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Populism in vogue?


By MaryMoo - Posted on 26 January 2010

Interesting OpEd from David Brooks on the rise in popularity for populism. 

It’s easy to see why politicians would be drawn to the populist pose. First, it makes everything so simple. The economic crisis was caused by a complex web of factors, including global imbalances caused by the rise of China. But with the populist narrative, you can just blame Goldman Sachs.

Second, it absolves voters of responsibility for their problems. Over the past few years, many investment bankers behaved like idiots, but so did average Americans, racking up unprecedented levels of personal debt. With the populist narrative, you can accuse the former and absolve the latter.

Third, populism is popular with the ruling class. Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.’s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.’s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.’s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.’s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.

So it’s easy to see the seductiveness of populism. Nonetheless, it nearly always fails. The history of populism, going back to William Jennings Bryan, is generally a history of defeat.

I liked this article as Brooks calls out everyone responsible for the state of the country and that includes both corporations and average citizens.  Nothing chaps my hide worse than to hear rhetoric on either side putting the blame solely on one side or the other.  It's a cop out at best.  So when I hear this kind of lopsided accusations leveled (*cue alarms bells), I have to wonder what is the rationale in these kinds of statements.  It doesn't solve any problems as it doesn't get to the root of the matter. 

I really like this paragraph: "In their view, government’s role was not to side with one faction or to wage class war. It was to rouse the energy and industry of people at all levels. It was to enhance competition and make it fair — to make sure that no group, high or low, is able to erect barriers that would deprive Americans of an open field and a fair chance. Theirs was a philosophy that celebrated development, mobility and work, wherever those things might be generated."

*emphasis mine

Thoughts?

 

Very nice, Mary. I really like David Brooks.

I think that this quote sums it up well:

 

 [...] populism is popular with the ruling class. Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.’s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.’s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.’s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.’s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.
 
 

 

First thought: I always enjoy reading David Brooks.  He is intelligent, articulate, and -- whether I agree or disagree with his point, he always makes me think deeper.  (Guess that makes me an elitist.  tee hee)

Next thought: "populism" is in the eye of the beholder... just so darned many places that term can go.  My hope for this country lies in our education system because I want an electorate that THINKS FOR THEMSELVES.  The path we're taking to educating the public about policy -- whether it be FoxNews or MSNBC -- is very disturbing to me.  I want our school systems to instill the idea of thinking for yourself so that you can listen to all sides, and then determine for yourself what you value.

But... It seems like Americans would rather spend their time researching the 12 finalists of American Idol than candidates for public office.  It's easier, and you don't have to actually think for yourself.  AND... there are people in power who greatly prefer an uneducated electorate. 

So now I've gone off-topic and managed to depress myself at the same time.  More than any part of the article, I agree most with the point that populism always ends up failing.  I'm guessing that's because it has no real point or platform, other than to blame the other guy and keep people divided. 

 

"I'm guessing that's because it has no real point or platform, other than to blame the other guy and keep people divided." 

BINGO

 

Hey, Kim/Mary Moo-I meant to ask about this. I was interested in your take on the new bank regulations Pres. Obama announced. Wall Street created quite a scene about it last week, tanking greatly, and, while concerned, I must admit I was secretly smiling the whole time for some odd reason-almost as if a spoiled brat was finally getting a tongue lashing for a public temper tantrum. Seriously, do they really think they should just keep doing business as usual? Nothing should change? Here's the only comparison I can think of:

Judy (big banks) gets a cell phone from her mom. She abuses the privildge, texting and calling well over her minutes and racks up an insane bill sending the family busget into a frenzy (economic collapse.) Mom (taxpayers) pays the bill but dad (president) decides that this can't happen again and takes away the phone (risky policies.) Judy kicks and screams without mercy(stocks tank-the Dow losing 500 points in 3 days) hoping dad (president) will change his mind so she can go back to the bad behavior.

Am I on the right track here? 

Kelly:

Thanks for asking for my input; however, I don't feel comfortable posting anything specific about the topic.  You see, my employer is one of these TBTF banks.  I really, REALLY like my job so I feel it's best to avoid commentary.

What I will comment about, though, are two topics:

1. There is a column on The Big Picture blog regarding the politicization of the WSJ, and the author chose that exact same article to use as example.  You might find it interesting; there are several subsequent columns on Barry's blog because the WSJ seemed very quick to respond to him, AND Barry points out other, less partisan sources of financial information.

2. I have a great deal of respect for Paul Volcker ("Tall Paul")  In fact, his presence on Obama's economic advisory board played a huge factor in my voting for Obama in the first place.  During Obama's first few months in office, I grew frustrated that Volcker wasn't more apparent in the process; now, however, his input is extremely apparent, and I'm thrilled to know he's more than just a photo-opportunity for President Obama. 

 

The Columbia Journalism Review had a report on WSJ's changing journalism last May. Er, well, they had the full version online, but I have no idea where it is.

Maybe this is the one? I'll have to read it further.

----

It's sad that we've reached a point where 'government service' is a dirty word... If we're the greatest country on earth, maybe we can have the greatest government.

Lewis Black

Thanks for your input. I like Volcker, too, and I'm glad his advice is being taken. The guy I'm not thrilled with is Sommers. I heard he actually argued against extending unemployment benefits...he is way too out of touch and Wall Street-friendly IMO. Think he'll stick around?

When I see interviews with big bankers complaining about this tax on banks (on CNBC for example) they always seem to be sitting with a posh ski resort in the background. Talk about out of touch. Hard to feel their pain.

 Think he'll stick around?

Outstanding question.  Don't know, but I tend to think yes he will. 

Politico publishes the President's daily calendar.  Interesting tidbit: Larry meets with the President every day he's in town... He has the POTUS's ear on the economy more often than any other advisor.  He'd have to mess up badly for Obama to ask him to step down, IMO. 

 

Regulation really isn't my area and I haven't read much in depth about the proposals.  Really need to do more reading on this to understand the pitfalls.  Given the revenues provided by equity tradin, what will happen to cost of commercial banking if this is enacted?  

On the outset, it would seem reasonable that the banks must choose protection or proprietary trading given the fallout.  The taxpayer shouldn't be on the hook for business' poor decision making given that we already are for gov'ts poor decision making and our own.

One thing to keep in mind is that these services are provided b/c there is a demand by the consumer.  What regulation is there that will curb that?  2 sides to every story and bottomline is that it is not just the banks that created the problem.

 

 

 

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