Road Runner Populism
With unemployment down and economic growth up, one of the populists’ strongest arguments is simply to point out that all the warnings by the globalist elite, Davos cosmopolitans, neoliberals, and one-percenters about the dangers of populist economics were baloney. But basic logic dictates that unsustainable economic policies will lose their forward momentum sooner or later.
PRINCETON – Populist economics has rarely had it so good. The US economy is roaring, the stock market is soaring, and the Trump administration’s protectionism has apparently had a negligible impact on growth. Trump’s dictum that “trade wars are good” even seems to be catching on politically, confounding some of his critics. They still insist that tariffs are undesirable in general, but they now concede that such measures could be appropriate and useful to stymie China’s rise.
A similar picture has emerged in Europe, where Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Poland’s de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, are riding high on the back of full employment and labor shortages. Under these conditions, one of the populists’ strongest arguments is simply to point out that all the warnings by the globalist elite, Davos cosmopolitans, neoliberals, and one-percenters about the dangers of populist economics were baloney. The British Remainers behind “Project Fear” overstated the costs of Brexit; the UK economy has not collapsed after all.
But, of course, it is only a question of when, not if, the economic reckoning will come. Populism is not only about promises to give more to more people; but, without those promises, all of the cultural elements of populism would look merely outdated and reactionary. And even reactionaries do not like reactionary politics if it hurts them in their wallets.
We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.
To continue reading, subscribe now.
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.
Already have an account or want to create one? Log in