Guest Author: Carlo Sacino
Populism. If you open a newspapers or look up the news online, you are likely to find declarations from the President of the European Commission Juncker, or the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, or the French President François Hollande, just to name a few, that ‘’European people should not fall for populism’’.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of ‘’The Black Swan’’, best-selling book on the verge of the 2007 financial crisis, offers a different interpretation in one of his latest commentaries in a harsh criticism of intellectuals: ‘’ What we generally call participation in the political process, he (The Intellectual) calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the Intellectual-Yet-Idiot, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences.’’ 1)The Intellectual Yet Idiot, Medium 201609-16.
Under that point of view, ‘’populism’’ is a mere rejection by the middle and working class of the Western world, both Europe and the United States, of policies that they feel do not benefit them.
In an old fashioned, liberal perspective, populism is simply the lower classes pursuing their own interest, hence not a threat to democracy at all; if anything, a much needed participation that however happens to hold opposite views with that of the established elite.
The rejection by the people of the choices of the elite is best exemplified when people are allowed to go beyond the traditional left and right division of parties, but get to vote on a single issue. Here parties traditionally identified as center-right or center-left tend to pick a side, while far right and far left parties pick the other. The most recent examples are the Dutch rejection of the Ukraine Accession Treaty in April, and the ‘’populist catastrophe’’ of Brexit in June, which both confirm the unfavorable tradition of the European Union decisions in national referendums.
The latter in particular caused an uproar: however the success of the Brexit side wasn’t simply due to the efforts of the far-right UKIP; the most decisive factor was the core electorate of the pre-Blair, Labour, re-surging under the popular acclamation of Jeremy Corbyn against the representatives of the ‘’Modern Left’’. ‘’If you’ve got money, you vote in,” she said, with a bracing certainty. “If you haven’t got money, you vote out,” opened the Guardian, analyzing the referendum outcome, reminding how the richest areas of London voted overwhelmingly pro-EU, while the lower income areas of England voted overwhelmingly against it. 2)‘If you’ve got money, you vote in … if you haven’t got money, you vote out’, The Guardian 2016-06-24.
The reasons listed by the people interviewed by the British newspapers range from wages shrinking to 3£ a hour, to recruitment agencies discriminating against British people as foreigners are willing to work ‘’insane shifts for risible rates’’.3)‘If you’ve got money, you vote in … if you haven’t got money, you vote out’, The Guardian 2016-06-24.
It’s hard to accuse people holding those views of being ideologically biased against the EU, as they are simply voting with their (empty) pockets and common sense, and yet some intellectuals, sharing the views of the elite, raged against the ‘’mindlessly angry, ignorant masses’’, accusing them of ignoring the grand scheme of global politics4)It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses, Foreign Policy 2016-06-24..
More recently, Christine Lagarde of the IMF addressed the need to make ‘’globalization work for all,’’ admitting that ‘’ growing inequality in wealth, income, and opportunity in many countries has added to a groundswell of discontent, especially in the industrialized world—a growing sense among some citizens that they “lack control,” that the system is somehow against them.
Financial institutions are being seen as unaccountable to society. Tax systems allow multinational companies and wealthy individuals not to pay what many would consider a fair share. Corruption remains endemic. And there is the challenge from uncontrolled migration flows, contributing to economic and cultural anxieties.’’5)Making Globalization Work for All, IMF 2016-09-13.. The lower classes of developed economy have been the big losers of globalization and therefore are rejecting the system.
The Economist on the other side rejected this view, pointing out the decades of economic growth,6)Why they’re wrong, Economist 2016-10-1. and yet in an article that opened with the premise of proving ‘’wrong’’ those who criticize globalization, it failed to address to whom that creation of wealth went, missing the point completely.
Proponents of globalization thus seem to be blind to the negative effects it has on the lower classes and deaf to criticism which they belittle as populism with a paternalistic approach, and yet the ‘’populist’’ tide keeps rising and doesn’t see an end in sight.
A failure to admit that certain policies have favored the upper class over the lower ones, and the necessity to undo those mistakes is today the biggest enemy of European integration.
The upcoming constitutional referendum in Italy could signal the end of the pro-EU Renzi government, paving the way for the anti Euro, yet not anti-EU for the moment Movimento 5 Stelle.
Next year both French and Dutch national elections will see far right parties leading the polls.
If the globalist elite refuses to listen to legitimate concerns of the people, 60 years of European integration risk being rejected altogether with its current proponents by the common citizen, even if he does not share an ideological bias against the EU itself.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||The Intellectual Yet Idiot, Medium 201609-16.|
|2, 3.||↑||‘If you’ve got money, you vote in … if you haven’t got money, you vote out’, The Guardian 2016-06-24.|
|4.||↑||It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses, Foreign Policy 2016-06-24.|
|5.||↑||Making Globalization Work for All, IMF 2016-09-13.|
|6.||↑||Why they’re wrong, Economist 2016-10-1.|