Populist discord threatens democracy


Pick an adjective to describe the current political mood—angry, anxious, populist—and one thing about the descriptor is certain: It will fit the atmosphere on both sides of the Atlantic equally well, Gerald F. Seib writes for The Wall Street Journal:

Political trends in Europe and the U.S. often move in synchronization, and rarely has that been more true than right now. In both places, the political establishment is shaking, fringe actors are moving to center stage, parties are changing face and voters appear to be tearing themselves loose from their traditional moorings.

In Europe, “you’re seeing, as in the U.S., that the political center has collapsed,” said Heather Conley, a former State Department official who analyzes Europe for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Collapsed and discredited. That’s why you’re seeing the increase on the far right and the far left.”

“What’s happened is the social compact between the European governments and its people has collapsed,” she said.

An adult-sized automaton, which can climb stairs and enter and exit a car, illustrates a looming challenge for the 2,500 elite delegates at this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Bloomberg reports:

How to protect their companies and jobs by harnessing advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, without exacerbating the economic frustration and populist discord spreading around the globe. Disappointment with the current state of economic affairs is a major driver of support for anti-establishment politicians, said Davos regular Stu Eizenstat, a former official in the U.S. State and Treasury departments …… If leaders aren’t careful, we’ll have “a revolution that disenfranchises a lot of middle class people and breeds a lot of resentment,” he said.

A corrupt status quo with entrenched political and corporate interests will, over time, erode faith in democratic institutions, The New York Times reports:

History suggests that can lead to economic instability, even violent revolution. Certain types of populist movements, however, carry their own, equally frightening risks…. All variations of modern populism share a similar root: disaffection with the social contract, and an abiding sense that the benefits of economic progress are not just asymmetrically distributed but potentially no longer available to ordinary citizens.

“The history of populism in democracy is not great, and it’s not self-correcting in a lot of cases,” said Kenneth M Jacobs, chairman and chief executive of the international investment bank Lazard. “You only have to look to Europe between the two wars and to a number of the Latin American countries prewar and postwar to see that.”

A shift to pro-growth policies will make currency wars and populism less likely, writes Robert Zoellick, a former president of the World Bank and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

“If in 2016 there is no shift from monetary to growth policies, the future envisioned by Profs [Larry] Summers and [Kenneth] Rogoff could prove more likely: sluggish growth; currency conflicts; and populist politics and fights over distribution — punctuated by mini-crises as struggling economies falter,” he writes for The Financial Times. “Political leaders can either try to shape their countries’ destinies now or risk a future reckoning from the decade’s economic experiments.”


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