Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Saturday 2 December 2017

If we treat plutocracy as democracy, democracy dies

The snake-oil salesmen

There are many similarities between Brexit and Trump. They are both authoritarian movements, where authority either lies with a single individual or a single vote: the vote that bindsthem all. This authority expresses the movement’s identity. They are irrational movements, by which I mean that they cast aside expertise where that conflicts with the movements wishes. As a result, you will find their base of supporters among the less well educated, and that universities are seen as an enemy.  Both groups are intensely nationalistic: both want to make America or England great again.

It is easy to relate each group to familiar concepts: class, race or whatever. But I think this classification misses something important. It misses what sustains these groups in their beliefs, allows them to maintain their world view which is so often contradicted by reality. Both groups get their information about the world from a section of the media that has turned news into propaganda. In the US this is Fox, and in the UK the right wing tabloids and the Telegraph.

A profound mistake is to see this media as a symptom rather than a cause. As the study I spoke about here clearly demonstrates, the output of Fox news is not designed to maximise its readership, but to maximise the impact of its propaganda on its readership. I think you could say exactly the same about the Sun and the Mail in the UK. Fox and the Sun are owned by the same man.

Even those who manage to cast off the idea that this unregulated media just reflects the attitude of its readers, generally think of this media as supportive of political parties. There is the Conservative and Labour supporting press in the UK, and similarly for the US. In my view that idea is ten or twenty years out of date, and even then it underestimates the independence of the media organisations. (The Sun famously supported Blair in 1997). More and more it is the media that calls the shots, and the political parties follow.

Brexit would not have happened if it had remained the wish of a minority of Conservative MPs. It happened because of the right wing UK press. Brexit happened because this right wing press recognised a large section of their readership were disaffected from conventional politics, and began grooming them with stories of EU immigrants taking jobs, lowering wages and taking benefits (and sometimes much worse). These stories were not (always) false, but like all good propaganda they elevated a half-truth into a firm belief. Of course this grooming played on age old insecurities, but it magnified them into a political movement. Nationalism does the same. It did not just reflect readers existing views, but rather played on their doubts and fears and hopes and turned this into votes.

This is not to discount some of the very real grievances that led to the Brexit vote, or the racism that led to the election of Trump. This analysis of today's populism is important, as long as it does not get sidetracked into debates over identity versus economics. Stressing economic causes of populism does not devalue identity issues (like race or immigration), but it is the economics that causes the swings that help put populists in power. It was crucial, for example, to the trick that the media played to convince many to vote for Brexit: that EU immigrants and payments were reducing access to public services, whereas in reality the opposite is true.

Yet while economic issues may have created a winning majority for both Brexit and Trump, the identity issues sustained by the media make support for both hard to diminish. Brexit and Trump are expressions of identity, and often of what has been lost, which are very difficult to break down when sustained by the group’s media. In addition both Trump and Brexit maintain, because their proponents want it to be maintained, the idea that it represents the normally ignored, striking back against the government machine in the capital city with all its experts.

But to focus on what some call the ‘demand’ for populism is in danger of missing at least half the story. Whatever legitimate grievances Brexit and Trump supporters may have had, they were used and will be betrayed. There is nothing in leaving the EU that will help the forgotten towns of England and Wales. Although he may try, Trump will not bring many manufacturing jobs back to the rust belt, and his antics with NAFTA may make things worse. Identifying the left behind is only half the story, because it does not tell you why they fell for the remedies of snake-oil salesmen.

As I wrote immediately after the vote in my most widely read post, Brexit was first and foremost a triumph for the UK right wing press. That press first fostered a party, UKIP, that embodied the views the press pushed. The threat of that party and defections to it then forced the Prime Minister to offer the referendum the press wanted. It was a right wing press that sold a huge lie about the UK economy, a lie the broadcast media bought, to ensure the Conservatives won the next election. When the referendum came, it was this right wing press that ensured enough votes were won and thereby overturned the government.

Equally Donald Trump was first and foremost the candidate of Fox News. As Bruce Bartlett has so eloquently written, Fox may have started off as a network that just supported Republicans, but its power steadily grew. Being partisan at Fox became misinforming its viewers, such that Fox viewers are clearly less well informed than viewers of other news providers. One analysis suggested over half of the facts stated on Fox are untrue: UK readers may well remember them reporting that Birmingham was a no-go area for non-Muslims.

Fox became a machine for keeping the base angry and fired up, believing that nothing could be worse than voting for a Democrat. It was Fox News that stopped Republican voters seeing that they were voting for a demagogue, concealed that he lied openly all the time, that incites hatred against other religions and ethnic groups, and makes its viewers believe that Clinton deserves to be locked up. It is not reflecting the views of its viewers, but moulding them. As economists have shown, the output of Fox does not optimise their readership, but optimises the propaganda power of its output. Despite occasional tiffs, Trump was the candidate of Fox in the primaries.

We have a right wing media organisation that has overthrown the Republican political establishment, and a right wing press that has overthrown a right wing government. How some political scientists can continue to analyse this as if the media were simply passive, supportive or even invisible when it brings down governments or subverts political parties I do not know.

The plutocracy

Trump and Brexit are the creations of a kind of plutocracy. Politics in the US has had strong plutocratic elements for some time, because of the way that money can sway elections. That gave finance a powerful influence in the Democratic party, and made the Republicans obsessive about cutting higher tax rates. In the UK plutocracy has been almost non-existent by comparison, and operated mainly through party funding and seats in the House of Lords, although we are still finding out where the money behind the Brexit campaign came from.

By focusing on what some call the demand side of populism rather than the supply side, we fail to see both Trump and Brexit as primarily expressions of plutocratic power. Trump’s administration is plutocracy personified, and as Paul Pierson argues, its substantive agenda constitutes a full-throated endorsement of the GOP economic elite’s long-standing agenda. The Brexiteers want to turn the UK into Singapore, a kind of neoliberalism that stresses markets should be free from government interference, rather than free to work for everyone, and that trade should be free from regulations, rather than regulations being harmonised so that business is free to trade.

It is also a mistake to see this plutocracy as designed to support capital. This should again be obvious from Brexit and Trump. It is in capital’s interest to have borders open to goods and people rather than creating barriers and erecting walls. What a plutocracy will do is ensure that high inequality, in terms of the 1% or 0.1% etc, is maintained or even increased. Indeed many plutocrats amassed their wealth by extracting large sums from the firms for which they worked, wealth that might otherwise have gone to investors in the form of dividends. In this sense they are parasitic to capital. And this plutocracy will also ensure that social mobility is kept low so the membership of the plutocracy is sustained: social mobility goes with equality, as Pickett and Wilkinson show.

It is also a mistake to see what is happening as somehow the result of some kind of invisible committee of the 1% (or 0.1% and so on). The interests of the Koch brothers are not necessarily the interests of Trump (it is no accident the former want to help buy Time magazine). The interests of Arron Banks are not those of Lloyd Blankfein. Instead we are finding individual media moguls forming partnerships with particular politicians to press not only their business interests, but their individual political views as well. And in this partnership it is often clear who is dependent on whom. After all, media competition is slim while there are plenty of politicians.

What has this got to do with neoliberalism? which is supposed to be the dominant culture of the political right. As I argued here, it is a mistake to see neoliberalism as some kind of unified ideology. It may have a common core in terms of the primacy of the market, but how that is interpreted is not uniform. Are neoliberals in favour of free trade, or against? It appears that they can be both. Instead neoliberalism is a set of ideas based around a common belief in the market that different groups have used and interpreted to their advantage, while at the same time also being influenced by the ideology. Both interests and ideas matter. While some neoliberals see competition as the most valuable feature of capitalism, others will seek to stifle competition to preserve monopoly power. Brexiters and their press backers are neoliberals, just as the Cameron government they brought down were neoliberals.

I think there is some truth in the argument, made by Philip Mirowski among others, that a belief in neoliberalism can easily involve an anti-enlightenment belief that people need to be persuaded to subject themselves fully to the market. Certainly those on the neoliberal right are more easily persuaded to invest time and effort in the dark arts of spin than those on the left. But it would be going too far to suggest that all neoliberals are anti-democratic: as I have said, neoliberalism is diverse and divided. What I argued in my neoliberal overreach post was that neoliberalism as formulated in the UK and US had made it possible for the plutocracy we now see to become dominant.

By the nature of an unorganised plutocracy, what types of neoliberalism hold sway may be largely random, and depend a lot on who owns media organisations. It leads to a form of politics which is in many ways unpredictable and irrational, with an ever present tendency to autocracy. This is what we are witnessing, right now, in the UK and US. It is not the normal politics that either of these countries are used to, although it may be more familiar to those in quasi-dictatorships. We all know about how the Republican’s tax cutting bill just happens to favour real estate moguls who inherit their money as Trump did. This is simple corruption, enacted in a corrupt way. That the President of the United States retweeted a British far right group that inspired an individual to murder a British MP is not normal. When Brexit supporting MPs respond to the Irish border problem by saying ‘we are not going to put one up’ this should not pass as an acceptable response: it should be laughed at as the nonsense it is.

When politics becomes the whims and mad schemes of a small minority that only listen to themselves, unmodified by the normal checks and balances of a functioning democracy, it should be treated by the non-partisan media for what it is, not normalised as just more of the same. If we treat a plutocracy as a democracy, democracy dies. We should not be fooled that this plutocracy looks like normal politics just because the plutocrats have taken over the main party of the right.

A dividing point

We are very close to a point where neoliberalism becomes something much worse. The POTUS is following a fascist strategy of demonising a religious minority. If Mueller’s investigations proceed as expected, but he is sacked and/or the Republicans block any attempt at impeachment, we may have passed that critical point. If the Brexiters succeed in breaking away from the EU’s customs union and single market, the UK may have nowhere else to go but the arms of a permanently Republican US.

If there is a way of escaping this fate, and rescuing democracy in both the UK and US, it has to involve a democratic defeat of the right wing parties that allowed this plutocracy to emerge, and indeed encouraged it and then made bargains with it when it believed it was still in control. The defeat has to be overwhelming and total. Those who brought us Brexit and backed or tolerated Trump have to be disgraced as the harbingers of disaster. Their control of the Republican and Conservative parties must end.

Only that will allow the left, and I think it has to be the left, to end a system by which elements of the plutocracy can control so much of the means of information. In the UK that means extending rules that apply to broadcasters, suitably adapted, to the press. In the US it means not just bringing back the Fairness doctrine repealed under Reagan, but also bringing controls on election spending similar to those in the UK (and the UK controls need to be strengthened). In short, we need to take money out of politics to ensure democracy survives. Give journalists the freedom to write about or broadcast the news as they see it, rather than as their employer want it to be seen.

Why the left rather than the centre? The centre will agonise over what this means for freedom of expression or freedom of the press and therefore nothing much will happen (see Leveson), as nothing happened under Clinton or Blair. That may be a little unfair to both leaders, because the danger of plutocracy may have been less obvious back then, and the media was more restrained. But with Brexit and Trump no further evidence is needed. The left should see more clearly how in practice this freedom is in reality just a freedom to sustain a plutocracy. Only it will have the courage to radically reverse the power and wealth of the 1%. I fear the centre will not have the will to do it. Although Anthony Barnett’s focus differs from mine, he puts this point very well here: if all you want to do is stop Brexit and Trump and go back to what you regard as normal, you miss that what was normal led to Brexit and Trump.

That will have many wise and sensible people shaking their head, but the alternative does not work. Defeating or impeaching Trump and letting the Republican party survive in its current form achieves little, because they will go on gerrymandering and Fox news will go on poisoning minds. The energy of Democrats will be spent on trying to clear up the damage Trump has caused, and the next autocrat from Republican ranks who wins power because they will ‘clear the swamp’ will be smarter than Trump. In the UK, if the Conservatives survive in their current form, their ageing membership is in danger of selecting more Brexit nutters who will overwhelm the dwindling number of reasonable Conservative MPs. We will find the BBC, if it survives at all, will become more and more like the mouthpiece of a press dominated by plutocrats. [1] In either case a critical point will have passed.

I know from many conversations I have had that there is a deep fear among many of leadership from the left. Here the UK is ahead of the US. The story in the UK used to be that the left could never win, and it was a plausible story, but recent events have cast great doubt on it. That remains the story in the US, but there are good reasons for doubting it there too. There is no reason why all of the disenchanted who fell for the lies of the snake-oil salesmen could not support radical remedies from the left: identity and the media are strong but it is economics that dictates the swings.

In the UK now the story seems much more elemental: that somehow the left threatens the existence of capitalism and democracy. In truth there is no way Corbyn could persuade the Labour party to abandon democratic capitalism, just as there is no way Sanders or Warren could do the same in the US. All we are talking about is rolling back many of the results of neoliberalism. But it is difficult to logically convince someone the ghosts they see do not exist. In contrast to these ghosts on the left, the dynamic of plutocracy that I have described here is very real, and it requires radical change to bring an end to this dynamic.

[1] This is why arguments that say the UK press is becoming less powerful because of its falling readership fail. If this press dominate the news agenda of the broadcasters, they do not need many readers. 


  1. You are spot on about plutocracy. What faces us in the USA and the UK is sham democracy with democratic institutions that are heavily managed and indeed distorted by an elite group of the wealthy and their hired hands.

    I have never been keen on the term neo-liberalism and your difficulty in defining it reinforces my view that progressives would be better to do without it.

    This piece of nomenclature is based on the false idea that giving licence to, say, Facebook or the Murdoch Empire to do what they want is the same as allowing gay men to marry or people to choose their own religion or none. Both are supposed to be examples of freedom. They clearly are not.

    In the first instance allowing Mark Zuckerberg to treat Facebook as his personal property in the way I would want to be allowed to treat my own house or garden is absurd. Facebook has billions of users and thousands of staff. It has vast assets. What it does affects all of us in a way which redecorating my house does not.

    Right wingers like to bring in the market at this point, arguing that large companies are subject to its disciplines. In fact, those who run large companies do everything they can to avoid having any competition while they preach the virtues of that same competition. There are very few truly competitive markets in the UK or US economies and, for example, there is little chance of either the Sun or the Mail facing a challenger. In truly competitive markets large companies tend to stay out of politics because they do not want to alienate customers. As you point out, Fox News is not interested in acquiring more viewers and clearly Donald Trump is not trying to persuade the reluctant to vote for him.

    There is one even more fundamental point which demonstrates that right wing politics and economics has nothing to do with cultivating freedom. The right define freedom as absence of restraint by the state and too many liberal minded people have unthinkingly accepted that. Freedom should mean the ability to make real choices about your life – not just the legal right to do so but the opportunity as well. For that you need money and time. From the right the NHS is a restriction on freedom because it takes money from some to pay for the health care of others. From the left it enhances freedom because it can lift the burden of illness from peoples’ lives.
    If liberalism means the enhancement of actual, usable freedom for all – not just the wealthy and powerful – regardless of any group characteristic of nation, race, gender etc. then it has nothing to do with any form of economics and politics that describes itself as neo-liberalism and I think the use of that term perpetuates the false idea that the right offer freedom when for most people they do not.

    1. "There are very few truly competitive markets in the UK or US economies . . . "

      Quite right.

      R.A.Werner explains why?

      "There is no empirical evidence whatsoever that demand equals supply in any market and that, indeed, markets work in the way this story narrates.
      We know this by simply paying attention to the details of the narrative presented. The innocuous assumptions briefly mentioned at the outset are in fact necessary joint conditions in order for the result of equilibrium to be obtained. There are at least eight of these result-critical necessary assumptions: . . .
      But how likely are these assumptions that are needed for equilibrium to pertain? We know that none of them hold. . . .

      In other words, neoclassical economics has demonstrated to us that the circumstances required for equilibrium to occur in any market are so unlikely that we can be sure there is no equilibrium anywhere. Thus we know that markets are rationed, and rationed markets are determined by quantities, not prices.”

  2. The Sun, Mail and Telegraph have a combined print circulation of around 3.7m. Their online forms, particularly the Mail's, is very different indeed.

    They have some diminishing influence, but the causes of Brexit in the UK is not as simple as the press.

    1. Circulation figures are misleading, as you should know. The Sun and Mail have readerships of about 10 million each.

    2. " . . . but the causes of Brexit in the UK is not as simple as the press."

      Quite right. It appears to be V.V.Putin?

    3. Furthermore their readership is concentrated among the age groups most likely to vote - and due to the centralising tendency of the media in the UK, they set the tone for all other coverage (including broadcast media).

      At the very least they pose a set of questions that 'all right minding columnists' and all 'thinking journalists' feel that they have to pose. This is most clearly seen in what the author has frequently described on this blog as media macro.

    4. What causes do you identify as underlying Brexit? I find SW-L persuasive, but am open to alternative views

  3. New information leads some people to want to change their minds, on leaving the EU, or perhaps in investing in shares.

    "Shares in Daily Mail publisher DMGT have sunk by 23% to hit a near five-year low, after it warned of a tough year ahead. It came after full-year profit at the firm, which also publishes the Metro free paper, dropped 13% to £226m." (BBC website, 30 November 2017).

    I am interested in Robert Shiller's Project Syndicate article 'The Coming Bear Market?' Sep 21, 2017, in which he says:

    "In short, the US stock market today looks a lot like it did at the peaks before most of the country’s 13 previous bear markets. This is not to say that a bear market is guaranteed: such episodes are difficult to anticipate, and the next one may still be a long way off. And even if a bear market does arrive, for anyone who does not buy at the market’s peak and sell at the trough, losses tend to be less than 20%. But my analysis should serve as a warning against complacency. Investors who allow faulty impressions of history to lead them to assume too much stock-market risk today may be inviting considerable losses."

  4. "vote that binds them all" link points to an argument for the US to have a sovereign wealth fund. I guess it is a mistake

    1. Whoops. Multitasking strikes again - thanks.

  5. I take issue with your singling out Trump, Brexit, and other "authoritarian" tendencies as "irrational movements ... that cast aside expertise where that conflicts with the movements wishes," appealing to "the less well educated, and that universities are seen as an enemy." Why single them out? Expertise hasn't led the "anti-authoritarian" ruling elites to act to avert global warming although the science was in decades ago. Do anti-authoritarian ruling elites pay the least attention to expert warning of the dangers inherent in their endless arming and saber-rattling, including the nuclear kind? As for economics, isn't expertise there very much up for sale, so that the highest bidders (the plutocrats) always can claim expert backing for ordering things to their benefit and everyone else's detriment? So aren't you just being a bit of a snob when you deplore and demean Trump, Brexit, AfD, etc., voters? It's not expertise that isn't being heeded, it is the interests of "the many, not the few."

  6. But how can you have a total defeat that shames the legacy of far-right figures without encouraging more of them? At a point the right's lies seem to become self sustaining and any attempt to criticise, much less ridicule them, becomes viewed as "biased" and ignored.

  7. Interesting and stimulating article as ever. However, a small note- it focusses on "old media" of tv and press and doesn't mention the social media news impact. It is interesting the number of places where you can buy a newspaper in many towns is diminishing rapidly as people get their news from a wide variety of on-line sources. This move will diminish the power of the old press barons- but open the door to new "barbarians at the gate" who are an even greater threat to liberal democracy.

  8. And precisely what it is that you're trying to do right here? Using fancy English vocab and preaching to the masses that your version of "reality" is right? Had you been a TV channel, you'd have been sitting diametrically opposite to Fox News, equallity vile and hatred filled, though on the far "left".

  9. I'm in complete agreement with this powerful post Simon. A radical optimistic vision from the left, as we saw at the last GE, is our best chance to defeat the dark reactionary forces you refer to. Keep up the good work...

  10. «This is not to discount some of the very real grievances that led to the Brexit vote, or the racism that led to the election of Trump.»

    Well, the standard analysis is that:

    * Thatcherism has delivered plenty of safe and well paying jobs to the working and the middle classes.
    * Thatcherite governments have been solicitous in funding training and education for the masses, leading to high productivity increases.
    * When they are out of work or sick or old the working and middle classes can rely on the better social insurance, single payer healthcare, and good pensions that have been the result of decades of thatcherite policies.
    * Thatcherism created an ample supply of housing and a wide distribution of jobs geographically, so that the middle and working classes have no problem finding convenient accommodation that costs less 3 times annual salary or rents for less then 30% of after tax earnings.
    * Strong enforcement of worker rights via domestic laws and international treaties mean that immigration, outsourcing and offshoring have not impacted the living standards of working class and middle class voters.
    * All regions of the UK and the USA have a buoyant economy, converging towards a similar level of living standards, again all thanks to thatcherism.

    Because of all the above, there are only some modest grievances from middle and working class voters, and therefore Brexit and trumpism can only have happened because of tribalism and racism, not as a protest for squeezed working and middle class living standards.

    Well, I don't agree with that, but I am amazed by the bizarre logic then followed by our blogger as to plutocracy, which to me seems like this:

    * Brexit and trumpism are not the result of the plutocracy inflicting decades of thatcherism on the working class and the middle class to squeeze them to become vastly more powerful and richer.

    * Rather Brexit and trumpism are the result of tribalist and racist propaganda by an overwhelmingly powerful press funded and directed by the plutocracy; the press must be overwhelmingly powerful to make people who have never had it so good vote for tribalism and racism.

    * Since there has been no squeeze of the living standards of workers to the benefit of the plutocracy, the plutocracy is not spreading tribalist and racist propaganda in order to blame the squeeze on someone else, but because ... because ... because ... because ...

    I agree that the plutocracy has been the root cause of Brexit and trumpism, but why ever would the plutocrats foster tribalism and racism if not for blaming others for the squeeze on living standards? How can the plutocratic press be so effective at making their readership vote for tribalism and racism, when the voters have not been squeezed by the plutocracy?

    I just don't get our blogger's argument here.

    To me the argument is that the elites have squeezed a large of the middle and working classes, leaving them without representation, as the only choice allowed was between far-right parties (Republicans, Conservatives) and centre-right parties (Democrats, New Labour), the "left behind" have figured this out and voted in protest for "not same old", without any press influencing them to do so, and the plutocracy have been trying to blame someone else for the squeeze via the press, which has been fairly ineffectual.

    1. Not sure you have SWL's position quite right here. Unless you believe him to be an advocate of Thatcherite NeoLiberal economics. Do you really think so?

    2. High housing costs are not a significant factor in Brexit, as the demographics which are hurt the most by them (private tenants and recent home-buyers) tended to vote Remain.

      Nor were they a significant factor in Trump's election victory, as the US states which have high house prices (Krugman's "Zoned Zone" were the coastal states which voted for Hillary Clinton.

      I'd say the geographic concentration of job opportunities was the biggest economic grievance behind Trump and Brexit, as it was blamed for breaking up families.

    3. Yours is the usual argument that standards of living have never been that high. Some commentators say that today's poors have it better than Rockefeller at the time. While this might be true on healthcare treatments, it is an hyperbole in all other respects.
      The underlying point is that Randian heroes have pulled mankind to a better life, were successful and are justly rewarded. The conclusion is what are those peons complaining about?
      People, despite an overall better life from a material standpoint, are uneasy because, not only of current unequality but mostly because of the lack of opportunity. Value investors have been obsessed about moats and the plutocracy has made sure to erect large barriers of entry to power (elections are decided by ad budgets; by giving to both sides, lobbyists make sure that issues that matters to the donors are at the heart of all parties programs), fame (high proportion of relatives of already famous stars among succcessful artists) and money (capital taxed much less than labor makes that an unfair fight). When people can't really dream, they get unhappy. This has to be channeled to maintain the status quo. Thus the consequences described by the author.

  11. thankyou for this - you've just summed all my concerns surrounding the current situation in the USA and UK in one essay. These issues, of propaganda, plutocracy, the power of the media and the true intent of Brexit, have been pretty obvious from the start - but not easy to round up so succinctly. Great work!

  12. I agree totally with your scentiments. We live in a time where people in power relentlessly serve their own agenda. The fact that their agenda will accentuate inequalities has no effect.
    Paper headlines have alot of influence as almost all media outlets review the papers front pages with little in depth knowledge or time to debate the facts.
    I feel politics in the UK is old, tired and selfserving. To me the UK feels to have driven itself down a dead end. I feel things will only improve when this generation of politicians have been replaced and the old left/right arguments have been erased.


  13. You mention Singapore as though it were some sort of deregulated neo-liberal wild west, but they have a housing system that verges towards ultra-hard-left-nirvana territory with 82% of the population living in affordable government built flats. They also have universal high quality health care and education.

    1. «ultra-hard-left-nirvana territory with 82% of the population living in affordable government built flats. They also have universal high quality health care and education.»

      It is a bit different from most: all those things come from government spending financed with enormous taxes. But the taxes are semantically disguised by calling them "mandatory savings" in individual house/health/... accounts, to ensure that there is zero redistribution and zero pooling of risk among people of different incomes.
      So it is at the same time a hard-left place because of the enormous taxes financing very high government spending, and a hard-right places because the extreme individualism and lack of risk pooling and downward redistribution.

  14. A well thought out post, but I think you need to talk more about how the elite are largely responsible for these populist reactions. Economists played a contributing role. I blame the subject - there is not enough critical thinking and too much "we can show this using this or that model". While macroeconomists were messing around with fictitious NAIRUs and Taylor Rules, fundamental things were happening in capitalism which were were not being attempted to be really understood. It was only people with relatively strong philosophical, political economy historical backgrounds who could were in a position where things were going and to properly analyse it. Modern Macroeconomics post Samuelson is not, and can never be, an adequate study of capitalism.

    We have a lack of leadership right now. But I would say a big cause of that has been a lack of intellectual leadership.


  15. I was with the case you are advancing all the way until your final paragraph. You seem to have convinced yourself that should Labour win the next election the Corbyn/McDonnell duumvirate will somehow be constrained from generating an omnishambles. The gap between their understanding of a functioning mixed economy and the policy implementation required and the flakiness of their commitment to parliamentary democracy render them unfit to govern. Good intentions are dangerous in government.

    The current government certainly needs to be replaced; it is totally incapable of governing in the public interest (and probably has no wish to do so). However, if it comes to it, I expect enough voters (many having recognised how they were duped regarding the EU) will look more closely at this duumvirate and decide, wisely, to pass.

  16. IIRC Fox News was originally sceptical of Trump, who was helped to win the Republican nomination more by right-wing talk radio, as well as by far-right websites such as Breitbart and InfoWars.

  17. Trump can't be that stupid. He graduated with a master's degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. He must know his models.

  18. Fascinating bit of writing, and I can't disagree with most of it.

    There is one thing, though, I think you're right about the interests of the top 0.1% and the outcome of Trump/Brexit being in conflict (i.e. Arron Banks vs Lloyd Blankfein), but you're wrong about the reason.

    You say it's the power of individual press proprietors / their cronies that has enabled this divergence. My belief is it's actually that the forces which created outcomes like Trump and Brexit were built up by the moderate right in order to suppress the left, and win an economic argument they knew to be unpopular on its merits. They encouraged the press in their efforts to demonise EU immigrants, because it was a convenient stick to beat their opponents with, and thus attain power and cut taxes on wealth.

    Since these movements they'd fostered were composed - as they see it - of gullible idiots, it never occurred to them in a month of Sundays that they'd turn on their creators and destroy them too. But that is exactly what's happened, most graphically in the USA.

    (Sean Hannity's rapid trajectory from cynical rabble-rouser to terrified victim of his own rabble personifies the whole thing...)

  19. What an utter load of garbage.
    From the off, the following hilarious line:
    There are many similarities between Brexit and Trump. They are both authoritarian movements, where authority either lies with a single individual or a single vote"

    What the hell is that even supposed to mean? Trump is an "authoritarian movement" So is Brexit ?
    Which individual is behind Brexit. It was 52% of the vote.

    After that first line, I was expecting nothing but one sided bullshit. A story to suit your views. You didn't disappoint.

    1. The authority lies in the vote. It must be obeyed, whatever. There must be no second referendum. Every mad idea that Brexiters have is justified by the vote. Authoritarian phrases like 'will of the people' are used to discredit anyone who applies any obstacle - including the rule of law - to implementing the vote. Sounds pretty authoritarian to me.

  20. I think that some of your analysis of the US situation is a bit off. Donald Trump was not the candidate of Fox News- early in the primary Fox made a concerted effort to oppose his candidacy. All of the American cable news channels gave Trump disproportionate early coverage, but this was because Trump was a ratings sensation: they were (irresponsibly) following their audiences, not imposing Trump on an indifferent nation. There was no media push for Trump in the US equivalent to the tabloid media push for Brexit in the UK. Almost every important Republican politician is on the record saying Trump is a kook or a huckster or worse. They have almost all rallied to him since because they are unprincipled opportunists. Still, *he* was imposed on *them* by the right-wing electorate, not the reverse.

    It is true in a broader sense that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh etc. helped stir up racist populism, and that Trump has taken advantage of this phenomenon. Still, Rupert Murdoch's political opinions are closer to the WSJ editorial page than to Breitbart. Fox supports Trump so shrilly in part because Trump's economic agenda has proven to be quite conventionally Republican, in part because the old people who watch Fox love Trump.

    Although Trump is often good at manipulating the "mainstream media" for his own ends, he is right to say that the media is overwhelmingly hostile to him. Most American media remains, by American standards, center-left.

    I see no reason to fear a "permanently Republican" United States. Trump lost the popular vote, his approval ratings are low and the Democrats are energized and confident. Perhaps they are over-confident, as they were last time. Still, there is at least an even chance that Trump will be voted out. (Plenty of damage will have been done, of course, and there's no reason to believe that post-Trump Republicans will be remotely "normal.") Reversing Brexit, on the other hand, seems almost impossible.

  21. The Bernie or Bust movement was started by the group Revolt Against Plutocracy. Memoir, manifesto, menace to the neo-liberal Democrats:


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