Book Reviews and Forward Views with Stella Constance
The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics [Columbia Global Reports]
by John B. Judis
This week is a book review and forward view hybrid because of the effect this topic has had in my local community — besides two continents. John B. Judis observations and referenced research in his book, The Populist Explosion, helps us sort through what and how society is evolving through these populist movements. He is one of America’s most respected political analysts and political science writers. He has written for various daily and periodic news publications, including The National Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and The Washington Post. The Populist Explosion, is a part of the Columbia (University) Global Reports series. He guides us on the history of the populist movement’s American origin in the 1890s that has influenced the politics to this day, primarily on two continents: North America and Europe. As Judis’ explains that the participants of the populist movement is very much like an early warning system as “… populists express … neglected concerns and frame them in a politics that pits people against an intransigent elite. By doing so, they become catalysts for political change.”
The results seen from this recurring movement, are emotions running high within families, let alone communities, sometimes fracturing families and friendships of many years over it, as people pick their champions who will represent their hopes, concerns and fears in governments. There has been a rebirth of further right and left groups from this populist movement – currently, not a threat to the stability of a nation, as they are not expansionist with global ambitions at this point in time. Judis also reminds the readers of a couple of preconditions for ideological expansion, focusing primarily with right-winged groups who currently negate it because “…they don’t wage war or disband parliaments…[however, it] may be the case in the future as conditions change in the U.S. or Europe, but it’s not an accurate view of where they are at present.” He makes a clear point for people to keep cooler heads, and not do irrational, inaccurate name calling that only creates toxicity for everyone and solves nothing.
The populist movement in Europe became more visible worldwide, with the international politics that resulted in Greece’s financial ruin and other European nations that followed. Judis quotes economist Andrew Watt: “A definition of chutzpah is murdering your parents and then claiming social benefits as an orphan. It is not widely recognized, but the IMF illustrates similar brazenness in the current debate on Greece’s debt burden.”
Judis follows up with a reference from the IMF’s journal Finance & Development, where three of its economists wrote an essay entitled:
“Neoliberalism: Oversold?” These economists warned that “instead of delivering [economic] growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality, in turn jeopardizing durable expansion.”
Human-made mistakes were made – and they can be fixed, with proper research and meaningful stakeholder engagement (of the affected parties) that gives traction to building that nation’s prosperity, not taking it down. People’s lives are at stake – they are more than numbers for statistics. We have to remember our humanity.
At the same time, more people need to become more aware on how an economy works, particularly on how wage or salary amounts are determined for each field, regardless of what that field is. Judis draws on the expertise of Cambridge University economist, Ha-Joon Chang, “wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration control than anything else, including any minimum wage legislation. How is the immigration maximum determined? Not by the “free” labor market, which, if left alone, will end up replacing 80-90 percent of native workers with cheaper and often more productive, immigrants.” The underpinnings of a higher or lower standard of living for one’s nation’s labor force can be influenced by the numbers of “…unskilled immigration [that] has tended to pull down wages and burden the public sector”. Unfortunately, it does not end there.
Judis observes what has been seen so far, is an ethnic heterogeneity taking the form of an immigrant underclass, which has resulted in making “citizens less willing to pay taxes to support social benefits”. But most importantly, Judis’ brings into this political study discussion, French sociologist Olivier Roy, who has warned: “…the existence in countries like France of a ghettoized underclass can also be a seedbed for political extremism and terrorism.” Hence, bringing in groups of people (economic immigrants or refugees), without proper support for their successful integration into mainstream society can create societal instability. When there is lack of fellowship (societal/community support) with these newcomers, they will do whatever is needed to create an environment that puts them into a more empowered position for survival and comfort – that’s human nature. They will draw upon on their personal histories and skills, to create what is known or familiar to them, which may be contrary to mainstream society’s condoned political and economic traditions and its systemic applications. When a group of people are marginalized or neglected for any reason, it needs to be addressed immediately, humanely and effectively, to prevent the political extremism and violence, earlier discussed above, as what is seen today in some regions of those two continents.
John B. Judis’ The Populist Explosion, is an excellent well-researched piece of writing. If you thought this very brief write-up brought forth some staggering, thought provoking information, wait until you read the rest of the 163 pages of the book. For a non-fiction of this calibre, it actually is a short read – an overview of the topic. The Populist Explosion is a highly recommended book, for those who want to have a clearer understanding of what’s going on in the global political system – and where it could be going.