Ronald Inglehart, University of Michigan professor, makes a strong case for the cyclical nature of populism in a democratic society. (“The Age of Insecurity, by Ronald Inglehart, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2018, pgs. 20-28.) He argues populism thrives during periods of change, largely economic, when people feel their way of life is threatened. Authoritarianism and a hostility to immigrants flourishes alongside populism at such times. (Ibid pg. 20.) For other insights into this topic, read an earlier blog. (Click)
Both scholars and entrepreneurs, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet among them, have reasoned democracy is a luxury society can afford only after it has provided safety and basic needs for its citizens. (Ibid pg. 28) Extreme inequality is democracy’s enemy.
Sadly, many Millennials are at the point of asking whether it matters if democracy thrives or not. (Click) The answer is simple. Democracy “a non-violent way to replace a country’s leaders.” (Ibid pg. 21.)
The system faces renewed challenges as we shift from the industrial age to technology. The new economy threatens to leave many people behind. Not only does it endanger their livelihoods but it poses doubts about future employment. Money pools in the hands of a few entrepreneurs while scarcity raises the cost of housing. Ordinary people are left with fewer dollars to cover other basic necessities. The ills of this imbalance are despair, suicide, addiction and a suspicion of immigrants.
Cutting taxes for the wealthy, as the Republicans have done, acerbates the situation. Instead of seeing all boats lifted, the chasm between the rich and poor grows wider. “…shifts between democracy and authoritarianism can be explained by the extent to which people feel their existence is secure.” (Ibid pg. 24.)
One doesn’t have to be a college professor or a billionaire to understand the effects of extreme inequality. Yet Republicans, with stupefying elitism continue to whittle away at labor unions and to weaken safety nets for the poor, striking at democracy’s foundation. If they can’t see the danger their policies pose to the country, perhaps the upcoming November elections will open their eyes.