populism less contagious – ‘more like accidents of circumstance’?



Recent symptoms of a dangerous and contagious new populism within leading transatlantic democracies “now both look more like horrible accidents of circumstance – ballot-box mutations that earn pity for the nations that produced them,” one observer suggests.

In his new book, The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Financial Times columnist Edward Luce argues that a lack of steady economic growth and the declining fortunes of the middle class have emboldened a wave of populist demagogues. But once elected to office, those demagogues only worsen the kinds of problems they were elected to solve, exacerbating our already dire predicament, Slate’s Isaac Chotiner writes.

There are grounds to be unhopeful and hopeful, Luce says:

The unhopeful thing is that we are living through what my colleague Martin Wolf labels very correctly as pluto-populism. …My hope is that we actually do learn as societies from our mistakes. I’m going to give you a really odd example here, which is Iran. There’s just zero chance, as I understand from people who do know Iran well, that a clown like Ahmadinejad could be elected in the foreseeable future back to the presidency. They’ve been through this pantomime and they’ve stuck with Rouhani because they understand—it being in very recent memory—what the theatrical and highly damaging diversions do to their pocketbooks and to their stability as a society.

All in all, fears of significant political destabilization and systemic disruptions seem overdone, which may be one reason why markets, equities in particular, have been so stable and calm, notes Michael Strobaek, the global chief investment officer at Credit Suisse. Does this mean that we will, after all, experience the unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism that Francis Fukuyama [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group] proclaimed? This remains rather unlikely for three reasons, he writes for CNBC:

  • First, our multipolar world suggests that national and regional interests will take precedence over those promoting free markets and unfettered globalization.
  • Second, distrust of market solutions has not been overcome, not least due to the “misdeeds” during the financial crisis.
  • Third, aging societies (the “silver economy”) are unlikely to turn toward significant liberalization and reform, not least given that many of the key economic problems of the day would require a reallocation of resources between the older and the younger generations. The political models we are heading for are thus more likely going to be various forms of, more or less, liberal social democracy.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email