Saturday, 1 October 2016

Project Syndicate: Confronting the Populists

Project Syndicate: Confronting the Populists

by Chris Patten


"Today’s populists, however, demand simple – indeed, simplistic – answers outside the scope of mainstream consensus. They blame globalization for damaging their livelihoods and economic prospects, and they seek an enemy – some “other” – whom they can vilify for the uncertainty and downward mobility they have experienced.

The populist worldview admits no shades of gray. There can be no middle way; on the contrary, searching for consensus or accommodation is tantamount to treachery. Through bluster and demagogy, populist politicians are turning back the clock to a pre-empirical world, in which superstition and obscurantism were apparently better for everyone.

Of course, populists’ halcyon past is a dreamland. But how do we deal with the reality that so many voters prefer fiction to fact? We certainly should not give up on democracy, or side with those in the West who, like Trump, admire and seek to emulate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demi-tyrant vision.

Populists must be confronted head-on. Their shoddy arguments must be rebuked point by point, and their fugues of outrage must be met with calm, rational deliberation. It is no less important to address the causes of economic alienation, which means, for starters, providing better public services for disadvantaged communities, and investing in education, technology, and high-wage, high-skill jobs."

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