Don’t insult the populists; instead, do better!

This is a bad moment for technocracy and those of us who love it. US progressives tend to favor one of two stories to explain 2016’s populist backlash against mainstream politics. The first is a surprising rise in the number of racists; the second is a dramatic expansion in those facing economic despair. But there is another story of 2016’s populist votes – one that has to do with distrust of experts, especially experts in government. People voted for leaders who promised to declare war on technocrats in Washington and Brussels. And the uncomfortable fact is that the experts had it coming. Consider the evidence. The de-regulation of finance ought to have been technocracy’s showpiece. Rules that were simple and restrictive were replaced by regulatory codes of great complexity. These codes were an expert’s dream: designed almost without interference from the public; fine-tuned to esoteric concepts such as “risk-weighted capital;” globally coordinated via the Basel Accords. All governed, at least in part, by independent central banks – the high temples of technocracy – their expert-led decisions insulated from political interference. And, of course, all of these elaborate regulations, international working groups, and independent regulatory institutions failed to prevent – and indeed may have been partly responsible for – the global financial crisis. And then in the aftermath, the technocrats and the politicians that they served failed to bring anyone to justice while issuing self-congratulatory memos about how a bold response by central banks had averted a second Great Depression. In the Eurozone, of course, they did not issue such memos, because there the technocracy – admittedly with some political...

Why do people vote for populists?

Sam explains one reason populists have done well in recent years — the poor economic performance of governments led by technocrats, experts and establishment politicians. Video courtesy Eurasian Media...

Searching for the kryptonite against populist superpowers

Anyone just about recovered from the Brexit shock should spare a thought for Italy. About a decade ago, many middle-class Italians considered Silvio Berlusconi, a populist billionaire convicted of bribery and tax fraud, and known globally for his “Bunga Bunga” parties, to be the worst-case scenario for their nation. After the March 4th election, many middle-class Italians now find themselves rooting for Berlusconi, given that two even more populist parties, the leftist Five Star movement and the far-right League, appear likely to become the largest parties in parliament. The lesson from Italy’s troubles? Under the right circumstances, populists have political superpowers. Once populists start winning, it is very hard to get rid of them. The definition of a “populist” is a politician who campaigns on behalf of the people against a corrupt elite. To quote President Trump’s classically populist formulation: “On every major issue affecting this country, the people are right and the governing elite are wrong.” That approach tends to dictate tactics for populist candidates. In a democracy, if the (numerous) people are right and the (narrow) elite are wrong, the people ought, by rights, to get their way. If they cannot, there is something wrong with the system. And so, in most cases, populists end up claiming that the political system is broken. Again, quoting Donald Trump: “I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” Of course, the Brexit campaign was, in a rather literal sense, about fixing a...