2013 December 16 Monday
Populist Political Rebellion Building In America?

McClatchy has an interesting article about the battle between liberal populists and politicians and former political aides associated with a more centrist (relatively speaking) think tank called Third Way. Is this a battle in the Democratic Party that is analogous to the battle between the Tea Party and the Republican party major donors?

Warren chose an indirect response. Without naming Third Way, which some liberals accuse of being bankrolled by wealthy Democrats, she sent a letter to the heads of six major banks, asking them to disclose their “financial contributions to think tanks.”

Is a new split opening up in American politics between populists and the upper classes? Investment banks and billionaires exercise considerable influence over both political parties. I expect the worsening plight of the lower and middle classes to cause them to try harder to take control of the parties so they can battle each other and battle rich people in the political arena.

The wealthy are more organized, with more money, connections, and lots of talented hired help. The poor are growing in number and the non-white poor are encouraged to see themselves as victims. The middle class, well, the center can not hold. Median household income peaked in 1998. Consider the shrinking of middle class neighborhoods:

In 1970, 65 percent of families lived in middle-income neighborhoods (neighborhoods in one of the two middle categories); by 2009, only 42 percent of families lived in such neighborhoods. The proportion of families living in affluent neighborhoods more than doubled from 7 percent in 1970 to 15 percent in 2009. Likewise, the proportion of families in poor neighborhoods doubled from 8 percent to 18 percent over the same period. Thus, in 1970 only 15 percent of families lived in the one of the two extreme types of neighborhoods; by 2009 that number had more than doubled to 33 percent of families

I've made this argument here repeatedly: Still in the middle? You are going down if you are not going up. Make a career change. Pick up more skills. Move to an area with greater opportunity and better prospects. Work harder.

Think you can benefit from a populist movement in America? I would not count on such a movement being either fair or rational. You might feel glee (or schaudenfreude if you put on airs) about populists battling billionaires. But regardless of which faction lands more blows America's slow economic growth or economic contraction will continue for some time. I leave you with Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 December 16 10:47 PM 

James Bowery said at December 17, 2013 9:41 AM:

What is the distinction between a populist movement and a democratic movement?

BA said at December 17, 2013 10:54 AM:

A "populist" movement seems to mean any sort of democratic movement that the elites don't like.

While a "democratic" movement seems to mean any sort of movement, democratic or non-democratic, that the elites like and wish to promote.

"Democratic" has positive connotations and doesn't seem to really mean anything beyond a vague sense of "good" in contemporary discourse, and thus the elites employ it as a descriptor for what they like and wish to promote.

"Populist" now and has for a while had negative connotations, similar to "fascist", "Nazi", etc., and doesn't seem to really mean anything beyond a vague sense of "evil" in contemporary discourse, and thus the elites employ it as a descriptor for what they don't like and wish to cast as "evil" in the minds of people.

CamelCaseRob said at December 17, 2013 12:02 PM:

The elite support democracy but democracy of the sort the Western industrialized nations have in which all but the most trivial decision-making processes have been removed from elected representatives and placed in the hands of unelected judges, bureaucrats, and trial attorneys.

Populism is in complete opposition to this type of democracy. If the people could vote directly on each individual issue, they'd support all these things: an end to almost all immigration, legal and illegal, and sending back people in the country illegally. Strong defense, but non-interventionist foreign policy. Strong tariffs on just about everything to put American workers back to work. Tough crime laws and severe prisons. Death penalties after one month. Gun ownership, but with licensing. Removal of vagrants from the streets. Forcing the mentally ill into institutions. Equitarianism not egalitarianism. Forced government jobs for everyone who can't find one in the public sector. An end to affirmative action. You get the idea, they are on the opposite side of the elites on all issues.

James Bowery said at December 17, 2013 12:02 PM:

So, in other words, "populist" and "democratic" are the human eusociality equivalent of eusocial insect pheromones.

Jehu said at December 17, 2013 3:57 PM:

The non-elite population in the US at this point in history is less insane and less evil than our elites. CamelCaseRob cites a number of examples where things would be a lot better were they to have their way.

Randall Parker said at December 17, 2013 9:57 PM:

BA, CamelCaseRob,

Excellent comments. They remind me of what Mencius Moldbug has to say about Eloi, Morlocks, and Proles. Basically, the Eloi do not want the Proles thinking up ideas or trying to rule.

Check it outa said at December 18, 2013 3:24 PM:

Revolution is the only possible outcome before the indifference of the elites. Americans are just recently realizing that what drives people up the fucken wall is not so much poverty, but inequality.

radical centrist blogger said at December 18, 2013 6:51 PM:

populism is when white working class people want something.

Democracy is when the elites and the nonwhites want something.

Blacque Jacques Shellacque said at December 20, 2013 5:15 PM:

Americans are just recently realizing that what drives people up the fucken wall is not so much poverty, but inequality.

No, what drives people up the wall is the government putting obstacles in the way of advancement/improvement, via regulations, bad economic policy, etc. That "inequality" complaint is all so much horsecrap.

SenatorMark4 said at December 20, 2013 5:33 PM:

Http://tinyurl.com/pw69arn Populism!!!

SteveM said at December 20, 2013 5:38 PM:

>"America's slow economic growth or economic contraction will continue for some time."

Americans economic woes and the disintegration of the middle class are the result of deliberate economic polices, polices put forward and supported by the billionaire class.

But as a libertarian Parker feels duty bound to defend that class, so he consistently speaks of the very real socio-ecnomic problems facing us as if they were as natural and inevitable as the movement of the stars.

jerry kerr said at December 20, 2013 5:53 PM:

Yes there is a split between the 'folks' as O'reily would say and the elites. Cultural, political, and economic elites work together like bees of a hive to maintain their wealth and status. Laws are made that provide cover to their cartels and monopolistic practices. Politicians enrich their families and themselves by selling off bits of our bill of rights to their fellow hive mates. The Glass is less full than it was because the oligarchs straws are sucking up the nectar.

Syl said at December 20, 2013 6:07 PM:

Both populist and democratic movements are products of the elites. The former pits 'we the people' against the rich and the latter means majority rule (when elites are in the majority). There is also an economic populism on the right (conservatives and libertarians) which embraces smaller government but it manifests itself rarely though is a force (how strong I don't know) today.

DH said at December 21, 2013 6:18 AM:

"What is the distinction between a populist movement and a democratic movement?"

I don't think there is much of a distinction. Perhaps a democratic movement has less demagoguery compared to a populist movement. Neither term captures what is most important about a movement -- namely, whether it is for or against individual liberty.

Voyager said at December 21, 2013 6:43 AM:

The way I see it, there are two types of movements.

The first is rule by pure majority. This generally seems to devolve to mob rule and is run by demagogs.

The second is rule by guaranteed protections. In essence the majority guarantees that the minority factions won't be molested, and everyone generally goes about their own business and noone else's.

James Bowery said at December 21, 2013 9:01 AM:

Voyager, rule by guaranteed protections is generally, in practice, merely tyranny of the majority limited only by a vague laundry list of selectively enforced "human rights."

The whole "liberty movement" (in reality just an Austrian School Economics movement) is going to have to grow up or die.

The state of nature is one in which a natural person has de facto rights to fight for his survival -- which includes not just his own personal survival but the right to sire and raise children to equally viable adulthood. When I use the word "fight" I mean it: Animals will fight for territorial access for the lives of themselves and their progeny. The Austrian and Lockean schools fail to recognize the situation which arises in nature when an animal is without the means of intergenerational sustenance, and the necessity of aggression in some of those situations. Civilization attempts to ignore this by proclaiming "property rights" as "natural" against "aggression". This foolishness at the heart of these schools of thought renders them forever vulnerable to collectivists. The way out is trivially obvious: Follow Lysander Spooner's definition of legitimate government as a mutual insurance company into which men voluntarily invest their natural rights in exchange for shares in and dividends from the company. The premiums paid for property rights take the place of taxes. The dividends take the place of social welfare. The violation of this simple and obvious paleolibertarian construct sacrifices the bedrock principle of liberty upon which civilization is founded for the high purpose of becoming politically impotent against collectivists.

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