its hard to see this as anything but a shift in the center of political

Its hard to see this as anything but a shift in the

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it’s hard to see this as anything but a shift in the center of political authority. And the new authority, framed in terms of a mathematical formula, is based on exactly the anti- populist grounds of expertise and impersonal rules. The recent history of the European Union is a series of such victories of liberalism over democracy. The takeover of Greece by the “troika” of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund was the most dramatic example, but it was simply a continuation of the ECB’s strategy of us- ing financial crises on the periphery to push through an agenda of deregulation, privatization, and liberalization that democratically accountable governments could not enact on their own. When the ECB intervened to stabilize the market for Spanish bonds in 2011, it was only after imposing a long list of conditions, including labor mar- ket reforms far outside the normal remit of a central bank, and even a demand that the government take “exceptional action” to hold down private sector wage growth. Other governments under bond market pressure were subject to similar demands. What’s striking in this context is not the occasional victory of anti-European political parties, but how consistently—so far at least—they have backed down in confrontations with the European authorities. All this may change. But for the moment, concerns about “populism” seem like an evasion of the actual politi- cal realities—perhaps a sign of bad conscience by an elite whose authority, more than in many years, lacks a basis in popular consent.
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WINTER 2019 THE INTERNATIONAL ECONOMY 29 There is a big debate about whether far- right populism is driven primarily by economic issues or cultural ones. PHILIPPE LEGRAIN Senior Visiting Fellow, European Institute of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Founder, Open Political Economy Network (OPEN) P opulist” is often used as a derogatory label for any popular political view that someone deplores. But although populism can take many forms, it has a specific meaning: populists claim to stand up for “the peo- ple” (their supporters) against the elites (their opponents, whom they tend to view as enemies). Most populists are on the far right or the far left, but they need not be: witness Italy’s heterodox Five Star Movement. And the elites they lambast are often (but not always) economically and/or socially liberal. Some voters have always hated liberalism and open- ness. But the main reason why populism is on the rise is that this core support has been swelled over the past de- cade by a broader constituency of voters who are angry and fearful. While populists don’t have the answers, voters’ rage against the establishment is understandable. The financial crisis and its unduly austere aftermath have discredited elites, who often seem incompetent, self-serving, out of touch, and corrupt. Both bailed-out bankers and politi- cians have inflicted misery on ordinary people without be- ing held accountable for their mistakes.
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