Category Archives: populism

15/518: Four macro charts that explain Trumpvolution

The current growth cycle has been the second longest on record:

Source: FactSet

But it has been much shallower than the previous cycles: "real GDP growth in the current expansion lags the other three expansions—by a lot. As of the first quarter of 2018, real GDP has expanded by 21% since the beginning of the current expansion; this is far lower than the 36% compound growth we saw at this point in the 1991‑2001 expansion. The chart also shows that the growth path for the longest expansions has continued to shift lower over time; the 1961‑1969 expansion saw real GDP grow by 52% by the end of its ninth year, while the economy had grown by just 38% by the end of year eight of the 1982‑1990 expansion."

Source: FactSet

And here's a summary of why loading risks of recession onto households is not such a great idea: "Real consumption has grown by 23% since the summer of 2009, compared to growth rates of 41% and 50% at the same point in the expansions of 1991‑2001 and 1961‑1969, respectively. The reluctance of consumers to spend in this expansion is not surprising when you consider how much of the brunt of the last recession was borne by this group."

Households' net worth collapse in the GFC has been more dramatic and the recovery from the crisis has been less pronounced than in the previous cycles:

Source: FactSet

Hey, you hear some say, but the recovery this time around has been 'historic' in terms of jobs creation. Right? Well, it has been historic... as in historically low:
Source: FactSet

So, despite the length of the recovery cycle, current state of the economy hardly warrants elevated levels of optimism. The recovery from the Global Financial Crisis and the Great Recession has been unimpressively sluggish, and the burden of the crises has been carried on the shoulders of ordinary households. Any wonder we have so many 'deplorables' ready to vote populist? As we noted in our recent paper (see:, the rise of populism has been a logical corollary to (1) the general trends toward secular stagnation in the economy since the mid-1990s, and (2) the impact of the twin 2008-2010 crises on households.

11/11/2016: Europe’s ‘Convincing’ Recovery

Europe's strong, convincing, systemic recovery ... the meme of the European leaders from Ireland all the way across to the Baltics, and save for Greece, from the Mediterranean to Arctic Ocean comes to test with reality in the latest Pictet Quarterly and if the only chart were all you needed to see why the Continent is drowning in populist politics, here it is:

As Christophe Donay and Frederik Ducrozet explain (emphasis is mine):

"Since 2008, the world’s main central banks have used a vast array of transmission channels: currency weakening to reboot exports; reflation of asset prices to boost confidence; a clean-up of banks’ balance sheets to boost the credit cycle. But, ultimately, all these measures have failed as economic growth remains subdued. Indeed, the belief that countries have become trapped in suboptimal growth and that developed economies, especially in Europe, look set to complete a
‘lost decade’ of subpar growth (see graph) since the financial crisis forms the third strand of criticism of monetary policy."

Whatever one can say about the monetary policy, one thing is patently obvious: since the introduction of the Euro, the disaster that is European economy became ever more disastrous.

Enter Trumpist successors to characterless corporatist technocrats... probably, first for worse, and hopefully later, at least, for better...

17/6/16: Forget Brexit. Think EUrisis

Swedish research institute, Timbro, published their report covering the rise of political populism in Europe. And it makes for a sobering reading.

Quoting from the report:

“Never before have populist parties had as strong support throughout Europe as they do today. On average a fifth of all European voters now vote for a left-wing or right-wing populist party. The voter demand for populism has increased steadily since the millennium shift all across Europe.”

Personally, I don’t think this is reflective of the voter demand for populism, but rather lack of supply of pragmatic voter-representing leadership anywhere near the statist political Centre. After decades of devolution of ethics and decision-making to narrow groups or sub-strata of technocrats - a process embodied by the EU systems, but also present at the national levels - European voters no longer see a tangible connection between themselves (the governed) and those who lead them (the governors). The Global Financial Crisis and subsequent Great Recession, accompanied by the Sovereign Debt Crisis and culminating (to-date) in the Refugees Crisis, all have exposed the cartel-like nature of the corporatist systems in Europe (and increasingly also outside Europe, including the U.S.). Modern media spread the information like forest fire spreads ambers, resulting in amplified rend toward discontent.

Again, per Timbro:
“No single country is clearly going against the stream. 2015 was the most successful year so far for populist parties and consistent polls show that right-wing populist parties have grown significantly as a result of the 2015 refugee crisis. So far this year left-wing or right-wing populist parties have been successful in parliamentary elections in Slovakia, Ireland, Serbia, and Cyprus, in a presidential election in Austria and in regional elections in Germany. A growing number of populist parties are also succeeding in translating voter demand into political influence. Today, populist parties are represented in the governments of nine European countries and act as parliamentary support in another two.”

Net: “…one third of the governments of Europe are constituted by or dependent on populist parties.”

And the direction of this trend toward greater populism in European politics is quite astonishing. Per Timbro, “discussions on populism too often focus only on rightwing populism. Practically everything written on populism, at least outside Southern Europe, is almost entirely concerned with right-wing populism. Within the political sciences the study of right-wing populist parties has even become its own field of study, while studies on leftwing populism are rare.”

This skew in reporting and analysis, however, is false: while “…it is the right-wing populism that has grown most notably, particularly in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. However, in Southern Europe the situation is the opposite. If the goal is to safeguard the core values and institutions of liberal democracy we need a parallel focus on those who challenge it, regardless of whether they come from the right or the left. It is seriously worrying that seven per cent of the population in Greece vote for
a Nazi party, but it is also worrying that five per cent vote for a Stalinist one. The second aim of this report is therefore to present an overview of the threat of populism, both right-wing and left-wing, against liberal democracy.”

Here are some trends:

The chart above shows that authoritarian left politics are showing a strong trend up from 2010 through 2014, with some moderation in 2015, which might be driven more by the electoral cycle, rather than by a potential change in the trend. The moderation in 2015, however, is not present in data for right wing authoritarianism:

So total support for authoritarian parties is up, a trend present since 2000 and reflective of the timing that is more consistent with the introduction of the euro and subsequent EU enlargements. An entirely new stage of increase in authoritarianism tendencies was recorded in 2015 compared to 2014.

Save for the correction downward in 2007-2009 period, authoritarian parties have been on an increasing power trend since roughly 1990, with renewed upward momentum from 1999.

You can read the full study and reference the study definitions and methodologies here:

What we are witnessing in the above trends is continuation of a long-running theme: the backlash by the voters, increasingly of younger demographics, against the status quo regime of narrow elites. Yes, this reality does coincide with economic inequality debates and with economic disruptions that made life of tens of millions of Europeans less palatable than before. But no, this is not a reaction to the economic crisis. Rather, it is a reaction to the social, ideological and ethical vacuum that is fully consistent with the technocratic system of governance, where values are being displaced by legal and regulatory rules, and where engineered socio-economic system become more stressed and more fragile as risks mount due to the technocratic obsession with… well… technocracy as a solution for every ill.

While the EU has been navel gazing about the need for addressing the democratic deficit, the disease of corporatism has spread so extensively that simply re-jigging existent institutions (giving more power to the EU Parliament and/or increasing member states’ voice in decision making and/or imposing robust checks and balances on the Commission, the Eurogroup and the Council) at this stage will amount to nothing more than applying plasters to the through-the-abdomen gunshot wound. Brexit or not, the EU is rapidly heading for the point of no return, where any reforms, no matter how structurally sound they might be, will not be enough to reverse the electoral momentum.

For those of us, who do think united Europe can be, at least in theory, a good thing, time is to wake up. Now. And not to oppose Brexit and similar movements, but to design a mechanism to prevent them by re-enfranchising real people into political decision making institutions.