Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The rise of populist demagoguery: economic destruction, international horrors?

While most of us here in Australia and hopefully most people in the United States are repelled by and anxious at the prospect of possible election of Donald Trump in the United States, Jacek Rostowski who was Poland’s Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister from 2007 to 2013 has written a valuable commentary at Project Syndicate, in which he links the Trump phenomenon with the the rise of the 'PEKOs':

[T]he West is coming under pressure again, including in its own backyard. This time, the challenge is political, not economic: the rise of politicians who relish conflict and disdain national and international law and democratic norms.
I call such leaders “PEKOs,” after the four most prominent examples of their kind: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdoğan (see also) the Polish politician Jarosław Kaczyński (see also) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (see also).
PEKOs do not view politics as the management of collective emotions in order to achieve broad policy goals: faster economic growth, a more equitable distribution of income, or greater national security, power, and prestige. Instead, they regard politics as an endless series of intrigues and purges aimed at preserving personal power and privilege.

To link Trump with these is valuable, because much media attention focuses on Trump as an anomaly, not part of a pattern. Rostowki notes that the PEKOs have to face elections and are highly successful electorally, even though those in office are presiding over economic decline. 
If we take his argument to the electorate level and put aside Trump, in the USA clearly the success of the Tea Party (and this week their intent to crush the Obama budget) reflects the same kind of success. An appeal to personal prejudices and apprehensions, unadorned by vision of consequences of selfish perspective.

The same pattern has been evident in Australia with the Abbott victory: knucklehead phrase and cut the taxes. In a so-far coherent way Malcolm Turnbull (and also) (and also) has shifted the balance away from that but his appeal is far from connected to policy vision in the hearts of the electorate, which just wearied of embarrassing leadership and has been entranced by good looks and longer sentences. Meanwhile we might sensibly look upon PM Turnbull as more enlightened than previous leaders in serving the 1% or 10% given his own wealth.

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