February 27, 2012
On Populism

Populism is afoot in the land.

Populism, taken simply, is a political ideology grounded in the belief that some elite somewhere runs things for their own good, inevitably screwing the deserving groups of society. Populist movements occur when groups of people band together seeking to overthrow this elite in the name of the “people.”

But it turns out the story is more complicated than that. Populism comes in at least two varieties: left-wing populism and right-wing populism. They share important features in common, but differ in politically significant ways.

Left-wing populists believe that society is unjustly run by an elite of corporate and wealthy persons in cooperation with their enablers in government. This cabal of “bad guys” systematically screws over the mass of people—poor, working and middle class people just trying to make a living, build good lives through access to things like public schools and affordable higher education, and enjoy the fruits of labor over the whole course of their lives.

Sound familiar? It should: I’ve just summarized the populist part of the Occupy movement.

Right-wing populism shares a skepticism of government with left-wing populism, but holds a very different group of people accountable for society’s ills. In right-wing populism, the bad guys are society’s unproductive, undeserving groups (the poor, public employees, and others who live on the public dole) along with their enablers in government. This cabal of bad people works to take money from deserving, productive people (the employed and yes, even corporations and the wealthy) to give it to people who have demonstrated their failure as people in the fact of their needing or asking for help.

Welcome to tea party America.

So it turns out that leftists and rightists share a lot in common in American politics. They both sense the good people of society are being screwed over by the bad people of society. They just define each group differently.

Need final proof? Check out the picture at the bottom of this post: it is a mashup of signs from tea party rallies and anarchist rallies against the G-20 and globalization.They say politics makes strange bedlfellows … and this time, they’re right.


October 13, 2011
What the #Occupy Wall Street (and a lot of other people) protesters are mad about

Nice depiction of the sources of anger and frustration, done graphically. From the Business Insider.

h/t: DM

January 28, 2011
Something to think about regarding the economic crisis

It wasn’t the middling middle that wrecked the world economy. It was what David Halberstam, in his analysis of how America got lost in Vietnam, called “The Best and the Brightest.”

The financial games that led to the meltdown of the global economy were invented by people with PhDs and MBAs, usually from schools so elite they’d make the rest of our noses bleed if we got anywhere near them. It was faculty at elite institutions that inculcated generations of students with the free market principles of the Chicago School and supply side economics. It was their Wharton and Harvard business school graduate students who implemented the ridiculous economic order of the last 30 years.

So, frankly, the skepticism that is apparent in many complaints about the bank bailout and various stimulus packages has a glint of truth to it. “People like YOU screwed everything up,” populist sentiments suggest, “so why should we trust people like YOU to fix it?”

These complaints may well be misbegotten—after all, would you really rather have national economic policy set by people without much formal training or experience in global fiscal regimes? But the anti-elite, populist sentiment that underlies so much resistance to continued efforts stimulate the economy is real, and explains part of why the tea party makes sense to so many Americans. One conundrum of modern life is that we are relying on elites to solve problems that were caused by elites.

That’s a hard sell. As President Obama has surely discovered!