The Material Basis of Right-Wing Populism in 500 Words

Globalization and its Discontents: Explaining Brexit* (below) is a thing I wrote about Brexit for an essay contest in the Undergraduate Berkeley Economics Review. The essay  had to account for the economic factors that have driven the rise of right-wing populism*, a subject that kicked off this blog, in 500 words. The analysis turned out to be worth $50 in Amazon credit, so it may be worth your time.

I interpreted “economic factors” as those socio-economic developments that had a significant impact on the material lives of people whose political agency is limited to voting for/against options presented to them by their political elite. The problem with eroding people’s ability to participate politically in normal times is that when the rare opportunity to be heard does arise – even when intended as a mere rubber stamp for the policies of those same elites – they express their dissatisfaction in no uncertain terms. Brexit and Donald Trump are somewhat old news now and the world has begun adjusting to this new ‘normal’, which indeed it is, as Austria, Italy and France are soon going to find out. Perhaps fifty years from now, historians will look at the short-sighted suppression of popular social-democratic insurgents by their own ostensibly Left establishment parties and shake their heads at their callousness.

*Apparently this is also the title of a Joseph Stiglitz book on globalization, which I wasn’t aware of. However, the phrase “X and its Discontents” is derivative enough that it is unsurprising for it to have already been associated with globalization.

*This was written prior to Donald Trump’s electoral victory in the US Presidential election.


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