Amidst otherwise strong coverage of the growing debate around the nature of finance and the power of big banks, a surprisingly high number of journalists continue to misuse the word “populism”.

For example, in an article on criticism of bankers at Davos, the Wall Street on Saturday morning reported that President Sarkozy of France delivered a “populist broadside” when he said,

“That those who create jobs and wealth may earn a lot of money is not shocking.  But that those who contribute to destroying jobs and wealth also earn a lot of money is morally indefensible.”

The implication, of course, is that some politicians are pandering to “the people” vs. “the elites” – part of a long-standing theme in some interpretations of democratic political conflict.  While elites invest and engage in productive activities, the argument goes, plebians from time to time demand excessive income redistribution or punitive taxation or other measures that would undermine productivity and prosperity.

Or, as President Obama said in March 2009, “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

Such language reveals a complete misunderstanding of our current situation.  (Matt Taibbi has this right, but doesn’t go far enough.)

The problem we face is not that the broader population wants pointless or destructive revenge on a financial elite that has done well.  Nor is it the case that, if left largely to its own devices, our major banks will guide us back along the path to sustainable growth.

The consensus technocratic assessment is simple: We are smack in the middle of a doomsday cycle of repeated boom-bust-bailout (our version; the Bank of England’s take).  The core issue – banks considered “too big to fail” – was not resolved in or after the crisis of 2008-09; if anything, as these banks have increased in size, the problem is now worse.  We are therefore doomed to run headlong into another crisis.

This view is increasingly the developing consensus of most economists, many people active in financial markets (e.g., judging by reactions to this piece), top policy analysts from right and left, clear thinking central bankers, and pretty much anyone else who follows the news.  Elites are deeply split along pro- and anti-big bank lines.  Most people who do not have a conflict of interest – i.e., don’t work for big banks or the administration – want to see the most dangerous parts of our financial sector reined in and made safer.

Even leaders of the global nonfinancial business elite begin to understand what has happened and what comes next.

The fact that dramatic banking reforms would be popular does not make them populist.  It merely means that a broad cross-section of our population has woken up to part of our appalling reality.  Sure, they are angry – but with good reason, and the remedies they seek are entirely appropriate.  Most of our elites are on the side of the broader population on this issue; only the diseased heart of Wall Street holds out.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Obama administration remains convinced that merely tweaking our existing regulations is the only responsible way forward.  Even their new “Volcker Rule” increasingly looks like superficial rebranding without new substance.

This will go nowhere – except to sad, unnecessary, and complete defeat in the November midterm elections.

By Simon Johnson

80 thoughts on ““Populism”

  1. except to sad, unnecessary, and complete defeat in the November midterm elections

    Defeat for whom?

    If the people choose to kick out the current crop of politicians because they are owned by Wall Street, why is that “sad”?

  2. Because the people who replace them will be “populists” a la Scott Brown So: sad for all of us.

  3. It’s sad because those of us {me} who handed a party the first super majority to actually get things done the right way have now been handed a bag of sh-t to work with from the more ‘conservative’ members of the Democratic caucus.

    If the response in the mid-terms is to turn the reins back over to Republicans to solve these issues then God help us all… at least a good portion of the Democrats seem to get it when it comes to reform. There isn’t one Republican in Washington who would vote for the bank fee or the Consumer Protection Agency and most seem to truly think that Government was solely responsible for this calamity so there’s no need to impact the way in which private companies do business in the first place. It’s a bizarro perspective. What would be nice is if the ‘conservative’ democrats lost primaries to actual progressives who would actually make a stand on principle and not campaign contributions and implement safeguards that would work and confront these thieves on Wall Street.

  4. P.S. Dr. Kwak has been hyper-partisan from the beginning… But you, Prof. Johnson, seemed moderate, or at least hard to classify. Until recently.

    I guess being employed by the Huffington Post changes a person. It is sad to see. Also, it will not help to achieve the goal of breaking up oversized banks… Some of your strongest allies lie on the conservative side of the political spectrum (note “conservative”, not “Republican”), and alienating them is simply foolish.

  5. I think it may be useful to put the WSJ’s calling Sarkozy’s speech a ‘populist broadside’ in context. Johnson is quite right that neither Sarkozy’s remarks nor the man as a political actor, is a populist. But the WSJ is engaged in tar & feathering because ‘populism’ smacks of the ‘irrational’ extra-parliamentary right parties in Europe from Le Pen’s FN to Lega Nord, and their equivalents in northern Europe. There’s now a massive literature (poli sci, anth, soc) on ‘right wing populism’ in europe – much of it focused around anti-immigrant sentiment (although D. Holmes traces its routes back to integralism a century ago). Just a the invocation of ‘populism’ in the U.S. context is meant to suggest angry rural idiots (pace Marx), it in WSJ’s terms is meant to convey the same for Sarkozy.
    In sum, accusations of ‘populism’ are meant to discredit as irrational and un-serious.

  6. It would be sad because so many people had hope for meaningful change. The Republicans have been the party of No for the past year, and if they take control of the House or Senate, things will continue not to get done. Like it or not, we needed Big Government to bail out Big Business last year, and we need Big Government for another year or two. If the Reps win in November, look forward to a lost decade, at the least.

  7. Writing from Europe, I sadly can only confirm
    that the French President is a ‘populist’, recent
    articles have stressed the overgrown influence of opinion polls on his decisions, and sadly the ‘drift’ is expanding,i.e the current public debate in France over “French identity” among others , in view of the coming elections.

  8. “Populist”, hmm. Quite a bad word in the MSM.


    Well, if being a populist means you want a moral community, you want justice, you want an end to top-down theft and extortion, you recognize that extreme wealth concentration has never occurred once in all of history except through theft, you recognize that trickle-down in any form even when Democrats and “liberals” advocate it is a lie and will always be a lie, and you recognize that the first and main measure of the health and performance of the economy and of any economic policy is “how many living wage jobs does it create/conserve”, then hallelujah I’m a populist.

  9. I agree: it is with intelligent conservatives that Simon will find his following, I believe.

    (I am no longer from Boston, but I’m quite taken with Scott Brown, also. Especially his pictures….. smile. I think Simon would find him a receptive ear.)

    I absolutely adored Matt Tiabbi’s diatribe on that jerk, David Brooks. It’s a laugh and a cry at the same time. Thank you, Simon, for that pointer.

    …..Lady in Red

  10. The “more ‘conservative’ members of the Democratic caucus” include Obama who, when he whipped for TARP as president-elect in October 2008, implicitly ratified the entire bailout process, with its complete lack of accountability and transparency.

  11. Indubitably.


    Thanks for so eloquently stating my & Main Street’s (working people who actually produce something) position.

  12. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

  13. Don’t buy into the HuffPo liberal or progressive-bent baloney. It’s all a big mishmosh. Wolves within sheep within wolves within flacks.

    Huffington is a product of Cambridge and used to pal around politically with Gingrich, Bob Dole, and her very conservative ex-husband.

    Find out where the money came from to launch HuffPo and it will lead you back to the same places as usual.

  14. If the Reps get back in power, the US will continue the 30 previous years of swing to the right. Corporatism, blind nationalism, and fascism will be the orders of the day.

    Interesting times, indeed.

  15. Even though I’m a fairly loyal Democrat, have to say this: Scott Brown is no lightweight. He’s smart and articulate. He won in Massachusetts not because he is a Republican, but despite it. I might have voted for Coakley out of loyalty, but Brown was definitely the better “man”, and I don’t mean that in relative terms. He will be a force in national politics.

  16. Volker wrote an Op-Ed in the NY Times today. Worth hearing his take on the ‘Volcker Rules’.

  17. Having been born in a socialist country, I find the most misused word today to be ‘socialism’. But that would be a different article.
    When it comes to November elections I think there used to be many people underestimating Barack Obama’s political capability in the past. I remember the day I heard about him for the first time. Thinking of it, it has not been that long ago.

  18. “The problem we face is not that the broader population wants pointless or destructive revenge on a financial elite that has done well.”

    Speak for yourself.

  19. “The problem we face is not that the broader population wants pointless or destructive revenge on a financial elite that has done well.”

    The next time you are standing in line at the grocery store, Professor Johnson, ask the person behind you to explain what the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was. Then ask them what their opinion of the financial industry is.

    Politicians are not afraid of your doom loop; they cannot see past their next meal. They are afraid of not being re-elected. What they will deliver is something that looks like revenge on the elites (heck, look at their proposals – since when did prop trading cause the financial crisis?), but does not interrupt their personal economic realities.

    An elitist would associate a revolution with philosophy and not the guillotine.

  20. “Combining those essential functions unavoidably entails risk, sometimes substantial risk. That is why Adam Smith more than 200 years ago advocated keeping banks small. Then an individual failure would not be so destructive for the economy. That approach does not really seem feasible in today’s world, not given the size of businesses, the substantial investment required in technology and the national and international reach required.”

    The administration does not want to reduce the size of financial institutions from where they are now.

    Apparently, the administration thinks it is perfectly logical to focus its attention on something unconnected to the financial crisis, rather than on the fact that most consumer lending is concentrated in a handful of banks.

  21. The newly elected Senator Scott Brown ran on a mostly stealth campaign, omitting the word/label of his party, REPUBLICAN, whenever possible in a heavily Democratic state. He ran as a faux populist. Even the Senator from Louisana, Mary Landrieu, now admits to be taken aback by the less than honest United States Supreme Court of Roberts and Alito, admitting “…what she knows now “might have influenced me a little differently” on Roberts but said she made the “best decision I could” when she voted in 2005 to confirm him” – this is in reference to last Tuesday’s SOTU speech, wherein President Obama chided the court’s ruling on campaign reform. Internal polls indicated that President Obama won the 2008 presidential contest on the votes of Independents (sometimes referred as “populists”), that swath of voters that can make or break a candidacy, thus, explaining as to why the President met with Republicans yesterday instead of lecturing to Blue Dogs of his own party (something he clearly alluded in his Tuesday’s speech but failing to go any further). President Obama says he wants to be the bipartisanship president – so when McCain offered to reinstate Glass-Steagall (even the motives are driven by the politics as usual), not a word from President Obama.

    It’s instances like these, that one can’t also conclude the mid-term elections in November could take another severe hit on Democracy.

  22. It’s instances like these, one can’t help think that the mid-term elections in November could take another severe hit on Democracy.

  23. why is it sad? The track record of the G. W. Bush + Cheney administration speaks for itself…

  24. Revenge isn’t the right term – appropriate prosecution of fraud, especially control fraud (as defined by W. K. Black), is called “justice”.

  25. your point actually gives the glimmer of hope: many politicians are so short sighted they may adopt populist agendas as a strategy for re-election. This is what I’m counting on – the wind-sockiness of politicians in the face of an angry constituency.

  26. Sarkozy’s speech can be heard at this link:


    Select the “Opening Plenary” (with Sarkozy in the frame).
    He is the 3rd (or 4th) speaker, about 25 minutes (or so) into the stream. He delivered his remarks in French, but there is a translated version (select EN).

    I agree .. this was not a “populist” speech .. but he did “rock the rafters”.

  27. Just because an idea is populist doesn’t mean it’s automatically wrong. Sometimes the majority is right, & angry for the right reasons.

  28. Maybe. I hope so. I think it is more likely that politicians adopt revenge-oriented populist tones than actual strategies, much as Obama did recently.

    It is unfortunate that politicians seem unable to appreciate that they do not actually have a choice about reforming the system. Many academics have noted that with respect to governments addressing financial crises, initial conditions matter. We’ll be going into the next crisis heavily indebted and with a structurally-unbalanced economy. We actually can’t afford another experiment with moral hazard. It is beginning to look like we can transform the nature of our government now or start from scratch later. If our politicans were genuine statesmen (and women), they’d be taking this moment in American history very seriously.

  29. I think Obama policy will change “the economic depression” view of all Americans especially the prominent economists into “the economic impression”. The main reason is that Obama uses the right policy to solve the real problems of American economy.

    Firstly, to double the export in five years will not only improve jobs and economic growths but also improve the trade deficits. American economy needs the exports and they can do easily because they have surplus resources both high unemployment rate and low capacity utilization that cannot cause the inflation and jobs growth should be expected to be far more than two millions and the economic growth may sustain at more than four percent every year because the export sectors will cause the eonnected economy; for example, if you can export cars, you will cause the vehicles part, stell, plastic businesses. Obama’s National export initiative is not difficult because the Americans’ export is relatively small compared to GDP so the slack resources will be used easily and immediately but the marketing policy is important. Maybe Obama must negotiate with trading partner to expand trade and exports and if American can double exports; meaning that American will be one of the highest export-led countries in the next five years that look far better than even China.

    Secondly, the resource scarcity will occur all over the world because resources such as oils have not been found significantly for nearly ten years. Surely, the oil price will disappear one day and if everyone and every country still depend on oil to grow, one day they cannot grow but face oil crises. The clean energy and alternative energy of Obama will be useful. Surely, this policy cannot prevent oil price to go to 200 dollars but it will help American less dependent on oil prices.

    The biggest point is that Obama focus the long-term policy for economic stability including high budget/trade deficits and debts and speculative bubbles in the markets. He raises these problems and he finds the way to solve them. I think all American and all people around the world should support and learn from Obama policy not from Bush’s policy. He focuses the long-term issues and he did do the right thing. If Obama can double export in five years, the unemployment rate will move back to 5%, the trade deficit in the next five year will be near zero and surely, the government income will increase and expenditure will reduce. I think it is the wrong policy to use the government spending to sustain the growth because at the end high deficit and debt will cause people scare and all debts will be responsible by the next generation. But if we use the external sector to drive growth and I think it is the right policy for America because they consume too much. However, Obama need the economic cooperation from the trade surplus countries including China and Asia to consume more.

    I think The New normal for America may not like others expect. It will not be pessimistic. The New Normal will be “the Change that change the consumption-led economy into Export-led economy”. And the New Normal of Global economy will change from “IMF or individual economic solution” into “economic-coordinated solution”. I think if China want to reduce bubble in their economy by using monetary tightening, surely, the money will flow more into China to speculate the currency appreciation. The only way that China must do is to reduce trade deficit. China must consume more and China need invest more oversea especially in the country that face budget deficits including US or Greece. But surely US and Greece must show that they can sustain their economic growth in the long run. Maybe China must support funding to invest America to invest in export and alternative energy. For Greece, I think it is very easy to solve the problem because Greece can peg currency with Euro that cannot cause economic instability but Greece must have the strong determination to reduce the budget deficit without slow growth. The best solution is that Greece Prime minister must fly into China to ask more investment not more borrowing. Greece should open more foreign investment from China and Asia countries and reduce government-led growth policy. Surely, China has two trillion US dollars that is far more than Greece deficits.

    I think at the end the pessimists will realize that they are wrong but they are not wrong because they do not understand economics or finance but they are wrong because they underestimate Obama policy and economic cooperation around the world.

  30. “We’ll be going into the next crisis heavily indebted and with a structurally-unbalanced economy.”

    Which makes the political costs of attempting structural reform that much harder. Disciplinging banks is harder when one is dependent on them.

    One can argue this is a problem with lack of courage – but Team Obama has (had?) the courage, they philosophically disagreed.

    The “Populism” displayed by Team Obama is sham populism, technocracy cloaked in speech. Personally, I prefer technocracy to populism – because populists like to dumb-down reality to the point where it fits their theories (then blows up). Dubya was a populist.

    The problem is, based on their actions, I do not believe this administration really understands reality sufficiently to try to fix it.

    But it’s hard to tell – whether this is a failure of moral courage or a failure of ideas. Or, both.

  31. “The cardinal point of the Volcker reforms is to ensure that banks absolutely bet with their own money – money that won’t be replaced by taxpayers if those bets go wrong. Nothing will focus the mind of bank executives better than knowing their institution will lose big-time, and could ultimately fail, if their traders mess up. And if an investment bank fails, so what? With the Glass-Steagall divide back in place, the deposits of ordinary firms and households wouldn’t be threatened. There would be no systemic danger as the “core banking system” would be sound. ”


  32. Maybe that will get taxpayers off the hook — but they can still gamble away our retirement money, taking commissions and bonuses every step of the way..

  33. Yeah, for as much as this administration has been called a technocracy, I have been stunned in recent days by how little they understand the microstructure of the markets (the repo market issue being the most recent example). I know many people compare this financial crisis to the Great Depression, but those are pretty superficial comparisons at the end of the day. Our officials are carrying on about deposits like it’s the 1930s, when we had a wholesale bank run. Either the administration is clueless about how the credit markets function now, or it is deliberately trying to do nothing.

    I would like to see radical change in our financial architecture before the current system tears our country apart, but you are right, an administration that has been on a completely different planet from the rest of us for the past year is not exactly going to have any credible architects.

  34. As usual, Simon, well said. Almost. Your slightly melancholy ending puzzles me. What’s the mystery of the BHO administrations stance on these matters?? I’d like o hear one coherent theory of their action that accounts for their stance. They are in bed with the bid banker and other elites.

    And 2010 elections will not be “sad, unnecessary..” It will be wonderful, essential to the survival of the Republic.

  35. “The fact that dramatic banking reforms would be popular does not make them populist.”

    So exactly what is the difference between ‘popular’ and ‘poopulist’? Most people support some form of single payer health care. Is that popular or populist? If its populist, is it populist because 1) you dislike the idea 2) powerful interests dislike the idea or 3) many highly educated people working at think tanks supported by powerful interests dislke the idea or 4) something else?

    The whole concept of populism as a perjorative term is highly anti-democratic. Democracy, in theory, is government in accord with the wishes of the majority of the people. I think we should give it a try…

  36. I hope you are too “young” to vote. You’re still relying on fairy tales to interpret reality. Casandra might be a better screen name.

  37. The chickens of the Clinton Administration and the DNC are coming home to roost. Brilliantly deciding to flank the religious right they actively and openly recruited pro-life/anti-gov’t “democrats” in the 90’s and 00’s. The Democrats have no one to blame but themselves. I don’t have a “party” dog in this fight. I find both parties lacking (a gross understatement). But whenever short-term political goals trump thoughtful long-term planning, the average citizen is the one who gets left out in the cold.

  38. Exactly, well said. Highly anti-democratic. Never trust anyone who uses “populist” in the perjorative sense. Which is how it is almost always used. It has become a bogus word.

    The shift in the meaning of “populist” from its original sense to the perjorative sense is an example of how we are being influenced to see things through the value-system of the rulers. This influence starts in schools, which are very authoritative and offer students no experience of democratic empowerment. And the media are complicit — for example, when citizens want something changed, they are called “upset” about it. When government people want something changed, they are called “concerned.”

  39. The problem with even leaning toward a political party in this hyper-partisan age is that the issue at hand gets gradually (or rapidly) subordinated to the partisan throwdown.

    Our involvement in that enables our representatives to fight–or pretend to fight–each other, while making the same corrupt revolving door political careers for themselves, rather than doing anything in the broad public interest.

    At this point, success is more likely to come from threatening them to work in the public interest than from “supporting” a political party in the pursuit of its agenda. They HAVE no agenda of their own, only their personal revolving door careers.

    Not only is there no need to support that, but it’s not in the public interest to do it–it’s destroying completely the idea representative government in this country.

    It easy to see from the healthcare reform Bill in particular that the D-Party only pretended to fight the Republicans while promoting a lobbyist written bill most of the public, across the ideological spectrum, can’t stand.

    Frankly, the recent Supreme Court decision on campaign financing mostly just reflects what has already occurred.

  40. For reasons economic and cultural, it seems to me that the D-Party is primed to be every bit as bad. And their goose-stepping alongside the R-Party is evidence enough that this is already the case.

  41. A point worth remembering is that the Framers of the Constitution were afraid of direct popular sovereignty (simple majority rule) because ordinary citizens could be swayed by demagogues (the mob as they might have called it). That is the central reason why the U.S. is a republic (i.e. taking as a model the roman Senate) not the Athenian model (rule by the demos). A patrician Senate was to check the capacity of popular rule (an explanation of why the Senate is such a profoundly un-representative institution). Indirect election of the president is another device to distance institutional power from popular will.
    Fear of popular will runs very deep in U.S. history, for example of Jacobinism during the French Revolution, then again, articulated fear of the masses during the Paris Commune. It may go to some lengths to explain the suspicion of modern populism as well that desires a connection between the people and power unmediated by ‘representatives’ who refuse to do the ‘peoples” bidding.
    We are running up against the powerful structural flaws of an 18th century conception of state and society. One might note that relatively few modern states follow the U.S. model. Most have parliamentary regimes (with varying degrees of proportional representation). When a parliamentary regime looses legitimacy (e.g. a vote of confidence) it falls and new elections are held.
    We should be looking to Canada for solutions (not just in how their banking system is regulated and the national health care system).

  42. Personally, I prefer technocracy to populism – because populists like to dumb-down reality to the point where it fits their theories (then blows up).

    I especially like the way the McNamara and his Whiz Kids didn’t do anything like that in Vietnam.

  43. Bankers grew so used to massaging public opinion and being wined and dined by Governments that they’ve lost all touch with reality, as their response to the UK’s special one-off 50% banking tax has shown. (“Hugely expensive to pay me? Who cares! Show me the money!”)

    If bankers represent the elite then for once I’d rather run with the mob.

  44. It is difficult to insulate government from the unwisdom of the voters without exposing the people to exploitation. Who but they will look after their own interests? Perhaps in the internet age we need a more direct form democracy, stabilized by constitutional/human rights rules rather than by (corrupt) elites –and those rules changeable only by referenda repeated over time.

    I am in Canada, and while it is definitely better re: banking and health care, I can tell you the people feel alienated from the central government, unable to influence what goes on, and disgusted with politicians. And we have our own version of the red/blue split. What we do have here is a great solidarity among the common people. The tougher things get, the nicer we are to one another. It is kind of a cultural reflex. Perhaps it is how we get through the winters.

  45. Wow! Did he really say that all that stands between “them” and the pitchforks is his administration?

  46. Simon,

    You say, “a broad cross-section of our population has woken up to part of our appalling reality.”


    While I agree that “most economists” and “most of the elite” understand something of what’s going on, I would argue that most Americans who support breaking up (or severely regulating) the banks do not understand the causes of the crisis. They simply resent the fact that the government bailed out the bankers in time of need while the “people” suffered job losses and now resent them further for their huge bonuses.

    That doesn’t mention the alarmingly large portion of the population that think all government interference is bad.

    So I can’t see how you can think that “a broad cross section of the population” understands a part of our crisis.



  47. Has Obama at any time met with with the Democrat’s Progressive Caucus? My recollection is that he has not. However, I’ve been without my own computer for seome months now (drat electrical storm) and do not claim to get good news coverage from available mass media….

  48. Our dear Repubs and their MCM (Mainstream Corporate Media) sycophants, along with the Corporatist part of the Democratic Party, are working overtime to place “populism” in the same ugly, scary light as, oh, say, “liberalism” and “liberal.”

    Most liberal Dems try to fend this off by calling themselves “progressives,” which, I suspect, will soom be conflated with “populist.” And then, how will truly progressive and liberal pols dare describe themselves?

    I go with Lewis Carol (sp?) on this matter, this corruption of language: The Repubs choose to make any word mean whatever they wish it to mean…at the moment for a particular method of attack. When Dems even mentioned filibustering anything back when the R’s were on control of the Senate, the MCMers went bonkers at the very idea, and they supported the Repubs’ attacks on such a dastardly tactic to the very end, agreed with calling for the “nuclear option” of doing away (gasp!) with the very possibility of a filibuster.

    Remember the Gang of Fourteen? Why has Joe Lieberman been so very, very quiet about the R’s massive number of filibuster threats? Oh, right….

    Repubs in minority? Who, other than leftish bloggers and commenters, much mentioned the number and sheer idiocy of the R’s many, many filibusters? Until very recently, few in the MCM even seemed to notice it.

  49. And as such, in our Corporatist state, must be ridiculed, ignored, and banished.

    The people are great in number and thus must be kept weak in power and economic strength.

  50. I think that Scott Brown ran a very good, very clever
    campaign. One of the things he did was to rarely
    mention that he was running as a republican. He
    repeatedly implied that he is an “independent”. As
    for his capabilities, it is hard to say. He spent
    6 years as 1 of 5 republicans in the MA senate. He
    didn’t do much, he didn’t have the opportunity to
    do much. That’s an advantage when you’re running
    in times like these. People can project whatever
    they want onto the blank slate politician. I would
    doubt that he has any kind of future in national
    politics. His popularity will probably peak about
    5 minutes before he is sworn in. After that he
    will have to start making decisions, which always
    develops enemies.

    Martha Coakley is hard-working, intelligent,
    experienced, and a terrible campaigner. She is
    just not a natural politician. However I am sure
    that she would have been very capable when it came
    to governing.

  51. I have to agree with Bond Girl here. I don’t know how many commentators at this website deal with the general public on a day to day basis, but as a public school teacher who has regular contact with about 150 fifteen to eighteen year-old’s and their immediate families I can attest to the fact that there really isn’t much in the way of informed opinion out in the general population about the causes of the financial crisis and the proposed solutions.

    In a recent American history class I thought a good starting point for teaching about the debate between Hamilton and Jefferson over the value of having a national bank would be to have a brief discussion about TARP and the many other government programs implemented over the past year or so to assist the country’s troubled financial institutions. I figured explaining that a frequent rationale put forward for the bank bailouts is the necessity of having a strong functioning financial sector to facilitate the flow of capital would take about ten minutes. I was then going to spend another ten minutes or so presenting a critique of this view before transitioning into how Hamilton and Jefferson had a very similar debate two-hundred years ago. What I found was that nearly a whole one hour period was necessary just to cover the most basic background information. Not a single student knew who the Secretary of the Treasury is or what he does. Same for the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Many were not even aware that there was a bailout of financial institutions last year. Of course these are just teenagers I’m talking about here, but in my experience if a student lacks basic political awareness chances are so does his or her parents. This is why I’m skeptical using the bully pulpit to “pick a fight with Wall Street,” will lead to anything constructive. There is ample historical precedent to show that if there isn’t education or understanding to go along with it, populist anger can be channeled into some truly despicable acts.

  52. “If the people choose to kick out the current crop of politicians because they are owned by Wall Street, why is that “sad”?”

    It’s sad because the politicians who will replace them are also owned by Wall Street. The Republican administration bailed out the banks. They got thrown out of office. The new Democratic administration turned around and bailed them out even more. So now what? There’s no one left to vote for.

    I have to admit I had no hope even before the 2008 presidential election. How could anyone have any hope for the future when BOTH McCain and Obama voted for TARP? The only thing left to do was vote for Bob Barr (the libertarian candidate). A completely and pathetically useless exercise.

    In 2010 there will be a bi-partisan passage of a window dressing, deck chair rearranging ‘reform’ bill. And fervent agreement by both parties that the ‘tough’ new laws will protect us from any possibility of another meltdown.

    Since both the Republicans and the Democrats are conspiring TOGETHER to rip off the American people, there isn’t even anyone left to vote for.

  53. The populist label has become a quick shorthand method to discredit an opponent, as catering to a bunch or bunch of ignorant farmers aremed with pitchforks and resentment.

    We have a serious problem with the elite in this coutnry, specifically the financial elite. They are running the system in a way that harms 99.5% of the people.

    Popoulism brings the insight and power of “we the people,” “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” to bear on insoluble problems and solves them rather easily.

  54. “appropriate prosecution of fraud, especially control fraud (as defined by W. K. Black), is called “justice”.”

    I don’t know what country you think you still live in, but we will not see that sort of justice here in the US.

  55. If you really want to take up arms, go ahead and join your brethren in the hills somewhere, but be aware that action such as that constitutes just as much a domestic enemy as the oligarchs themselves…

  56. Exactly; the negative connotations associated with the label of “populist” are a shortsighted attempt to use the phrase against political rivals. While the majority is by no means always right, it is still important to acknowledge when it is. When there is a justified reason for the majority’s opinion it is important not to ignore it because of associations created through political jockeying for power.

  57. Here’s an evocative synonym for “anti-populist” that has fallen into regrettable disuse:

    Robber baron is a term that revived in the 19th century in the United States as a reference to businessmen and bankers who dominated their respective industries and amassed huge personal fortunes, typically as a direct result of pursuing various anti-competitive or unfair business practices. The term may now be used in relation to any businessman or banker who is perceived to have used questionable business practices or scams in order to become powerful or wealthy

  58. Webster’s definition of “populist”:

    1 : a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people; especially often capitalized : a member of a United States political party formed in 1891 primarily to represent agrarian interests and to advocate the free coinage of silver and government control of monopolies
    2 : a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people

    I would be happy to be called a “populist”. The country exists to express the will of the people, the vast majority of which are “common people”, thus the pyramid of power in the country should be complete inverted. If that is a “populist” ideal, so be it!

    I’m also a liberal who is unafraid of using socialism where appropriate too. Let’s not give them the power to convert these words into something that vaguely mirrors the “n-word”.

  59. Demagogue, probably, populist, doubtful. The latter seeks to represent the views and interests of the mass of ordinary people, the former merely to manipulate and exploit them to his own advantage.

  60. As far as I can tell, the only difference between R’s and D’s is how much religion is included with the fascism.

    Arguing that one party is The Cause of All That Ails US is ridiculous. BOTH parties are EQUALLY to blame, whether it be by commission or omission.

  61. We have the same problem in Australia with “leading” economic commentators using populism to describe any activity that attempts to reinstate any form of regulation into markets.

    In my opinion any failure by governments to address the the collapse of the middle class will see the return of the historical response to the level of inequality that is the bi product of the deregulation financialisation of the economy – fascism or military dictatorship.

  62. Populist? Is this what they want to call it? Ok…

    New Game..Populist goes the Weaselist…READY?


    Phil Gramm…Enron/UBS “Modernization” Boy..Thanks for All your good work, You are a Patriot.

    Bill Clinton….$100 Million in “Speaking Engagements”..THIS IS A PROBLEM

    George W. Bush…Somebody’s Kid stole Dad’s Car…

    Christopher Cox…The Aliens are among Us.

    Dimon, BlankCheck, Fuld, Cayne….HedgeFund or Bank? Pick One…Only One Please…

    Bernanke..Bank Boy…

    Hank Paulson the Bird Watcher….Revolving Door Must Be Stopped..NOW

    Paulson Begged for “Net Capital Rule” in 2004 for 33 to 1 Leverage…Cox was enabler…Many Thanks to Both of You..Can’t wait to read your book, baldy.

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