Sneering At Populism

If you think you should be able to have a chance at getting a reasonably well paid job, a reasonably decent house and a fair chance of finding reasonably good education for your kids, then you’re sneered at by people like Tony Blair and Jean-Claude Juncker as a populist.

If you believe that our jobs market should be thrown open to the world’s workers, that companies should be able to source their labour from the world’s poorest people, pay them the lowest possible wages, minimise corporate tax payments and maximise corporate profits, then you’re a liberal – the sort of chap TB and JCJ have to dinner.

Wikipedia defines populism as “a political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against a privileged elite.”

In that case, I’m a populist.

And TB and JCJ have a hell of a cheek in sneering at me.



  1. Well, IMHO, Matthew, Farage was a single-issue populist giving a voice to a largely unrepresented majority wanting to leave the EU. Trump on the campaign trail was definitely a populist giving a voice to the largely unrepresented unemployed and struggling US middle-class. Rees-Mogg is not a populist, he’s an elitist wanting to exploit the poor for personal profit, but he is riding the Brexit populist movement in order to get power.

  2. Wikipedia defines populism as “a political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against a privileged elite.” In that case, I’m a populist.

    In that case so is nearly eveybody, me included.

    However, if that’s your definition of populism, then Ress-Mogg, Farage, Trump and co are not populists. What I am, do and will carry on sneering at is the promotion of simplistic solutions to complex problems. If that’s not populism, then you’ll have to think of another name for it.

    • SecretEuroPatentAgentMan

      Trouble is, many of the problems are indeed the results of the same elite. The elite that were happy to teach Japan economics and how to get out of their stagflation problems is now facing the same issues at home but now the medicine is not as tasty. And the reason for nearly any crisis is that someone let a small problem grow big before acting.

  3. I agree Rees-Mogg and Johnson are not populists – very far from it, Stooriefit, those guys want more elitism not less elitism – but they are riding a populist tide in order to get power – an underhanded tactic which Robespierre, Stalin and Hitler practised very effectively. As for sneering that’s fine and technocrats alnost certainly run the show better than pols and the reason we let the pols do it is because we can throw the rascals out. Brussels is a wonderful example of how a ruling body can go rogue without any prospect of the people chucking them out.

  4. Wise words robetc. There’s a sense that things are going in the wrong direction. Whereas for much of the post-war years things seened to go in the right durection – end of the Cold War, fall of Berlin Wall, erosion of sexism and racism, rising incomes, falling costs of tech, increasing prosperity etc etc, post-2008 this seems to have transitioned into increasing despair and a frustration with traditional political leadership – the ‘something needs to be done’ syndrome.

  5. If that truly is the definition of Populist then most of the people currently leading the revolt are not populists. Comrade Corbin may be, but Farrage, Johnson and Rees-Mogg are all neoliberals (and arguably neo-nazi in the case of at least one). They are not for putting power back in the hands of the people – anything but. Fox, Rees-Mogg and Johnson would be very happy to see the end of the social chapter and a more-American than America approach to workers’ rights, food and safety standards and market regulation. They intend to farm the poor, not empower them.

    And please, permit me to snear – do you really want the people running the country? Countries seem to run best when technocrats (not politicians) are holding the wheel. Look how well Belgium and more recently Germany have fared without governments after indecisive elections.

  6. The reduction of poverty in the emerging world is a marvellous thing, robetc, but the effects of globalisation on the middle and working classes in developed countries is a bad thing and the effect of globalisation in making more and more and richer and richer billionaires is a shocking bad thing. I’m not saying globalisation is a bad idea, it’s just been – like communism under Stalin – executed incompetently.

    • Yes, I agree, but at least Stalinism had Stalin. Globalisation does not seem to have been especially well coordinated, the Wto seems to be about the only controlling body and that, naturally, is very political and heavily influenced by first world countries. So far as I can see our fearless leaders are playing catch-up, and not very well at that.

      We have a genie that is not going back in the bottle however much we wring our hands. When prices go through the roof as a result of protectionist policies, who is going to suffer? The middle and working classes of course. The uk is very dependent on global trade and we are between a rock and a hard place with this one. If the shutters come down turnover will decline, wages will fall and jobs will be lost. Economies and prospects might well recover as the world adjusts to higher costs, but serious damage will have been done. Another generation will find itself hamstrung in the process of trying to fix the problem.

      I don’t think turning the clock back is a solution. Something should be done about the filthy and undeserving rich but action can only work at a global level. If protectionism takes over there is likely to be less global cooperation so that doesn’t help much either.

  7. Well Duncan, if everything in the supermarket was free, and houses were free and society was secure, then you’d have satisfied the first two rungs of Maslow’s needs hierarchy and people could then move on to focus on Love followed by Esteem and finally Self-Actualisation. I suppose UK capitalism is quite cleverly structured so people spend a lot of years paying off mortgage and paying taxes etc and don’t leave a lot of time to search for Love and Esteem let alone Sel-Actualisation. But maybe society’s getting to the point where it’s not necessary to have so many years of work before moving onto the third Maslow rung – Love. If that’s so, and if the state provides the first two rungs, then I’m sure we’d start to move towards a very much happier society – what LBJ used to call ‘The Great Society’.

  8. Here’s a question for the Economists.

    If everything in the shops was free would people be better off ?

    I suspect not. After all you can’t live in a shopping basket.

    If everything in the shops was free landlords and housebuilders would increase their prices accordingly.

    As the Government seems to be slowly realising the biggest scandal this century is the
    lack of affordable housing.

    Back in 1986 as a newly qualified engineer I bought a two bedroom starter house in Bristol
    for £24000 which, not coincidentally given mortgage limits, was three times my annual salary.
    An identical house in the same road sold in December 2017 for £199950. Feed the figures into the
    Bank of England inflation calculator and it should have been £67000

    It would be interesting to know how much a small terraced timber frame house like that costs to build.

    When prices started to rise in the 1980s a colleague had the theory that as other prices dropped
    it just pushed house prices up. Maybe, instead of giving people money the Government should get some homes built and offer them at affordable rents.

    That is how it used to be. As late as 1990, when Thatcher had come and gone a friend who worked as a secretary was allocated a nice one bedroom housing association flat at an affordable rent she could afford, because at 21 she was still having to live with her parents.

  9. You’re right of course, robetc, Junker and Blair didn’t create this mess but they represent it and support it. I quite like this idea coming out of California, Finland and Italy of giving everyone a basic wage. They’ll have to find a way of taxing the billionaires and mega-rich corporations to pay for it but, surely to God, someone can thnk of that.

  10. Very wise words SEPAM. The Japanese, as you say, ran a socialist-style society while transitioning from post-WWII poverty to becoming the world’s second largest economy and, by doing so, held the country together. In China they don’t appear to have societal glue.

  11. It might be just a little rich to lay all that at the feet of a single discredited politician and an appointed beauracrat. At the same time that the person on the Clapham Omnibus is yearning after all those good things you list, you will also find that we want our cheap clothing from Primark, our gadgets from China, cheap food from anywhere, and our utilities delivered with no thought of investment for tomorrow. I do understand that you have used the individuals named as placeholders but it is the whole political class in cahoots with Joe Public that have been sucked in to this state of affairs. What a wonderful way to hold down prices and rack up the profiits.

    Ther is another side to this too. Little by little the poorer economies of the world are seeing some uplift. A lot of the consequences are negative; natural resources, apalling health and safety issues, workers rights, …etc. ad-infinitum.

    To rebalance the world’s economies will take a global effort. There is a need to raise wages and improve worker’s conditoins, but I don’t see how the situation can change quickly. To deliver a simplistic pro-populist message, for all that I agree with the sentiment, is sheer humbug. To vilify individuals is like blaming hamsters for the laws of gravity.

    • SecretEuroPatentAgentMan

      >Little by little the poorer economies of the world are seeing some uplift.

      The problem is that these countries are enormously corrupt which is also one of the most important reasons why poverty continues. It also means that the uplift by far is limited to the already rich who also have the political connections to remain above the law. So yes, in total there is a growth but it is restricted to a tiny elite. And yes, there is a growing middle class in places like China but it remains tiny while employees in Foxconn are driven like animals.

      I doubt prosperity comes by practically enslaving parts of a population and it seems to me that Japan worked themselves out of a feudal past in a way far different from China. And that I think is why Japan is stable and prosperous while China is a pressure cooker with poor ratings in Transparency International.

      • There is a lot to do, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it. A 2017 report from the World Bank supplies the following observation:-

        “Since 2008, the proportion of people in extreme poverty has fallen steadily, from 17.8% to just 10.8% of the global population. In 2013 alone, 114 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty.”

        Consider incomes and conditions for 19th century UK workers during the industrial revolutio. We shouldn’t have to see the same occurrring as a result of the 3rd World’s Industrial revolution but there is undoubtedly an evolutionary process whereby workers become better educated as more money filters into the system. This alone will help to bring about the change needed.

        Like it or not globalisation is not going away, so it has to be made to work. Our industry would all but disintegrate if serious trade barriers were erected. As I inferred previously, to say there is a protectionist solution that will improve all our lots is sheer humbuig.

  12. Yes zeitghost, we’re all revolutionaries now

  13. They’ll be the first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

    Well, second, actually, following on from the directors of the Sirius Cybernetics Company, the purveyors of Marvin the Paranoid Android.

    In my dreams.

    Ho hum.

  14. London Pride needs drinking, not looking at

  15. Well what do you expect from people who wouldn’t recognise a pint of London Pride if it stared them in the face ?

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