Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Populism Works Now

Conservative columnist David Brooks rejects the populist approach to governing.
He says this nation was built by a group who thought we all thrive when the rich thrive.

This no longer holds true.

"It’s easy to see why politicians would be drawn to the populist pose. First, it makes everything so simple. The economic crisis was caused by a complex web of factors, including global imbalances caused by the rise of China. But with the populist narrative, you can just blame Goldman Sachs."

Perhaps, but Goldman Sachs & company did make mistakes.

"Second, it absolves voters of responsibility for their problems. Over the past few years, many investment bankers behaved like idiots, but so did average Americans, racking up unprecedented levels of personal debt. With the populist narrative, you can accuse the former and absolve the latter."

Well of course but those who bought mortgages they could not pay back are paying for it and the average person who trusted the wrong people to manage their 401(K) or 403(b) and their IRA is paying for it. The executives at these big financial institutions that helped bring this economy to the brink are not. They are still getting their multimillion dollar bonuses. For what? Failure? It seems as if the rules for one group differ from the rules for the other group. The individuals in one group sink or swim, depending upon the choices they make while the individuals in the other group wine and dine on a yacht.

"That’s because voters aren’t as stupid as the populists imagine. Voters are capable of holding two ideas in their heads at one time: First, that the rich and the powerful do rig the game in their own favor; and second, that simply bashing the rich and the powerful will still not solve the country’s problems.

Political populists never get that second point."

Who said CEO-bashing will solve all of our problems? It will only solve one, to the extent that it is used to enact reforms designed to curb their excesses so that we don't have to bail them out again. The Democratic base which supported President Barack Obama didn't just push for financial regulation to end "too big to fail" or health care reform to break up the health insurance oligarchy. They pushed for the equivalent of a New Deal public works program to put people back to work.

"In their view, government’s role was not to side with one faction or to wage class war. It was to rouse the energy and industry of people at all levels. It was to enhance competition and make it fair — to make sure that no group, high or low, is able to erect barriers that would deprive Americans of an open field and a fair chance."

Isn't that what the populists Brooks deride are pushing for? One set of rules for all? If we have to sink or swim, shouldn't the CEO's at these banks? If they get a helping hand, shouldn't we?

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