- Ideas examines how the assumptions underlying far too much economic theory have produced disastrous real-world results. And Harold Meyerson writes that research is proving that skeptics of corporate-driven free trade have been right all along.
- Gary Younge writes that the rise of populist right-wing politicians can be traced largely to the failure of opponents to put forward a strong and substantive alternative. And John Harris traces the Brexit vote and U.S. election results in part to the sense that society has grown too complex to either benefit or be understood by wide swaths of people.
- Owen Jones looks to Austria as an example of how a focus on values over people helped to stop an authoritarian leader. And Michael Sandel discusses the need to provide progressive responses to citizens' real anger:
The populism ascendant today is a rebellion against establishment parties generally, but centre-left parties have suffered the greatest casualties. This is mainly their own fault. In the US, the Democratic party has embraced a technocratic liberalism more congenial to the professional classes than to the blue-collar and middle-class voters who once constituted its base. A similar predicament faces the Labour party.- Paul Krugman rightly notes that institutions and norms aren't of much value in fending off tyranny. And Alana Semuels offers some ideas to stop the trend of short-term corporate thinking.
Before they can hope to win back public support, progressive parties must rethink their mission and purpose. To do so, they should learn from the populist protest that has displaced them, not by emulating its xenophobia and strident nationalism, but by taking seriously the legitimate grievances with which these sentiments are entangled. And that means recognising that the grievances are about social esteem, not just wages and jobs.
Progressives should reconsider the assumption that social mobility is the answer to inequality. They should reckon directly with inequalities of wealth and power, rather than rest content with efforts to help people ascend a ladder whose rungs are growing further and further apart.
The problem runs deeper. The relentless emphasis on seeking a fair meritocracy, in which social positions reflect effort and talent, has a morally corrosive effect on the way we interpret our success (or lack thereof). The belief that the system rewards talent and hard work encourages the winners to regard their success as their own doing, a measure of their virtue – and to look down upon the less fortunate.
Those who lose out may complain that the system is rigged or be demoralised by the belief that they alone are responsible for their failure. When combined, these sentiments yield a volatile brew of anger and resentment, which Trump, though a billionaire, understands and exploits. Where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton speak constantly of opportunity, Trump offers blunt talk of winners and losers. Democrats such as Obama and Clinton have difficulty understanding the hubris a meritocracy can generate and the harsh judgment it renders on those without a college degree. This is why one of the deepest divides in American politics today is between those with and without post-secondary education.
- Finally, Adnan Al-Daini argues that empathy is the most important value to cultivate in the new year - and offers some suggestions as to how to do so at the individual level.