May 26, 2017
NY Times Book Review: The Fix by Jonathan Tepperman
May 26, 2017
March 22, 2017
by Dr. Sorpong Peou
Cambodia’s ruling party is seeking to shore up its chances of electoral success with recent changes to the rules governing political parties, Sorpong Peou writes.
Much has been written about the Cambodian culture of impunity as an obstacle to democratic development, but what is still least understood is the fact that the persisting culture driven by the fear of personal retribution (actual or perceived) has been a principal threat to democracy.–Dr. Peou
Is Cambodia heading towards a single party dictatorship? This is a legitimate question after the Cambodian government took a drastic but unsurprising step in February 2017 to amend the law on political parties – a step that its critics consider undermines liberal democracy. In my view, Cambodia has not resembled any form of liberal democracy since 1997, and the existing hegemonic party system is likely to remain.
If and when it comes into effect, the amended party law will allow the Supreme Court to dissolve any political party with leaders who have criminal records and to bar such party leaders from standing for political office for five years. Moreover, the new law requires that any party that loses its President find a replacement within 90 days of the King’s signature.
The amended law will also allow the Ministry of Interior to suspend indefinitely any political party that the government considers to be involved in activities resulting in an “incitement that would lead to national disintegration” and subversion of “liberal multi-party democracy.”
The amendments were designed to ensure that the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Prime Minister Hun Sen will remain politically dominant, but not to eliminate opposition parties. They were intended to further empower two CPP-dominated state institutions – the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Interior – to prevent opposition parties, especially the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), from winning enough seats to form a government.
The CPP does not want to see the 1992 or the 2013 national election repeated. It lost the UN-organised election in 1992, but forced the winning party (led by the Royalists) to share power, and then removed the royalist prime minister from power by force in July 1997.
The multi-party system has since weakened, giving rise to a hegemonic party system, with the CPP as the dominant power. However, the party was badly shaken by the 2013 election results: it won only 68 seats (compared to the 55 seats gained by the CNRP), leaving it with fewer seats than the previous elections.
Attempts by Hun Sen to seek reconciliation with CNRP’s Sam Rainsy has not been successful
After the 2013 election, the CPP leadership did a lot of soul searching and took a number of steps to weaken the CNRP. Opposition politicians have been subject to intimidation and litigation. Sam Rainsy, ex-President of the CNRP and opposition leader (in exile since 2015), has been sentenced to a total of seven years in prison. CNRP Vice-President Kem Sokha had been subject to criminal prosecution and sentenced to five months in prison (for not showing up in court for a dubious lawsuit against him) before he received a pardon from the King at Hun Sen’s request.
All this goes to show that the CPP leadership was well aware of the fact that it would not do well in the upcoming commune election in June 2017 and the National Assembly election in 2018 – if the CNRP could have its way. After the July 2016 killing of Kem Ley, a popular political commentator known for his strong criticism of the government, the CPP has become increasingly unpopular with growing public anger directed toward them.
Government officials have confidentially indicated that the CPP is determined not to lose in the upcoming elections and that it would not transfer power to any winning party if it lost. The amendments to the party law were just another step the CPP has taken as part of its pre-emptive measures designed to avoid the repetition of the 1992 and 2013 elections.
Much has been written about the Cambodian culture of impunity as an obstacle to democratic development, but what is still least understood is the fact that the persisting culture driven by the fear of personal retribution (actual or perceived) has been a principal threat to democracy.
Top members of the CPP elite remain as insecure as ever. What else can explain the fact that the (CPP) Prime Minister has up to 6,000 personal bodyguards? Opposition members have called CPP leaders traitors and threatened to bring them to justice for their past human rights violations (perhaps including some of those committed under the murderous Pol Pot regime) and rampant corruption. CPP leaders, thus, appear to believe that their political fate would be sealed if they lost the elections.
It is reasonable to assume that the CPP is not interested in turning the country into a single-party dictatorship, as some commentators think. The ruling party would be happy if it could just maintain a party system that would allow it to remain dominant and secure.
Cambodia has enjoyed peace, stability and sustained economic growth since 1998
The CPP’s behaviour may s also help explain weak reactions from members of the international community, especially donors, some of whom seem to prefer political stability under a CPP leadership to chaotic democratic politics. Others may simply have come to the realisation that there is not much they can do to weaken the CPP’s grip on power.
Over the past several years, CPP leaders have worked harder to deepen their relations with two powerful authoritarian states – Russia and China. China has emerged as Cambodia’s largest donor. Sino-Cambodian relations have grown much tighter in recent years. The harsh reality is that the CPP leadership remains suspicious of Western democracies’ regime-change agendas and wary of any criticisms directed at the human rights situation in Cambodia.
The current global political environment also does not allow democracy in Cambodia to thrive. The looming return of fraught geopolitics (the rise of China, the escalating tension in the South China Sea, the ongoing confrontation between Russia and the West over Crimea and Ukraine), the rise of right-wing forces in Europe and the United States, and the persistence of authoritarianism in Southeast Asia – have all produced negative effects on Cambodian politics.
Dr. Sorpong Peou is Full Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University, Canada, and a member of the Yeates School of Graduate Studies.
This article is a collaboration with Policy Forum — Asia and the Pacific’s leading platform for policy analysis and debate.
March 14, 2017
by Rashaad Ali
The Desperate Godfathers of Hududism in Malaysia–UMNO’s Najib Razak and PAS’Hadi Awang
The 18 February 2017 rallies both for and against the bill to amend the 1965 Criminal Jurisdiction Act, known as RUU 355, have opened yet another political and social schism in Malaysian society. RUU 355 began as a private member’s bill by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) President Hadi Awang and seeks to raise the penalties for certain crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of sharia courts in Malaysia.
Public opinion appears divided on the issue, as the continued politicisation of religion takes precedence over authentic religious debate on the matter. Some see the bill as a facade for the eventual entry of hudud — Islamic — laws into the country. PAS held the rally in support of the bill, which drew a reported 20,000 people, while the counter rally was organised by the non-governmental organisation Bebas and drew a much more modest crowd of around 200.
Hudud –The Political Hypocrisy of It All
Support for the bill is significant enough. Various surveys, including one conducted recently amongst university students, indicate Malay-Muslim support for the amendment and for the implementation of Islamic laws. The pro-RUU 355 rally emphasises this and the numbers indicate some level of moderate success for PAS — mobilising 20,000 odd people for a rally is no small feat.
But as the subject of this bill is central to the party’s aims, larger numbers could have been expected. This suggests a difficulty in appealing to urban folk and that mobilised supporters from other, more remote parts of the country account for the majority of the turnout.
The counter rally, held at the same time but at a different location to the PAS gathering, better demonstrates the mood regarding the bill. While the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) was critical of the bill when it was first announced, it eventually distanced itself from the counter rally completely. The only DAP name who attended was Zaid Ibrahim, and that was in his individual capacity rather than as a party member.
The DAP’s absence is unsurprising as the issue puts it in a difficult position: the DAP may not support the bill, but attending the counter rally would cement the perception that they are an anti-Malay and anti-Muslim party. The discourse surrounding this issue has been very black and white; support for the bill is seen as a Muslim’s religious duty, while opposition to it is deemed vehemently anti-Islamic.
The general public’s low attendance at the counter rally suggests that the issue was not significant enough to take to the streets in numbers. For Malay-Muslims, the fear of reprisal for attending a rally seen as anti-Islamic is a significant factor in keeping people away. It appears easier for the pro-RU 355 rally to draw Malays, as the narrative is more populist, keeps with a conservative Islamic position and is supported by major Malay parties like the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and PAS.
As for non-Muslim participation, it appears this issue is neither relevant nor attractive enough to drag would-be participants out of bed in the morning. They can hardly be blamed as many voices from the pro-RU 355 camp constantly state that the amendment will not affect non-Muslims.
Although this amendment does not mean that non-Muslims are suddenly going to be tried under sharia law, having two legal systems for two different groups of people brings the notion of equality before the law into question. For a multicultural country that should seek to be inclusive instead of exclusive, these amendments are not helpful, especially when considering the knock-on effect it will have on the country as a whole.
Past cases of overlapping jurisdiction between sharia and civil courts, such as conversion cases or burial rights of non-Muslims indicate that the separation of the courts is not clearly defined. While the bill aims to raise the penalties for certain crimes under sharia law such as murder and theft, some constitutional experts argue that these crimes fall strictly under the purview of federal, not sharia, law. This bill exacerbates an already highly polarised society divided along racial and religious lines.
It is also another episode in the overall Islamisation trend happening in Malaysia that directly and indirectly affects all groups in society. Various incidents in the past few years point to how religious relations in the country can easily sour. A church was forced to take down its cross display in 2015, there have been recent issues with the usage and distribution of paint brushes containing pig bristles and there is now moral policing of dress code at government buildings.
The issue is complicated further because it is primarily for political rather than religious purposes. Putting aside PAS’ ambition to see this through, the bill is an obvious affirmation of the party’s own religious credentials. In the current climate, this helps to regain the trust of its core supporters, which also explains why the UMNO has jumped on the bill’s bandwagon. It helps the UMNO bolster its image at a time when the administration has suffered a dip in popularity. The timing of this issue is also convenient, as elections are due to be held by 2018.
As it stands, it would not be surprising if the bill passes next month when it comes to parliament. Opposition members who oppose the bill are likely to be absent from the vote for fear of being branded anti-Islamic. If the amendment passes, the biggest concern is whether it will worsen existing racial and religious polarisation in the country. Given the political dimension of the bill and the looming general election, a more inclusive Malaysia is not yet on the horizon.
Rashaad Ali is a research analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
This article was first published here on RSIS.
March 13, 2017
by Paul Krugman@www.nytimes.com
The U.S. economy added 10.3 million jobs during President Obama’s second term, or 214,000 a month. This brought the official unemployment rate below 5 percent, and a number of indicators suggested that by late last year we were fairly close to full employment. But Donald Trump insisted that the good news on jobs was “phony,” that America was actually suffering from mass unemployment.
Then came the first employment report of the Trump administration, which at 235,000 jobs added looked very much like a continuation of the previous trend. And the administration claimed credit: Job numbers, Mr. Trump’s press secretary declared, “may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”
Reporters laughed — and should be ashamed of themselves for doing so. For it really wasn’t a joke. America is now governed by a president and party that fundamentally don’t accept the idea that there are objective facts. Instead, they want everyone to accept that reality is whatever they say it is.
So we’re just supposed to believe the president if he says, falsely, that his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever; if he claims, ludicrously, that millions of votes were cast illegally for his opponent; if he insists, with no evidence, that his predecessor tapped his phones.
And it’s not just about serving one man’s vanity. If you want to see how this attitude can hurt millions of people, consider the state of play on health care reform.
Obamacare has led to a sharp decline in the number of Americans without health insurance. You can argue that the decline should have been even sharper, that there may be troubles ahead, or that we should have done better. But the reality of the law’s achievement shouldn’t be in question, and you should worry about the consequences of Trumpcare, which would drastically weaken key provisions.
Republicans, however, are in denial about recent gains. The president of the Heritage Foundation dismisses the positive effects of the Affordable Care Act as “fake news.” In Louisville over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence declared that “Obamacare has failed the people of Kentucky” — this in a state where the percentage of people without insurance fell from 16.6 to 7 percent when the law went into effect. And as for the likely impacts of Trumpcare — well, they literally don’t want to know.
When Congress is considering major legislation, it normally waits for the Congressional Budget Office to “score” the proposal — to estimate its effects on revenues, outlays and other key targets. The budget office isn’t always right, but it has a very good track record compared with other forecasters; even more important, it has always been scrupulous about avoiding partisanship, and therefore acts as an important check on politically motivated wishful thinking.
But Republicans rammed Trumpcare through key committees, literally in the dead of night, without waiting for the C.B.O. score — and they have been pre-emptively denouncing the budget office, which is likely to find that the bill would cause millions to lose health coverage.
The truth is that while the office got some things wrong about health reform, on the whole it did pretty well at projecting the effects of a major new bill — and far better than the people now attacking it, who predicted disasters that never happened. And whatever criticisms one may have of its forthcoming score, it will surely be better than the ludicrous claim of Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, that “nobody will be worse off financially” as a result of a plan that drastically cuts subsidies and raises premiums for millions of Americans.
But this isn’t really about whose analyses of health policy are most likely to get it right. It’s about Trump and company attacking the legitimacy of anyone who might question their assertions.
The C.B.O., in other words, is in the same position as the news media, which Mr. Trump has declared “enemies of the people” — not, whatever he may say, because they get things wrong, but because they dare to challenge him on anything.
“Enemy of the people” is, of course, a phrase historically associated with Stalin and other tyrants. This is no accident. Mr. Trump isn’t a dictator — not yet, anyway — but he clearly has totalitarian instincts.
And much, perhaps most, of his party is happy to go along, accepting even the most bizarre conspiracy theories. For example, a huge majority of Republicans believe Mr. Trump’s basically insane charges about being wiretapped by President Obama.
So don’t make the mistake of dismissing the assault on the Congressional Budget Office as some kind of technical dispute. It’s part of a much bigger struggle, in which what’s really at stake is whether ignorance is strength, whether the man in the White House is the sole arbiter of truth.
March 13, 2017
February 27, 2017
by Economist Brigitte Granville*
Today’s populist movements are all following a similar economic prescription, and governments in Hungary, Poland, and the US are giving the world an early dose of what the future may hold. Will voters swallow the medicine, or will they soon start seeking a second opinion
For at least the past year, populism has been wreaking havoc on Western democracies. Populist forces – parties, leaders, and ideas – underpinned the “Leave” campaign’s victory in the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States. Now, populism lurks ominously in the background of the Netherlands’ general election in March and the French presidential election in April and May.
But, despite populism’s seeming ubiquity, it is a hard concept to pin down. Populists are often intolerant of outsiders and those who are different; and yet Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch populist leader, is a firm believer in gay rights. In the US, Trump’s presidential campaign was described as an anti-elite movement; and yet his administration is already practically a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs.
While today’s populist resurgence comes from the nationalist right, some of the leading populist exponents in recent decades – such as Venezuela’s late president, Hugo Chávez – were firmly on the left. What they share is a zero-sum view of the world, which necessitates the creation of scapegoats who can be blamed for all problems. Moreover, because populist leaders claim to embody the uniform will of a mythical “people,” they consider democracy to be a means to power, rather than a desirable end in itself.
But populists have more in common than an obsession with cultural boundaries and political borders. They also share a recipe for economic governance, one that Project Syndicate commentators have been tracking since long before today’s brand of populism began dominating the world’s headlines. Guided by their insights, we can begin to understand the origins of today’s populist resurgence, and what is in store for Western countries where its avatars come to power.
Given populism’s many faces, is it really possible to identify a root cause? For Warwick University’s Robert Skidelsky, it is no coincidence that the two major political upheavals of 2016 – the Brexiteers’ success in last June’s referendum and Trump’s election victory – occurred in “the two countries that most fervently embraced neoliberal economics.” The US and the UK’s economic model over the past few decades, Skidelsky observes, has allowed for “obscenely lavish rewards for a few, high levels of unemployment and underemployment, and curtailment of the state’s role in welfare provision.” And this widening inequality, he writes, “strips away the democratic veil that hides from the majority of citizens the true workings of power.”
But Gavekal Dragonomics Chief Economist Anatole Kaletsky sees another dynamic at work, and offers “several reasons to question the link between populist politics and economic distress.” For starters, he points out that “most populist voters are neither poor nor unemployed; they are not victims of globalization, immigration, and free trade.” Having analyzed Brexit exit polls and voter-survey responses, Kaletsky concludes that “cultural and ethnic attitudes, not direct economic motivations, are the real distinguishing features of anti-globalization voting.”
At first blush, these arguments may seem incompatible; but their disagreement is really only between ultimate and proximate causes. For Skidelsky, “It is when the rewards of economic progress accrue mainly to the already wealthy that the disjunction between minority and majority cultural values becomes seriously destabilizing.” Likewise, for Kaletsky, “The main relevance of economics is that the 2008 financial crisis created conditions for a political backlash by older, more conservative voters, who have been losing the cultural battles over race, gender, and social identity.”
Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel warns against focusing exclusively on “the bigotry in populist protest” or viewing it “only in economic terms.” The fundamental issue, he argues, is “that the upheavals of 2016 stemmed from the establishment’s inability to address – or even adequately recognize – genuine grievances.” And, because these grievances “are about social esteem, not only about wages and jobs,” they are difficult to disentangle “from the intolerant aspects of populist protest” – namely, anti-immigrant sentiments.
Nobel laureate economist Edmund Phelps also links populist voters’ anger to their loss of dignity in the larger political economy. As the share of US employment in manufacturing has steadily declined, blue-collar workers, Phelps notes. “have lost the opportunity to do meaningful work, and to feel a sense of agency.” In other words, “losing their ‘good jobs’” meant losing “the central source of meaning in their lives.” And while many of the lost manufacturing jobs were replaced with new jobs in new sectors, as Oxford University historian Margaret MacMillan cautions, nuanced economic arguments “cannot counter the unhappiness of people who feel marginalized, undervalued, and scorned.”
Princeton University’s Jan-Werner Mueller, who published a highly regarded book about populism last year, has identified such “feelings of dispossession and disenfranchisement” as “fertile ground” in which populist politicians can sow seeds of resentment. And, in an earlier commentary that long predated the current news cycle, Mueller explained that, “Populism cannot be understood at the level of policies; rather, it is a particular way of imagining politics.” Above all, he observes, the populist imagination is inherently divisive: “It pits the innocent, always hard-working people against both a corrupt elite (who do not really work, other than to further their own interests) and those on the very bottom of society (who also do not work and live off others).”
In its more virulent forms, populism can be thought of as being akin to an autoimmune disease, whereby democracy gives rise to forces that attack it. Andrés Velasco, a former finance minister of Chile, laments that the nature of representative democracy can create an impression that politicians are “distant and untrustworthy.” The “rhetoric of modern democracy,” he writes, “emphasizes closeness to voters and their concerns.” But elected representatives cannot spend all of their time interacting with constituents when they have a duty to govern. When this dissonance between rhetoric and reality becomes “too glaring,” Velasco notes, “political leaders’ credibility suffers.”
This loss of trust leads disaffected citizens to put a premium on perceived authenticity. So, “although populist policies reduce overall economic welfare,” Velasco notes, “rational voters choose them because they are the price of distinguishing between different types of politicians.” In fact, such a willingness to suffer further economic pain in order to avenge elite betrayals and strike back at scapegoats may be a defining element of today’s populist resurgence.
Populist leaders in Hungary and Poland, who are currently advancing their own brand of “illiberal democracy,” seem to have staked their governments’ future on this presumption. As Central European University’s Maciej Kisilowski points out, it may not even matter that “the high economic costs of illiberal democracy are already apparent.” These countries’ electorates, Kisilowski surmises, “may regard economic stagnation as an acceptable price to pay for what they want most: a more familiar world where the state guarantees the dominant in-group’s sense of belonging and dignity, at the expense of ‘others.’”
Sławomir Sierakowski of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw provides further support for this point. When Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) returned to power in Poland a year ago, many assumed that it would quickly fail. Instead, it has succeeded, because Kaczyński mastered the politics of “two issues near and dear to voters: social transfers and immigration,” Sierakowski explains. “As long as he controls these two bastions of voter sentiment, he is safe.” Of course, given the PiS government’s politicization of the courts, the civil service, and the press, the same cannot be said for Poland’s democratic institutions.
But how long can populist governments sustain generous transfers in the absence of strong economic growth? The answer will depend on how long their supporters remain convinced that they can have their cake and eat it – which is precisely what former Brexit leader and current British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson promised to Leave voters. Indeed, as Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs observed just after the Brexit vote, “Working-class ‘Leave’ voters reasoned that most or all of the income losses would in any event be borne by the rich, and especially the despised bankers of the City of London.”
Given the UK economy’s unexpected resilience last year, the populists probably feel vindicated. But, though most economists misjudged “the immediate impact that the United Kingdom’s [vote] would have on its economy,” writes Chatham House’s Paola Subacchi, “a gloomy long-term prognosis is probably correct,” given British leaders’ desire for a complete break from the European Union’s single market and customs union.
Such delayed effects can create an alibi for unsustainable policies, which, according to Velasco, is precisely “how economic populism works.” For example, the approach that Trump seems likely to take – tax cuts, growth-stimulating measures, and protectionism, with little thought given to inflation or public debt – is untenable, and will ultimately fail. But, as Velasco puts it, “‘Ultimately’ can be a very long time.” And that can give populist governments more staying power than many observers assume. “Populist policies are called that because they are popular,” he notes. “And they are popular because they work – at least for a while.”
In the meantime, populist leaders can pursue policies favored not only by their base, but also by many of their opponents. In the whirlwind of his first days in office, for example, Trump fulfilled his campaign promise to abandon the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This, Princeton University’s Ashoka Mody believes, was actually a welcome move, given that “international trade agreements, propped up by powerful interests, have become increasingly intrusive.” Similarly, before Trump’s election, Harvard University economist Dani Rodrik called for a rebalancing “between national autonomy and globalization.” In Rodrik’s view, it should go without saying that “the requirements of liberal democracy” must come before “those of international trade and investment.”
Trump’s promise of corporate tax reform has also wide appeal beyond his electoral base. For Harvard’s Martin Feldstein, who chaired President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, current legislative proposals to overhaul the US’s outdated tax system could “have a highly favorable impact on business investment, raising productivity and overall economic growth.” Assuming that Trump, working with congressional Republicans, can strike the right policy balance, he will have bought himself some time with the business community.
Princeton University economic historian Harold James makes a related point, arguing that “the economics of US populism will not necessarily fail, at least not immediately,” owing to the US’s “uniquely resilient” position in the global economy. “Because [the US] has historically been the global safe haven in times of economic uncertainty,” James notes, “it may be less affected than other countries by political unpredictability.”
But even if Trump can extend his honeymoon, James does not discount the possibility that “today’s contagious populism will create the conditions for its own destruction.” One way that could happen, argues Benjamin Cohen of the University of California, Santa Barbara, is if the US loses its “exorbitant privilege” as the issuer of the dominant international reserve currency. If Trump “pursues his protectionist promise to put ‘America first,’” Cohen writes, “investors and central banks could gradually be impelled to find alternative reserves for their spare billions.”
Trump’s version of economic populism could also face a reckoning if it results in a new boom-bust cycle – one that could end in a period of stagflation around the 2018 US congressional elections. Just before the election, Feldstein warned that “overpriced assets are fostering an increasingly risky environment.” Given that the US economy is already at full employment, with an inflation rate near 2%, Trump’s planned fiscal stimulus could push it into overdrive, and force the Federal Reserve to raise the federal funds rate.
Such a scenario would certainly worsen the plight of Trump’s constituency of white working-class voters in America’s former manufacturing heartland. But so, too, would his trade proposals, which could easily precipitate trade wars with China, Mexico, and other trading partners. Trump has told displaced blue-collar workers to blame trade deals and competition from imports for the loss of their jobs. But, “with productivity gains exceeding demand growth” worldwide, Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz points out, America “would have faced deindustrialization even without freer trade.”
Given this, Trump’s prescription of trade protectionism, Stiglitz says, will only “make all Americans poorer.” One reason, explains former World Bank Chief Economist Anne Krueger, is that imports create and sustain jobs, too. The irony of Trump’s proposed import tariffs is that they threaten American exporters. Many export-industry jobs, Krueger points out, exist because inexpensive imports enable American manufactures to compete domestically and abroad; and “exporting to the US gives foreigners more income with which to buy imports from the US and other countries.”
Simon Johnson of MIT also fears such a lose-lose scenario. If Trump starts taxing imports, Johnson argues, “the cost per job will be high: all imports will become more expensive, and this increase in the price level will filter through to the cost of everything Americans buy.”
Other Project Syndicate commentators have pinpointed a deeper flaw in populist economics, apart from any specific policy proposal: recklessness. Populists often overplay their hand by flouting legal, economic, or political conventions, or by exerting inappropriate influence in markets to try to funnel benefits to their supporters. In fact, according to a classic study of economic populism in Latin America by Sebastián Edwards of UCLA and the late Rüdiger Dornbusch of MIT, it is standard populist practice to show “no concern for the existence of fiscal and foreign exchange constraints” in the pursuit of faster growth and redistribution.
New York University’s Nouriel Roubini suspects that Trump may be similarly tempted to interfere inappropriately in currency markets. As his stimulus measures push up the value of the dollar, Roubini says, “Trump could unilaterally intervene to weaken the dollar, or impose capital controls to limit dollar-strengthening capital inflows.” But if Trump is too reckless with his “damage-control methods,” already-wary markets will succumb to “full-blown panic.”
Mody, for his part, sees serious risks in Trump’s interference in corporations’ practices and business decisions. By bullying companies over Twitter to keep jobs based in the US (or to punish them for dropping his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line), Trump has already begun to undermine “the norms and institutions that govern markets.” And in Phelps’s view, Trump’s Twitter interventions, combined with his deregulation agenda, risk entrenching corporatism at the expense of the innovation and competition necessary to sustain economic dynamism and income growth.
With populist movements leaving political establishments reeling, could a positive counter-populist economic policy agenda soon emerge? The Nobel laureate economist Michael Spence sees an opportunity in disaffected voters’ rejection of an insufficiently inclusive economic-growth model. “With previous presumptions, biases, and taboos having been erased,” he writes, “it may be possible to create something better.” Likewise, for Stiglitz, Trumpism’s silver lining is that its opponents are experiencing “a new sense of solidarity over core values such as tolerance and equality, sustained by awareness of the bigotry and misogyny, whether hidden or open, that Trump and his team embody.”
An implicit argument running through many Project Syndicate commentaries is that the only prophylactic against economist populism is more aggressive redistribution. As Rodrik puts it, populism – and poor governance generally – emerges when elites prove unwilling to “make adjustments to ensure that everyone does indeed benefit” from the existing economic model.
Behind recent, large-scale rejections of the “system” is a widely shared sense among certain groups of voters that the “establishment” has subordinated citizens’ interests to cosmopolitan goals such as globalization, immigration, and cultural diversity. Most commentators agree that economic shocks such as the Great Recession or the eurozone sovereign-debt crisis are neither necessary nor sufficient to explain the rise of populism. Rather, populism is more a response to prolonged economic malaise, deteriorating living standards, declining trust in established institutions, and a common perception that incumbent leaders have feathered their nests at the people’s expense.
These are complex economic and political problems for which populism offers fancifully simple solutions. Efforts by the media to move the populist mind have proved counter-productive, and will likely continue to do so.Those opposed to the populist cure will have to come up with an equally powerful alternative, or look on helplessly as economic uncertainty and despair overwhelm the patient.