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The Dead-End of Corbynismo

SANTIAGO – Latin America has a new export: populist backlash. It first landed on the warm and receptive shores of the Mediterranean, nurturing support for Greece’s Syriza and Spain’s Podemos. Now it has reached the United Kingdom.

Corbynismo, the ideology of the long-marginalized British MP Jeremy Corbyn – who admired Venezuela’s late president, Hugo Chávez, thinks Vladimir Putin was justified in invading Ukraine, and now heads Britain’s venerable Labour Party – sounds familiar to anyone acquainted with Latin America. It calls for monetary financing of fiscal deficits (now called “people’s quantitative easing”), nationalization of industry (beginning with the railroads), and an end to competition and the private provision of public services. This is the stuff that former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his supporters thought – wrongly, it seems – they had consigned to the dustbin of history.

Of course, this new populism (Hillary Clinton’s Democratic rival Bernie Sanders is also a card-carrying member) has much fodder. As Martin Wolf has emphasized, the 2008-2009 financial crisis made voters understandably angry at “greedy plutocrats and their lackeys in politics and media.” Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman (who sometimes sounds like a Corbynista, but isn’t one) and Wolfgang Munchau stress that Europe’s moderate left lost popular support by being too ready to embrace the extreme version of fiscal austerity demanded by Germany and its orthodox allies.

But being mad is not the same as being right. The new European populists are parlaying legitimate frustration into a misguided set of policies that can only produce more of the same. Latin Americans learned this the hard way in decades past. Europeans (and perhaps Americans) may be about to as well.