Recorded on October 3, 2019, this panel centered on The Populist Temptation: Economic Grievance and Political Reaction in the Modern Era, by Barry Eichengreen, Professor of Economics & Political Science at UC Berkeley. This event was presented as part of the Social Science Matrix “Authors Meet Critics” book talk series.
Eichengreen was joined on the panel by Paul Pierson, Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley, a renowned specialist in populism, social theory, and political economy; and Brad DeLong, Professor of Economics, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy during the Clinton Administration and is currently a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
“I’m a little surprised to find myself here,” Eichengreen said in his opening remarks. “If you’d asked me five years ago, I wouldn’t have anticipated that I’d be writing about populism, but things happen. Donald Trump happened. [Viktor] Orbán happened. [Tayyip] Erdoğan happened. After my book, [Jair] Bolsonaro happened. And Brexit happened.”
Eichengreen explained that he defines populism as “a political movement with three dimensions: anti-elite, authoritarian, and nativist, or anti-other,” with different populist movements and politicians combining these dimensions in different ways.
The Populist Temptation places the global resurgence of populism in a deep historical context. It argues that populists tend to thrive in the wake of economic downturns, when it is easy to convince the masses of elite malfeasance. While bankers, financiers, and ‘bought’ politicians are partly responsible, populists’ own solutions tend to be simplistic and economically counterproductive.
By arguing that ordinary people are at the mercy of extra-national forces beyond their control, populists often degenerate into demagoguery and xenophobia. Eichengreen posits that interventions must begin with shoring up and improving the welfare state so that it is better able to act as a buffer for those who suffer most during economic slumps.
“This is an extremely erudite book,” Pierson said. “I can’t think of anyone out there who could cover this range of modern economic history and political economic history with the knowledge base and skill that Barry does. I think it’s also a very wise book, in the way that it covers an enormous amount of ground.”