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Populist

Quote of the week: Daniel Hannan

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"The populists always fail in their own terms. Let me be more specific, the protectionists always fail. They always end up delivering the sharpest fall in living standards to the people who are their biggest supporters."

- Daniel Hannan - British politician, writer and journalist.
 
Quoted in Financial Times print edition January 28, 2017 "Lunch with the FT."

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Break it and see: norms of good governance and the wobbly protection of public opinion

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Events around the world (on this please see Freedom in the World 2017) are teaching us at least two astounding lessons. The first is that in liberal constitutional democracies good governance is far more dependent on norms, particularly constitutional conventions, than formal rules. This has serious implications. The second lesson is that when certain political actors choose to ignore the norms of good governance …and the details vary depending on the context…it is not at all clear that anything can stop them. Let’s take these two issues one by one.

Norms, conventions, formal rules

In his classic work, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution the great English jurist, A.V. Dicey, introduced a distinction between what he called constitutional laws and the conventions of the constitution. Constitutional law, he pointed out, consists of rules that the courts will enforce. But there are other constitutional rules:

The other set of rules consist of conventions, understandings, habits, or practices which, though they may regulate the conduct of other officials, are not in reality laws at all since they are not enforced by the Courts. This proportion of constitutional law may, for the sake of distinction, be termed the ‘conventions of the constitution’, or constitutional morality.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy
Freedom House
In 2016, populist and nationalist political forces made astonishing gains in democratic states, while authoritarian powers engaged in brazen acts of aggression, and grave atrocities went unanswered in war zones across two continents. All of these developments point to a growing danger that the international order of the past quarter-century— rooted in the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law—will give way to a world in which individual leaders and nations pursue their own narrow interests without meaningful constraints, and without regard for the shared benefits of global peace, freedom, and prosperity. The troubling impression created by the year’s headline events is supported by the latest findings of Freedom in the World. A total of 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains. This marked the 11th consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements.

Financial Flows and Tax Havens: Combining to Limit the Lives of Billions of People
Global Financial Integrity
Global Financial Integrity (GFI), the Norwegian School of Economics and a team of global experts released a study showing that since 1980 developing countries lost US$16.3 trillion dollars through broad leakages in the balance of payments, trade mis-invoicing, and recorded financial transfers. These resources represent immense social costs that have been borne by the citizens of developing countries around the globe. Funding for the report was provided by the Research Council of Norway and research assistance was provided by economists in Brazil, India, and Nigeria. Titled “Financial Flows and Tax Havens: Combining to Limit the Lives of Billions of People,” the report demonstrates that developing countries have effectively served as net-creditors to the rest of the world with tax havens playing a major role in the flight of unrecorded capital. For example, in 2011 tax haven holdings of total developing country wealth were valued at US$4.4 trillion, which exacerbated inequality and undermined good governance and economic growth.

What is this thing called ‘populism’? : Jan-Werner Müller hoes the weeds

Sina Odugbemi's picture

One of the most astounding features of public debate and discussion is how many times this occurs: a word acquires wide currency, even notoriety, yet its boundaries remain limitless and, very often, nobody really knows what it means. Because of current events around the world, right now the best example of such a word is “populism”. For instance, I read a special section in Foreign Affairs recently titled ‘The Power of Populism’ and after reading several of the essays I still could not make out the precise  meaning of the concept. Right now, what seems clear is that being called a ‘populist’ is not a good thing. It suggests that you are somehow a demagogue, and that you have something to do with getting large numbers of people worked up, and that you are generally up to no good.

In search of conceptual clarity, I recently acquired and read a new book by Jan-Werner Müller, a professor of politics at Princeton University. The book is titled simply: What is Populism? (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). It is a short, lucid, and exceedingly intelligent book.  Müller starts the book by demonstrating the ‘conceptual chaos’ around ‘populism’. The concept, he shows, is deployed fairly carelessly. It is a contested concept. He goes on to demolish what he calls definitional dead ends, that is, suggestions in public debate and discussion that populism means one or all of the following things:
  • A particular psychological cast (you can fill in the terms of abuse you have heard!);
  • A particular class of citizens (like those famous non-college educated voters!);
  • A particular set of daft or simplistic policies; or
  • A particular style of politics (boorishness, incivility or the famous paranoid style etc.).

Is a ‘populist’ a shameless demagogue?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

If you maintain even a nodding acquaintance with the contents of the global financial/business press one of the things you notice is as follows. They all promote, consciously or unconsciously, a set of policies that ‘responsible’ governments should follow if they want to stay within The Grid. And The Grid is the set of rules and norms that allow access to pools of global capital.  Stay within, and money flows into your country; get kicked out, and money dries up. Now, for countries facing financial crisis, or those simply concerned about growing inequality, the worries about the devastating impact of austerity are real. Yet, the masters of the universe who control The Grid don’t give two hoots about equity, jobless youths or hungry pensioners. They simply say to these countries: “Do what you need to do to stay within The Grid or you are going to find your economy, your country languishing in the wastelands. Your call.”