Category Archives: populism

13/11/20: The economy has two chronic illnesses (and neither are Covid)

My column for The Currency this week covers two key long-term themes in the global economy that pre-date the pandemic and will remain in place well into 2025: the twin secular stagnations hypotheses and the changing nature of the productivity. The link to the article is here;


23/7/20: Globalization and Populism: A Recent Study

I recently came across a fascinating paper by Dani Rodrik, an economist always worth reading. The paper, titled "Why Does Globalization Fuel Populism? Economics, Culture, and the Rise of Right-wing Populism" (NBER Working Paper No. 27526, July 2020) argues that "there is compelling evidence that globalization shocks, often working through culture and identity, have played an important role in driving up support for populist movements, particularly of the right-wing kind."

Rodrik carries out "an empirical analysis of the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. to show globalization-related attitudinal variables were important correlates of the switch to Trump."

  • "Trump voters were more likely to be white, older, and college-educated. 
  • "...they were significantly more hostile to racial equality and perceived themselves to be of higher social class. 
  • "The estimated coefficient on racial attitudes is particularly large: a one-point increase in the index of racial hostility – which theoretically ranges from 1 to 5 – is associated with a 0.28 percentage point increase in the probability of voting for Trump (Table below, column 1). 
  • "By contrast, economic insecurity does not seem to be associated with a propensity to vote for Trump.

"The finding that Trump voters thought of themselves as belonging to upper social classes ... largely reflects the role played by party identification in shaping voting preferences. When we control for Republican party identification (cols. 2 and 6), the estimated coefficient for social class drops sharply and ceases to be statistically significant."

"Note, however, that racial hostility remains significant, although its estimated coefficient becomes smaller (cols. 2 and 6)."

The other columns in the table above examine attitudes towards globalization (columns 2-5).

  • "All three of our measures enter statistically significantly: 
  • "Trump voters disliked trade agreements and immigration; 
  • "They were also against bank regulation (presumably in line with the general anti-regulation views of (cols. 2-5) the Republican party). 
  • "These indictors remain significant in the kitchen-sink version where they are all entered together (col. 6)."

"In none of these regressions does economic insecurity (financial worries) enter significantly. This
changes when we move from Trump voters in general to switchers from Obama to Trump (cols. 7-12). ... financial worries now becomes statistically significant, and switchers do not identify with the upper social classes. "

"Switchers are similar to Trump voters insofar as they too dislike trade agreements and immigration
(cols. 9-11). But they are dissimilar in that they view regulation of banks favorably. Hence switchers
appear to be against all aspects of globalization – trade, immigration, finance. the regression."

Rodrik postulates "a conceptual framework to clarify the various channels through which globalization can stimulate populism" on both "the demand and supply sides of politics". He also lists "the different causal pathways that link globalization shocks to political outcomes". 

Rodrik identifies "four mechanisms in particular, two each on the demand and supply sides:

  • (a) a direct effect from economic dislocation to demands for anti-elite, redistributive policies; 
  • (b) an indirect demand-side effect, through the amplification of cultural and identity divisions; 
  • (c) a supply-side effect through political candidates adopting more populist platforms in response to economic shocks; and 
  • (d) another supply-side effect through political candidates adopting platforms that deliberately inflame cultural and identity tensions in order to shift voters’ attention away from economic issues."

The full paper, accessible at is choke full of other insights and is absolutely worth reading.

3/2/2020: Demographics and Support for the EU: Populism Base

Rising populism in politics, demographics and the financial crisis aftershocks are linked. Intuitively and empirically. And thus says a new study, published in the Journal of European Public Policy. The study by Fabian Lauterbach and Catherine e. De Vries, titled "Europe belongs to the young? Generational differences in public opinion towards the European Union during the Eurozone crisis" tackles the "...notion that younger people hold more favourable attitudes towards the European Union (EU) is prevalent in both academic and popular discourse." The authors shows that "Younger cohorts in debtor countries have become significantly more sceptical of the EU than their peers in creditor states" after the crisis. At the same time, "Older generations are more supportive of the EU in debtor countries compared to creditor states."

Marginal means by cohort, Euro-debtor, Euro-creditor and other EU member states

Full paper:

16/8/19: Post-Millennials and the falling trust in institutions of coercion

A neat chart from Pew Research highlighting shifting demographics behind the changing trends in the U.S. public trust in core institutions:


Overall, the generational shift is in the direction of younger GenZ putting more trust in scientists and academics, as well as journalists, compared to previous generations; and less trust in military, police, religious leaders and business leaders. Notably, elected officials have pretty much low trust across all three key demographics.

30/11/18: The Myth of Social Mobility and Wealth Inequality

Three charts, related topics.

Global wealth inequality has been a much-discussed problem these days, with both longer-term economic and social, not to mention political, impacts being assigned to it across both the Advanced Economies and the Emerging Markets. Setting aside the causes and drivers for this development, here is the latest evidence on the wealth distribution around the world from Credit Suisse:

The 3.211 billion people, accounting for 63.9% of the total estimated world population are holding USD6.2 trillion worth of wealth (1.9% of the world total value of assets). Another 26.6% of population or 1.335 billion people, hold 13.9% of total global wealth. Thus, 90.5% of population hold combined 15.8% of the total global wealth. In the top 10 percent category, those with wealth of USD100K to 1 million account for 8.7% of global population and hold 39.3 percent of total global wealth. The 0.8% of population (42 million people) have combined holdings of wealth around USD142 trillion or 44.8% of total global wealth.

This is striking and it is problematic. Even if most of our own wealth inequality referencing is done across the adjoining class of comparatives, the gap between the top of the pyramid and the bottom is so insurmountably vast, that any idea that there is some sort of meritocratic division of wealth in our global society flies out of the window. The problem is not so much income inequality, but the inequality arising from inherited wealth, which generates income returns from invested assets that cannot be offset or diluted by merit of effort, talent and work, no matter how hard one works. Even stripping out luck effects of self-made millionaires and billionaires, the pyramid above is the evidence to the endurance of inter-generational wealth transfers.

The dynamics of evolution in wealth inequality that got us here are presented in the following charts via Goldman Sachs Research:

These figures are for the U.S. economy and they are frightening, just as much as the wealth pyramid above is frightening. Share of wealth held by the top 1% wealth-holders grew from just above 21% in the late 1970s-early 1980s to closer to 37% in 2014. Since then, it has increased more. Share of wealth held by the remaining top 10 percenters declined from ca 44% in the early 1970s to around 35% from the late 1990s on. But the share of wealth held by middle America collapsed to below 27% since the high of around 36% in mid-1980s. Things were never brilliant for the bottom 50 percent of Americans to begin with, but since the Global Financial Crisis, lower middle of America has had negative net wealth through 2014. even though it might have risen since then somewhat, at no time in modern history have the middle and lower-middle class Americans enjoyed holding more than 2 percent of the total wealth.

This is a double-ugly conclusion, because it simultaneously runs against two key propositions on which the American society rests: the proposition of social cross-class mobility upwards from lower wealth classes to middle class, and the proposition that social progress in the American society is distinct from the ‘basket cases’ dynamics in the larger emerging economies (the likes of India and China). In a way, America replicates the world in terms of both, wealth inequality and its dynamics. And that is not a good thing for a society based on exceptionalism values.

The added dimension to this is that, given the above dynamics and the degree of elites entrenchment / capture within the political establishment, we are facing an impossible task of rebalancing the above wealth inequalities without triggering some serious political discontent. Worse, we have no tools for doing so, other than traditional socialist tools (expropriation via taxation of income), which are not effective in dealing with this problem. One of the reasons why these tools are ineffective is that broad-based income tax measures impact more adversely those who work for living (higher income earners) and do not touch those who experience wealth appreciation through capital gains on inherited wealth (as long as they re-invest their wealth-generated income). Another reason, is that higher income earners, on average, can claim merit as a source of their income more than those who hold inherited wealth. A third reason is that redistribution through taxation is highly inefficient: the funds flow to the politically-empowered, not to merit-deserving, and the losses on tax funds are high due to the cost of Government bureaucracy.

Which leaves us with the unpleasant dilemma: tax inherited wealth (during inheritance transfer in the future, and retro-actively, via tax on existent wealth, in the past). Which in itself is highly problematic for the following reasons: (1) wealth is mobile across borders, and financialized wealth is especially so; (2) a significant tax on wealth is likely to trigger repricing of all assets to the downside (liquidation of wealth to cover tax liabilities), adversely impacting wealth acquired by the first generation of entrepreneurs and investors; and (3) inducing a sizeable decline in the life-cycle expected wealth of the current younger generations, resulting is a large scale re-leveraging of these generations.

Neither of these effects is easy to address.