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Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: The Populist Explosion

The Populist Explosion is a political overview of recent political movements that have swept both the USA and Europe as a result of the great recession. It ties populist movements in the past (such as Huey Long's) with recent movements like Occupy Wall Street as well as the Tea Party.

What's interesting is that it covers both left and right movements. For instance, while the left explicitly avoided scapegoating by race, the right has no compunction against doing so, and in fact, this probably did win Donald Trump the election. As a result, the author's attempt to conflate the two sides don't really make a lot of sense to me.

What is interesting is that the right wing in Europe does seem particularly focused on immigration, and the movements have been because the generous welfare states mean that the middle class is opposed to large scale immigration of any form. Those societies have historically been so homogeneous that even relatively small amounts of immigration constitutes a sizeable shift in the feel of the population to citizens.

What the author fails to do is to provide context: for instance, when discussing immigration in Denmark, he provides absolute numbers but neglects to provide the total size of the country, so you have no idea whether citizens are complaining as to whether new immigrants consist of 1%, 2%, or 10% of the population. When reading the book you want to have Google handy so you can give yourself context with regards to those numbers. Otherwise you start to see big numbers like millions or hundreds of thousands and have no idea whether it's a big shift that would take a while to get used to.

Regardless, the author points out that the center-left in Europe and in the US has been neglectful of the working class, to the point where they have no felt like they have any stake in the process and therefore might rationally choose to "burn down the house" rather than continue to accept a (to their point of view) worsening situation. This is an important dynamic that has led to the political situation we see today. He doesn't provide any suggestions but does allude to the fact that in the past, such political movements rarely turn into long lasting changes in the system, but instead get co-opted into actions like the New Deal which were driven by the existing political parties.

Here's hoping that something like that does happen. In any case, flawed as the book is, it gave me a lot to think about. Recommended.

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