Populism sentences to ponder

It is easier for populist politicians to mobilise along ethno-national/cultural cleavages when the globalisation shock becomes salient in the form of immigration and refugees. That is largely the story of advanced countries in Europe. On the other hand, it is easier to mobilise along income/social class lines when the globalisation shock takes the form mainly of trade, finance, and foreign investment. That in turn is the case with southern Europe and Latin America. The US, where arguably both types of shocks have become highly salient recently, has produced populists of both stripes (Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump).

That is from Dani Rodrik, there is much more at the link, via Kevin Lewis.  And here is a Peter Turchin review of Rodrik’s Economic Rules.


At some time that I have the opinion that "populist" is simply a way of saying "right-wing European politician that I dislike" or "left-wing Latin American politician that I dislike".

Right. Southern European politicians accept refugees in spite of their voters' preferences. Votes move away from them. It would be populism if it was impossible for the countries in question to close their borders once the "populist" leadership is elected, but I wasn't aware that Italian ports have been seized by the German army.

I can't speak for how others use the term, but it seems fairly easy to think of a populist as someone who seeks power by appealing directly to individuals rather than using existing power structures. Traditional power structures may, for better or worse, support policies that the poll poorly, and politicians seeking their support will therefore also support those policies. Think of Hillary's initial support for TPP and decision to not go "full Bernie" on minimum wage. Populists say, "Damn the torpedoes!" and endorse those popular policies regardless of how much institutions turn up their nose at them. Think of Trump's repeated endorsements of the wall.

Populism isn't really on the "left"/"right" axis as it is thought of, either today or traditionally.

Talking of traditional power structures seems odd in this context though; Are the Populists we are talking about confronting power structures which are actually particularly traditional, or power structures which are barely older than a couple of generations, or indeed, barely incipient? Are they appealing to individuals directly or to individual loyalties to older power structures?

Speaking of Bernie and Trump, I think you'd have to stretch pretty far to identify institutions that wielded considerable power or influence contemporaneous with the 2016 election that showed them lots of support. The DNC wasn't supportive of Bernie for sure. Most media treated him as a novelty, and while he enjoyed considerable support from college students, most professors weren't on board. There's a reason the man had so few endorsements from news papers, institutions, or important members of the Democratic party. (By comparison, Obama was nearly neck-and-neck with Clinton throughout the 2008 campaign in terms of party endorsements.)

Trump enjoyed virtually no institutional support. No one endorsed him until it was almost a fait acompli that he'd win. The closest you could come would be all the free pub he got from CNN and the like, but that was more interest in their bottom line rather than an attempt to wield political influence. The fact that the Republican party has now largely gotten on board just means that he's coopted them; they haven't coopted him.

So Obama was a populist.

It is a meaningless term, usually used by those who lost the election or control of the narrative.

In what way? He courted traditional power structures like the media and intellectual community. The NAACP is part of the extant power structure. Political parties are not the only political structures that exist, and outside of the DNC, Obama enjoyed a lot of support from the Democratic party.

As President, he drew his appointees from largely the same pool that Clinton would've. Hell, he appointed Clinton to be SecDef! He kept on the Secretary of Defense from the previous president! He bailed out the banks and Detroit. Obamacare was passed after rounds and rounds of consultation with all major stakeholders in the healthcare industry. Obama worked through traditional channels, arguably to a fault.

"Populist" is not the same as "popular", as I believe was clear above. Obama was the latter but not the former, not by a long stretch.

We are witness to an incredible thing in Europe. I mean incredible in the same way that the sinking of the Titanic was incredible. Europe is being invaded and is setting themselves up for a long emergency. Some countries will fall/fail; perhaps Italy and Greece. Other countries will endure decades of civil strife/war with daily killings/terrorism; like France, Germany, Sweden, etc. Others will do the logical thing and close their borders and avoid both; like most of Eastern Europe. In the end 100's of thousands of people will/must die, maybe millions. Entire cultures will be wiped out and replaced by this 7th century cult. The odd and inexplicable ting that will puzzle people (intelligent people) after this becomes obvious to all is why did the citizens of these countries acquiesce to this invasion that will bring about their own demise. But there will be no intelligent answer because the dummkopfs responsible for it will either be dead or become refugees. Too bad, Paris was a nice place to visit once...

Wut? Southern Europe is overrun with refugees--it's gross.

They pass by Southern Europe, but don't stay there (unless forced to it).

"That in turn is the case with southern Europe and Latin America. The US, where arguably both types of shocks have become highly salient recently, has produced populists of both stripes (Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump)."
Which foretells the death-knell of the American system as those it dispossessed rise with a holy wrath and destroy it.

Yea, the blood of the oppressive American regime will run in torrents as the terrified savage masses rise up against their masters. The walls will come crashing down and the righteous rage of the beaten down masses will turn their masters' savagery against them. There will be massive waves of blood as the American empire is torn asunder, its foundations destroyed, and the oppressed will create a New Jerusalem in the Western hemisphere, baptized in the blood of their savage oppressors, the American tyrants. Then the prophecy of History will be fulfilled, as the world looks to Brazil to lead all of mankind into its glorious, righteous future of prosperity and hope. This is so obvious.

More or less this. Have I spoken of it before?
But, to clarify, not all Americans are "American tyrants" (most Americans are their helpless victims). But evidently the handful of families who control America and their politcal puppets are.

There is so much more. As the helpless puppets rise up to destroy their tyrannical masters, they will tear them limb from limb, smashing their childrens' heads against the rocks as their oppressor parents cry out in anguish before succumbing to the righteous fury of the terrorized masses. For weeks the former tyrants will drown in their own blood, and that of their children, and their pets. And then, with the leadership of the enlightened peoples of Brazil, a new day will dawn, and the entire world will sing Hino Nacional unto eternity. The lion will rise to crush the serpent with its heel, and all the other nations of the world will bow down before their new enlightened Brazilian masters. Borders will dissolve, Portuguese will become the only spoken language, and the crimes of America will be thrown into the dustbin of history.

"Borders will dissolve, Portuguese will become the only spoken language, and the crimes of America will be thrown into the dustbin of history."
"There shall be one flock andmone shepard" John10:16
"The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them" Isaiah 11:6

No, not the innocent pets! Can't the pets be used in some kind of delicious post-apocalyptic Brazilian stew?

The impersonator wrote avout pets. Brazilians do not cook or eat pet stew. Brazilians have good taste. Even whem they starving, barely alive, Brazilian soldiers refused to eat scavangers birds during the expedition to install telegraph wires through the jungle.

Although, Brazilians do mot treat dogs as pets, they are truly delicious meat animals and Brazil is widely known for having the best dog stew in the world, callef "ensopado de cachorro" in Portuguese

No, it is not. Brazilians do not eat dogs, Chinese eat doges.

Stop impersonating me!

Noah is riffing on a classic this morning.


It isn't that we've never been there, more that retrograde motion surprises.

Noah sure is a sucker for Israel. What a coincidence.

That's sort of commonsensical. What are you 'pondering'?

Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

I think so Thiago. But where would you get a 50 gallon mate gourd?

So the left isn't mobilising along ethno-national/cultural cleavages?

Clearly, Rodrik isn't paying attention. Their immigration policy (including post-arrival) is designed to deepen and widen these cleavages. Where would progressivsm be without this to feed into their oppressor-oppressed model?

+1 the mainstream Left has been playing the identity politics game for longer. It proved unsuccessful this past election cycle because Clinton sucked as a candidate. In fairness to Mr Sanders, he seemed reluctant to go down that road, though he paid lip service to BLM after the two black lesbians too over his microphone.

Clearly, Rodrik isn’t paying attention.

Fish doesn't know it's wet. Applies to the moderators, too.

The left does indeed play identity politics, but that is not left-wing *populism*. It is the opposite.

The whole point is to appeal to minority ethnic groups while taking for granted that you will be supported by a biggish fraction of the majority group.

What about Brexit? It seems they used both the ethnic and the globalization cleavages. Thus, are they right-left-wing-populists?

That's because of relative greasiness. In southern Europe and Latin American, the natives are almost as greasy as the migrants and refugees, whereas the natives in the advanced countries of Europe are much less so. These things have to be normed according to a Relative Grease Index (RGI) to make appropriate comparisons.

Props for an attempted definition of "populism." If all it really means is "anti-establishment " then I don't understand why all right thinking pearl clutchers are eager to use it as a slur. Says more about them

Chavez was a populist because he promised to take rich peoples money, and give to the poor.

Trump is a populist, because he promised to be less of a Robin Hood than what Clinton promised.

So populist means what? Perhaps it means that "Democracy resulted in an outcome I didn't like"?

mavery says it well above

So do M and Miguel Madeira, my fellow Portlander, if I remember right.

Pondering: In Britain, Corbyn's obviously playing a populist tune. But he also doesn't seem to talk very much about globalisation.

Sanders also really wasn't much focused on globalisation at all. It really was not so important.

Zooming in, I am skeptical that "The US, where arguably both types of shocks have become highly salient recently" actually makes sense.

Trade globalisation shocks certainly don't seem particularly salient in the USA, on a world scale. International merchandising trade as % GDP in the US seems to be among the lowest in the world. As is rather unsurprising for a large, highly advanced economy.

The UK and US both seem to share having pretty low levels of international trade, relative to their GDP and both in imports and exports, and elites that are becoming increasingly internationalist in outlook.

Countries in the opposite situation, high international trade as % GDP, but a rather closed, nationalist elite seem to have little anti-globalisation rhetoric, as do countries with little international trade and a closed elite.

Seems almost like it's all about the globalism and internationalism, and a general revolt against the rise of Davos Man and the decline of dignified !WhiteCollar work, and that real levels of globalisation actually do not matter (whatever the rhetoric).

(Brexit for instance, is clearly a revolt against international governance and the idea of a single European demos. Its proponents all seem to want to maintain the minimum barriers to international trade. Not that same pattern you'd see for anything linked to anti-globalisation.).

Sanders didn't mobilize voters along class/income lines, but along race/age lines.

Really? I thought he talked non-stop about the income perks he would be (re)distributing?

Sure, but in terms of votes he didn't do noticeably better among lower income or lower educated voters.


Populism is a natural consequence of a democratically elected government that fails to listen to the people and instead favors a select few.

Rodrik's claim that we are getting to the point of diminishing returns on trade liberalization, due to the distortionary effects of tariffs being quadratic, is not really true. On average there are low tariffs, but anti-dumping tariffs can be over 100%, sugar is over 80%, Canadian lumber is at 20%, so if one weighted tariffs quadratically rather than linearly tariffs wouldn't appear to be so low.

Not all populist leaders in Latin America come from the left. Alavro Uribe was president of Colombia during the 2000s and can correctly be described as a right-wing populist. His tweets are just as incendiary as Trump's.

Comments for this post are closed