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Reflections


Populist Insurgency

by Ralph R. Reiland,
Professor of Free Enterprise at Robert Morris University
 

Around the world, voices cry out: Power To The People" blared the cover page of the New York Post, spotlighting Britain's historic vote to split from the European Union, an unprecedented and precisely targeted strike against Europe's political and economic elite.

"Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, politics and economics have mostly moved in one direction, with the elites on both sides on the Atlantic favoring policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, the introduction of European currency and the entry of China into the World Trade Organization," write Nelson Schwartz and Patricia Cohen, economics reporters for The New York Times.

On the issue of "Britain's subservience to the EU," George Will explained the level of diminished British sovereignty in reporting that the "privileged bureaucrats" in Brussels had control of "60 to 70 percent of the British government's actions."

Not unlike Hillary Clinton's promotion of the concept that it takes a village to raise a child, the globalists' paradigm says it takes a plethora of international planning councils to raise the world's behavior through restrictions on individual and national sovereignty and the enactment of an array of global rules, commands and constraints on national budgets, public debt, income distribution, economic growth, fiscal equity, [RR1] energy, climate, borders, and the customs and values of previously self-governing nations.

"The world is also coming full circle because now it's the Brits who are free," declared New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin. "It took them a while, but they finally had their own Tea Party and their own revolution."

It took a revolution by British voters to leave the European Union after four decades of rule by the central planners in Brussels "because the leaders of both of Britain's major political parties united in opposition to change, with the pooh-bahs and grandees trying to scare voters into sticking with the status quo," explained Goodwin. "Naturally, the establishment media lectured the rubes on what was good for them. Sound familiar, America?"

Donald Trump described the British vote to exit the European Union as a move toward national independence, saying that voters "took their country back."

There was less celebrating about Britain's vote among America's top Democrats. "Stuck on the wrong side of history, President Obama and Hillary Clinton acted as if their dogs died," said Goodwin.

Portraying themselves not so long ago as topnotch agents of political change, as instruments skilled and bright enough to fundamentally transform America, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have now become more conventional than groundbreaking, turning out to be timeworn guardians and expanders of political correctness, automatic advocates of the old machine politics of group identity and group entitlements, as well as promoters of more globalization and ever-expanding programs of transnational regulations, mandates and controls.

"The economic story of the past quarter-century was the rapid advance of globalization, the unleashing of trade and commerce among countries rich and poor -- a McDonald's in every European capital and 'Made in China' labels throughout Toys R Us," writes Jim Tankersley, economic policy correspondent at the Washington Post. "The Brexit vote ends that story, at least in its current volume. Voters will soon tell us what sort of sequel they'd prefer."
Factions in other European countries "are clamoring to follow Britain out the door of the European Union," reports Tankersley, while "Donald Trump is promising to levy the highest set of tariffs in the past century for America against China, Mexico and other key trading partners."

Tankersley links these political upheavals and the backlash against the results of globalization to the income stagnation and job insecurities of the middle and working classes: "These developments come at the hands of an anxious working class across the West, whose members feel left in the cold by many developments of the rapid integration of foreign products and people into their lives."

Additionally, and more specifically, "Native-born workers without college degrees are venting their frustrations with immigrants, with factory jobs outsourced abroad and with a growing sense of political helplessness -- the idea that their leaders no longer respond to concerns of people like them."

In the vote to withdraw from the European Union, reports Tankersley, "university-educated voters in Britain overwhelmingly sided with the 'remain' campaign while "those without college degrees powered the victory for 'leave.' " Similarly, "In the United States, throughout the Republican primaries and into the general-election campaign, white voters without college degrees have formed the core of Trump's support, and polls show they, too, are frustrated with immigration and economic integration.

Tankersley quotes a succinct summary by economist Branko Milanovic regarding recent shifts in economic views among voters in the United States and other rich countries: "Populism is rooted in the failure of globalization to deliver palpable benefits to its working class."

Documenting global trends in inequality that show the rise of global trade boosted incomes for the poorest and very richest workers in the world but not the working class in the West, Milanovic contends that the surge of populism globally directly corresponds to a decline in the income share of the broad middle class.

A perceptive comment on populism made some years ago by left-wing journalist and author Alexander Cockburn might provide some troubling news for Hillary Clinton in evaluating the outcome of the current presidential race in America: "No chord in populism reverberates more strongly than the notion that the robust common sense of an unstained outsider is the best medicine for an ailing polity."

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Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.
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Ralph R. Reiland
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15236
Email: rrreiland@aol.com
Phone: 412-527-2199
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