Populism is a Not an Ideology

by Joseph T. Salerno

A recent op-ed piece in The New York Times urged the Republican Party not to “throw away free enterprise” and embrace populism. Arthur C. Brooks, the author of the article, makes two bold but erroneous claims. First, he asserts that populist moments throughout history — including the Trumpian moment in the US — are triggered by severe financial crises that result in protracted and uneven recoveries that exacerbate existing income and wealth disparities.

In resorting to naïve economic determinism to explain populism, Brooks completely overlooks the awakening of the broad American middle class to political institutions and policies that have been designed by the entrenched elites of both parties to oppress and plunder them. Consider, for example, the never-ending and immensely costly war against “terror;” the Federal bailout of multi-billion dollar financial institutions both domestically and abroad; the ineffective and grossly expensive war on drugs; the pandemic of political correctness unleashed by Federal mandates and regulations that has infected American colleges and universities, and the egregious and unrestrained spying on American citizens by the bloated US security apparatus. All of these issues seem to count for nothing in Brooks’s simplistic analysis. For Brooks, “The real issue is weak, unevenly shared growth.” Brooks’s attribution of the rise of populism in the US and elsewhere almost exclusively to increasing income and wealth inequality is not only peculiar but absurd on the face of it and I will refrain from further comment on it.

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