Skip to main content
protests in France Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

Taming the Populists

In many Western democracies, right-wing populists, energized by self-proclaimed victories over “establishment elites,” are doubling down on the claim that globalization lies at the root of many citizens’ problems. If political leaders are to keep the populists at bay, they must address those problems head on.

MADRID – In many Western democracies, right-wing populists, energized by self-proclaimed victories over “establishment elites,” are doubling down on the claim that globalization lies at the root of many citizens’ problems. For those whose living standards have stagnated or declined in recent decades, even as political leaders have touted free trade and capital flows as the recipe for increased prosperity, the argument holds considerable appeal. So it must be addressed head on.

Of course, economic grievances alone do not fuel anti-globalization sentiment; populism has emerged even in countries with low unemployment and rising incomes. But such grievances provide the kernel of truth that populist leaders need to attract support, which they then attempt to secure with distortions and exaggerations. If the economic issues are not addressed, support for such leaders will continue to grow, potentially taking their societies backward, to a less tolerant – and less prosperous – time.

The likes of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen did not gain a foothold in their countries’ politics – not to mention the chance of leading them – on their own. They exploited the feeling of many citizens that the political classes – which touted the benefits of globalization, while allowing inequality to rise to unprecedented levels – had abandoned them.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/CK0IFnv;
  1. benami154_Yousef MasoudSOPA ImagesLightRocket via Getty Images_palestine Yousef Masoud/SOPA IMAGES/LightRocket via Getty Images

    Forgetting Palestine

    Shlomo Ben-Ami

    The two-state solution is virtually dead in the water, and the international community has largely abandoned the Palestinian cause. At this point, there is little to stop Israel from cementing the one-state reality that its right-wing government has long sought, regardless of whether that leads to a permanent civil war.

  2. sachs313_SebastionBozonAFPGettyImages_EUflagtrump Sebastion Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

    Europe Must Oppose Trump

    Jeffrey D. Sachs

    European leaders should recognize that a significant majority of Americans reject Trump’s malignant narcissism. By opposing Trump and defending the international rule of law, Europeans and Americans together can strengthen world peace and transatlantic amity for generations to come.

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions