We’re in favour of Beppe Grillo around here. No, we don’t know all the details of varied policies and no doubt some of them would horrify us. That we do think he’s a generally good thing would probably horrify our friends Alberto Mingardi and his colleagues fighting the Good Fight at the Instituto Bruno Leoni. However, Grillo is generally against the euro and given that that’s quite possibly the worst economic policy ever perpetrated upon the people of Italy in modern times that’s enough for us. We’d haver over whether it’s worse than Mussolini’s “Tutti nell stato” idea but then most would.

Our point here though being, well, what’s wrong with populism? Yes, sure, we’re against Poujadism, which is a form of petit bourgeois populism, we’re against Momentum and its kin, usefully described as Teenage Trot populism – possibly lumpenproletariat populism – and if we’re honest we’re against many different political ideas and ideals, not just populist ones. But populism itself, no, we’re really not quite sure it’s viable to oppose that:

Italy goes to the polls amid talk of another ‘populist revolt’

We’re really making what is a linguistic argument. There’ve been two great national upchucks recently, the Brexit vote and Trump’s election. Sure, lots of people don’t like either. We’re entirely and totally in favour of one, were anti-Hillary so will accept the other. But they definitely both were vox populi informing the ruling elite that they didn’t agree. The ruling elite doesn’t like that very much and that’s entirely understandable. But this is where the linguistic peculiarity comes into play.

What’s the difference between populism and democracy? We get to vote the bastards out fits both and either. We’re thus in favour of populism itself, just as we are of democracy, despite all its faults.

Yes, we entirely agree too with Bryan Caplan, voting is cheap. Revealed preference is a much better guide to reality. If you’re deploying your own resources you are faced with that reality of trade offs and opportunity costs and so this is a much better guide to what you really want within the bounded choices available. A tick on a piece of paper every 5 years is cheap by comparison and is that much cheaper, thus less valuable guide to behaviour, expressed preference.

Yet we’re still left with this basic fact. The entire point and purpose of democracy is that the people get to say what they want so they can be given it good and hard. We just don’t see the difference between that and populism.

Except if we retreat into another linguistic point, which is that populism is the democracy in which people say they want what the ruling elite doesn’t wish them to have.

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So Much For Subtlety
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So Much For Subtlety

The Vox Populi has been wiser than our ruling classes by and large. Especially the 68 generation.

The voters didn’t elect Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao or Mussolini. But virtually every over-educated adult supported one or other at one time or other. Some, like Sartre, several.

Mr Ecks
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Mr Ecks

The voters sort of did elect Hitler. But they didn’t know he was literally Trump.

So Much For Subtlety
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So Much For Subtlety

The best the Nazis ever did was in March 1933 – after Hitler was appointed head of the government. They got 43% of the vote.

The majority of Germans rejected the Nazis at the polls. Consistently.

bloke in spain
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bloke in spain

Better than the Conservatives or Labour, then.

Mr Ecks
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Mr Ecks

Good luck to Beppo anyway. Anything that hurts the scum of the EU is GOOD.

NiV
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NiV

Populism is a political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against a privileged elite. It’s distinct from democracy only in that the people might express a traditional respect for the elite. (I know my place. Tugs forelock. etc.) What they’re really complaining about is demagoguery. Someone who seeks personal power by pretending such support for the people, offering them unrealistic or impractical policies that will appeal to popular prejudices, like raising welfare tenfold while hanging all the rich. The ‘privileged elite’ can mean the political elite (politicians and thought-leaders), or it can also mean… Read more »

Spike
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Spike

Dismissing an imminent “populist revolt” reminds me of the American news-reader who disparaged an electoral result as a “tantrum.”

DiscoveredJoys
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DiscoveredJoys

“There’ve been two great national upchucks recently, the Brexit vote and Trump’s election. ” True, but if you think back a little earlier the election of so many UKIP MEPs was also an indicator of change. It’s also true that this early upchuck was hobbled by the absence of a UKIP machine to capitalise on the outcome and also most of the media choosing to move smartly on. It’s easy to minimise ‘populism’ early on… but there is a tipping point. I rather suspect that the Italian elections will be too messy for any clear enduring narrative to emerge, but… Read more »

PJF
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PJF

“But they definitely both were vox populi informing the ruling elite that they didn’t agree.”

Trump’s election muddies these semantic waters somewhat. The voice of the American people was for Hillary (she clearly won the national popular vote), but Trump won the election by playing “populist” to the minority whose vote would carry the electoral college. And the electoral college was put in place by the founders specifically to avoid the downside of democracy – the tyranny of the majority.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

No, no, no – Hillary did not ‘clearly win’ the popular vote. First, everyone knew there was an electoral college – you (and Hillary) may not like it, but the time to complain is before the election, not afterwards. Second, the campaigns were designed around the electoral college – swing states were identified and targeted – in a first-past-the-post election the campaigns would have been significantly different. Third, voters know there’s an electoral college, and this affects (marginally) turnout – there’s less incentive for a Trump voter in California (or a Hillary supporter in Utah) to vote, since the state… Read more »

PJF
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PJF

Quentin Vole, not only was I delighted H. Clinton lost, I was delighted that D. Trump won (plus extra delight that he’s not turned out to be a complete rino). I would have though it obvious from my comment that I am aware of the electoral arrangements for the office of POTUS. The comment was made entirely in the context of Tim’s discussion of populism vs democracy. Clinton clearly won the (electorally irrelevant) national popular vote on the account of arithmetic. Clearly, a larger number of US citizens (nearly 3m more) voted for Hillary than for the Donald. Trump won… Read more »

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

We’re agreed that Hillary got more votes than Trump. Had this been a FPTP election (ignoring the fact that this would have had a different result for the reasons I put forward) they would both have been in the run-off, which Trump would have won.

“Hillary won the popular vote” is a common trope among her supporters and needs to be refuted.

PJF
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PJF

There are all sorts of notions put forward that the larger number of votes in favour of Brexit weren’t actually representative of a majority, because blah blah blah. A majority is a majority, and all the petty partisan pretending otherwise is rather tedious.

Mr Ecks
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Mr Ecks

She won in Kalifornia because of illegals voting–encouraged by the Piss-soaked Pipecleaner Obama (is not facilitating or even suggesting illegals vote a Federal crime?).

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

It’s another of these irregular verbs, ever popular with the left: I have a democratic mandate; you are a populist; he is a rabble-rouser. Describing someone as a populist is simply a short-hand way of stating that you disagree with their political views.

Pcar
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Pcar

@Tim

…Brexit vote and Trump’s election. Sure, lots of people don’t like either. <bWe’re entirely and totally in favour of one, were anti-Hillary so will accept the other

Royal “we” again, you may not like Trump, many do.

Other than trade protectionism he’s doing great things for USA and RoW.

Southerner
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I say grassroots, you say populist. This is one of those word-based arguments like when you walk a circle around someone who keeps turning to face you. Did you walk around that person or not?

I sympathise with Trump. My country (RSA) is in the process of getting rid of a kleptocracy. Hillary would have taken a similar leaf from Putin’s book. But with this steel and aluminium thing, the Don has crossed the Rubicon. They can’t impeach him soon enough for me.

Bloke in North Dorset
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Bloke in North Dorset

On the BBC news last night the right wing parties were referred to sneeringly as populist whilst left wing parties were merely anti establishment, despite there being not much more than a fag paper between their policies.