What is Economic Populism?

  • I saw an article this morning on NBC declaring that Economic Populism Will Be Front And Center for 2016 Elections. It goes into detail about why this will be such an important issue in the coming year.

    It does not, however, do very much to accurately define what Economic Populism actually is, and my google search for an explanation of the term only brings up a similar article from a year ago, a Wiki article on Populism (but not specifically economic populism) and Huffington Post Articles Tagged As "Economic Populism".

    It sounds like it might just be a buzzword without any real meaning, but I wouldn't know since this is the first I've heard of it. Is there an actual definition for the concept of "Economic Populism"? And if so, what is it?

    It is a buzzword, but it has meaning - basiclaly what it says on the label. It's populist ("Populism is a political doctrine that appeals to the interests and conceptions (such as hopes and fears) of the general people, especially contrasting those interests with the interests of the elite" - Wiki) approach to economics questions - things like robin-hooding money from those who have more to those who have less, etc...

    @DVK That sounds like a partially-realized full answer.

    Economic populism = you are are gonna get all this stuff and someone else is going to pay for it.

    short answer: an "ism" long answer: socio-communi-fasci-democro-cism

  • For economic populism as actual economists talk about it, you might want to see macroeconomic populism, usually as observed in Latin America.

    Policies include: fiscal stimulus (as opposed to austerity), printing more money, and expanding deficit. This "emphasizes growth and income distribution and deemphasizes the risks of inflation and deficit finance".

    There's debate (see this and this) over whether and when there's a right time for macroeconomic populism, but in general it's pretty risky and not a long term solution.


    In the context of the 2016 election, "economic populism" refers to a general opposition to income inequality and globalization (ie trade agreements), as well as opposition to money in politics (per the effects of the Citizen United decision). Basically, the middle class is shrinking, jobs are disappearing overseas, and all the politicians are in the pockets of billionaires. Worrying to say the least.

    Economists don't really have satisfying answer to these issues - they're a little late to the inequality question, they're firmly in favor of globalization, and money in politics is primarily a political issue, not economic.

    So yes, economic populism as used in political writing is a buzzword that has little grounding in actual economics. Probably the closest you get in economics is the work of Thomas Piketty on income inequality, who prescribes progressive taxation.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM