Politics, paradoxes and self-fulfilling prophesies

The fear of a populist comeback is fast becoming both a vicious circle and a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The fear of a populist comeback is fast becoming both a vicious circle and a self-fulfilling prophesy.

For many months now President Mauricio Macri has been playing with fire – restricting the electoral alternatives to the populism incarnated by his predecessor Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in order to ensure that continuity is at the very least the lesser evil, while running the calculated risk of spooking the markets (supposedly covered by the insurance policy of the biggest International Monetary Fund loan in history). This strategy somehow managed to survive all last year’s crises, but in the anniversary week of that first run on the currency its basic premises now risk collapsing all along the line, thus making the current turbulence potentially more dangerous.

Perhaps the immediate catalyst of this latest crisis of confidence was something bound to happen sooner or later – a stagflation persisting too long is finally resulting in the first serious opinion polls showing Fernández de Kirchner winning a run-off against Macri beyond the margin of error, thus wrong-footing the spin doctors who took the economic setbacks in their stride while re-election remained in sight.

In theory monetary problems are fixed by monetary solutions but this only works when the causes are also monetary – a purely monetarist policy thus becomes almost worse than useless when the political and psychological factors are so dominant. Throwing money at the problem becomes akin to using water against an oil fire – it should not be forgotten that the 2018 crisis began exactly a year ago last Wednesday, when then-Central Bank governor Federico Sturzenegger deployed over US$1.4 billion to defend the 20-peso mark. The massive IMF package seemed to stop the rot (just like the blindaje mega-swap of some US$40…

McDermott: Populist politics is the perfect breeding ground for anti-vaccination nonsense

Measles Outbreak

A signs posted at The Vancouver Clinic in Vancouver, Wash., warn patients and visitors of a measles outbreak. A measles outbreak near Portland, Ore., has revived a bitter debate over so-called personal belief exemptions to childhood vaccinations. Four percent of Washington secondary school students have non-medical vaccine exemptions. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus,File)

Gillian Flaccus

The surge in global measles cases might be the first medical epidemic bolstered by a political movement. The anti-vaccination crowd — long relegated, quite properly, to the fringes of society — has moved perilously close to the mainstream, riding in on the same currents that brought us the Tea Party, Brexit and other populist movements.

Definitions vary, but a few traits of populism are consistent: It’s a deep distrust of government, whether a particular government has earned that distrust or not. It’s the enthusiastic undermining of societal norms, however legitimate they might be. It’s the rejection of expertise and the vilification of “elites” — a label that includes people like scientists and doctors.

Populism is a virtual petri dish for a virus like the anti-vaccination movement, in other words.

“There is a highly significant … association between the percentage of people in a country who voted for populist parties and who believe that vaccines are not important,” concluded a study presented in February in the European Journal of Public Health. “Vaccine hesitancy and political populism are driven by similar dynamics: a profound distrust in elites and experts.”

The correlation between populism and the anti-vaccination movement is so clear, the paper argues, that doctors should be tracking where populist sentiments are strongest and focus their vaccine-awareness efforts there: “Support for populist parties could be used as a…

A Scandal for Our Populist Moment

William “Rick” Singer leaves a federal courthouse after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme in Boston, Mass., March 12, 2019.

The alleged college-admissions bribery ring exposed earlier this week has something to enrage everyone.

The college-admissions scandal should be the populist issue of our time.

Most of the talk in our politics about how “the system is rigged” is incredibly abstract and symbolic. But this is infuriatingly concrete.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department revealed a massive effort by wealthy parents and a shady “admissions consultant” to bribe and cheat their way into getting kids into a slew of elite schools.

Prosecutors say William Singer, the ringleader of the operation, sold two forms of services. For tens of thousands of dollars, parents could pay for their kids to have a proctor correct their incorrect answers as they took the SAT. Or, if that wouldn’t do the trick, parents could pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to bribe coaches at elite schools to designate applicants as desired athletes, thus circumventing the minimum requirements for grades and test scores.

In one case, a California family allegedly paid $1.2 million to Singer, who in turn allegedly paid Rudy Meredith, the women’s soccer coach at Yale, $400,000 to claim that the family’s daughter was a coveted recruit even though she didn’t play at all.

This scandal is a staggering indictment of higher education, and American education policy generally. Virtually every constituency in American life has good reason to be rankled. Defenders of affirmative action for various minority groups are rightly livid about this effort, by mostly rich white people who already have every advantage imaginable, to game the system. Opponents of affirmative action who argue that merit alone should determine admissions…

Progressive populism: a different kind of political beauty | Hightower


Hours after being sworn into the House, Rashida Tlaib was heard saying, “We’re gonna impeach” President Trump. Wochit

What lessons can we progressives take from our ballot-box wins last year (and for that matter, from our losses)? What can we do to build on these victories and produce more in this year’s elections — and in 2020?

We must assess this broad strategy ourselves, for most of today’s mainline political analysts focus solely on “candidate politics.” Obviously, we need information about the principals who are asking for our votes, but too much “focus on the candidate” pushes America’s election story into the swirling shallows of gossip and puffery while ignoring the bigger, more significant story in 2018: movement politics. Thus, the media reduce our nation’s vital democratic exercise to comic-book buzzwords like “blue wave” and “red wall,” trivializing the extraordinary efforts of the multitudes who are striving to create a progressive future.

New York Times commentator Frank Bruni, for example, even consulted a Harvard professor of evolutionary psychology to develop his novel grasp of last year’s voter behavior (“Politics aren’t pretty. But politicians are,” Nov. 20). Normally a smart guy, he veered off into the psycho-pop ditch, writing after the election that the meteoric rise of such progressive candidates as Andrew Gillum in Florida, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York and Beto O’Rourke in Texas was attributable to a political quality they share: They’re “hot,” the scribe explained.

More specifically, Bruni diagnosed Gillum and O’Rourke as “hunks,” while Ocasio-Cortez’s special appeal lay in “her gorgeousness.” Then he…

Tucker: Leaders show no obligation to American voters

Tucker: Leaders show no obligation to American voters

Voters around the world revolt against leaders who won’t improve their lives. #Tucker #FoxNews

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Infrastructure populism: on the politics of building big, or failing to

When it comes to infrastructure, they’re all all talk. Image: Getty.

It is famously said of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini that at least while he was dragging his country into a war in which over half a million of his citizens died, he was also making sure the trains ran on time. The murdering fascist wasn’t all bad: he did sort out Italy’s railways.

Now, shockingly, it turns out this is all complete claptrap and Mussolini actually did very little to improve the rail system. Popular beliefs to the contrary are all just part of the fascist myth that he built up around himself to validate his governance.

It’s fake news, but the widely believed claim strikes to the core of a bigger issue: politicians hijacking transport as an easy way to connect with voters. Because, despite Chris Grayling’s best efforts, getting from A to B is an aspect of modern life that can hardly be ignored; effective roads are required to keep the population fed and public transport needed to get people to work.

Like Mussolini before him, this is something Donald Trump has recognised. Among the cries of “lock her up” and “bad hombres”, a key part of his presidential election campaign was a promise to ramp up infrastructure investment. Trump was fed up that other countries “look at our infrastructure as being sad”. As someone who has tried to use Amtrak, the US domestic rail service, I’ve got to say I agree with him.

But it’s easy to complain; it’s following through with a solution that’s the real problem. Only 13 per cent of the $1.5trn Trump hopes to raise is…

Populism is not the whole story – European politics is rewiring itself

GERMANY-POLITICS-VOTE-BAVARIAAlice Weidel (R), co-leader of the parliamentary group of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) far-right party, arrives with Katrin Ebner-Steiner, regional leader of the AfD at an election party in Mamming, southern Germany, on October 14, 2018. (Photo by Armin Weigel / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUTARMIN WEIGEL/AFP/Getty Images

After months of speculation about a “far-right surge” in Bavaria, the final result of the Alternative for Democracy (AfD), coming “just” fourth, with 10.2% of the vote, was a bit of an anticlimax. Not for many international media, however, which quickly shifted gear to their other favourite frames. As US media went for their familiar “political earthquake” frame, rightwing UK media once again speculated on the demise of their nemesis, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

While there are important local particularities to the Bavarian elections, most notably the end of the last democratic one-party system in Europe, the results reflect a broader European pattern of fragmentation and volatility that is often missed by the obsessive focus on the “rise of populism” narrative.

The Bavarian elections were not an “earthquake”, but they were certainly an “upheaval”. Most importantly, the rightwing Christian Social Union (CSU) was “battered”, losing not only its parliamentary majority but also 10.4% of the vote. But the biggest loser was actually the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), who, as in France and the Netherlands before, dropped into the single digits (9.7%), after a loss of 10.9%. In other words, the CSU lost a quarter of its 2013 votes and the SPD over half.

Against these big losses stood major gains. While falling well below the poll scores that made international news a few months ago, the AfD was still the biggest winner in their first Bavarian elections. They were followed closely by the Greens who, like sister parties in Belgium and Luxembourg last weekend, made big gains. In fact, the Greens more than doubled their votes, coming second with 17.5%.

But, as the political scientists Stefano Bartolini and Peter Mair observed with regard to…

UN: Populist Politics Eroding International Protection for Refugees

FILE - A Hungarian police officer patrols an enlarged transit zone that was set up for migrants at the Hungary's southern border with Serbia near Tompa, 169 kms southeast of Budapest, Hungary, April 6, 2017.
FILE – A Hungarian police officer patrols an enlarged transit zone that was set up for migrants at the Hungary’s southern border with Serbia near Tompa, 169 kms southeast of Budapest, Hungary, April 6, 2017.


The U.N. refugee agency warns populist politics and fear-mongering about immigration are eroding international protection for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution. The UNHCR protection chief spoke about growing protection concerns at the agency’s annual refugee conference.

Conflict, persecution and violence have displaced a record 68.5 million people around the world. Most are internally displaced, while 25 million are refugees. These are people who have crossed international borders and are entitled to international protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

But U.N. Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Turk says this right is slipping away. He says some governments are taking political and legal measures to narrow the…

Farage: Bannon plan could help populists to EU election victory

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon.

The intervention of former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon in European politics could help rightwing parties become the biggest bloc in the European parliament next year, according to Nigel Farage.

The former Ukip leader predicted sweeping advances for anti-EU parties during next May’s European elections, aided by the new project announced by Bannon . Bannon, one of the architects of Donald Trump’s US election triumph in 2016 and the former head of the rightwing Breitbart News, aims to establish a pan-European populist foundation .

Farage told the Observer that, Eurosceptics could become the largest political grouping on the continent and predicted that anti-EU MEPs could secure between 176 and 235 seats in the European parliament elections next May. “My view is that somewhere between a quarter and a third of seats in the European parliament are going to be Eurosceptic and Euro-critical,” he said.

“You could – and it might not happen for all sorts of cultural and left/right political reasons – have a Euro-critical group that is the second biggest in parliament. With a bit of luck and a following wind it could even be the biggest,” Farage added.

Bannon’s foundation, called The Movement, will be based in Brussels and dedicated to campaigning aggressively for a large, anti-EU faction in the European elections next spring. Bannon said last week he had already started raising funds amid speculation that former English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson,

Italy’s Populist Politics Mean A Summer Of Uncertainty


While hopes are rising of a resolution to the political upheaval in Italy, investors will be focused on the country’s weaker economic outlook.

Italy’s economy has been doing better, but confidence could be threatened by rising yields and uncertainty, despite some proposed fiscal stimulus and lower taxes.

Despite market fears, there appears to be little appetite among Italians to leave the euro, as differences centre on the constraints of EU budget levels.

We don’t foresee any major response from the ECB to Italy’s troubles; market pressures should help direct a sensible set of domestic policies.

We remain neutral to cautious on Italian assets for now, as we face a summer of uncertainty.

The political upheaval in Italy has raised a number of fears, not least that Europe’s fourth-largest economy may want to withdraw from the European Union, if not subvert the euro with a parallel currency too. We view both events as unlikely, but the mere prospect of them occurring – amid continuing political uncertainty – caused cascading market reactions: yields on Italian debt soared as prices plummeted; a selloff in Italian equity markets spilled over to the US; and the euro fell to its lowest level against the US dollar this year. At the climax of the recent crisis, markets were pricing in a high probability of default on Italian debt, with no possibility of outright monetary transactions (OMT) by the ECB. The subsequent re-steepening of the yield curve is a welcome sign of normalisation.

Two possibilities: elections in September or a new political government

The political environment in Italy is fast-changing. Since parliamentary elections in March, which resulted in a hung parliament with no party or coalition winning a majority of seats, Italy hasn’t had a government. On May 27, President Sergio Mattarella rejected the nomination of an economics minister whom he considered anti-EU and anti-euro. This triggered the latest surge of market volatility globally and raised the spectre of his impeachment.

From our perspective, Italy’s political situation boils down to two possibilities – both of which are likely to create a degree of certainty that may buoy financial markets in the short term:

  • The first is the formation of a caretaker government, led by interim Prime Minister Carlo Cottarelli, followed by a new round of elections that would effectively be a referendum on Italy’s role in the EU. We believe that September is a more likely date for these elections.
  • The second possible scenario is the formation of a new political…