The Politics of Anger

CAMBRIDGE – Perhaps the only surprising thing about the populist backlash that has overwhelmed the politics of many advanced democracies is that it has taken so long. Even two decades ago, it was easy to predict that mainstream politicians’ unwillingness to offer remedies for the insecurities and inequalities of our hyper-globalized age would create political space for demagogues with easy solutions. Back then, it was Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan; today it is Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and sundry others.

History never quite repeats itself, but its lessons are important nonetheless. We should recall that the first era of globalization, which reached its peak in the decades before World War I, eventually produced an even more severe political backlash.

The historical evidence has been well summarized by my Harvard colleague Jeffry Frieden. In the heyday of the gold standard, Frieden argues, mainstream political actors had to downplay social reform and national identity because they gave priority to international economic ties. The response took one of two fatal forms in the interwar period: Socialists and communists chose social reform, while fascists chose national assertion. Both paths led away from globalization to economic closure (and far worse).

– Project Syndicate

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