The Washington Post Really Does Not Like Populism

March 02, 2020

Yes, I’m talking about its news section, not its opinion pages, where populists are always bashed. Today, the Post gave us a major piece telling us how Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are two sides of the same populist coin. While the piece is confused in many ways, the one point it makes very clear is that the Washington Post really dislikes Bernie Sanders.

The piece is determined to tell people the problem is just one of perceptions:

“Each is powered by a disdain for elites they perceive as having flourished while other Americans suffered, a rejection of the establishment and the figures who have controlled it, and a contempt for the institutions that over the decades have blunted, as they see it, the success of efforts like theirs.”

Okay, let’s do a fact check. Elites have in fact flourished over the last four decades. The share of national income going to the richest one percent has gone from 10 percent to 20 percent. The next four percent (the 95th to the 99th percentiles of the income distribution) have also seen a large increase in their share of national income. As a result of this sharp upward redistribution of income, families at the middle and bottom of the income distribution have seen few gains over the last four decades. That is reality, not just a problem of perceptions.

The establishment figures that the Post is unhappy the populists are rejecting are folks like former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, who could not see the $8 trillion housing bubble ($16 trillion relative to today’s economy), the collapse of which sank the U.S. economy. They also reject people like Larry Summers who also dismissed people who tried to warn of the bubble and pushed a trade opening to China that cost millions of manufacturing workers their jobs. Those are facts, not problems of perception.

In terms of institutions acting to blunt populism, Greenspan, Summers, and others who got it completely wrong can count on far more visibility in major media outlets than the people who got these issues right. Again, that is fact, not an issue of perception.

The piece also gives us this head-scratcher:

“Meanwhile, left-wing populism and self-described democratic socialists are gaining power throughout Europe and the Americas, at times replacing an older guard of liberals who embraced globalization.”

It’s not clear which “self-described democratic socialists” it sees gaining power throughout Europe and the Americas, but parties that call themselves “social democrats” have long been in governments in places like Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, and elsewhere in Europe. There are left-wing populist parties that position themselves to the left of the social democratic traditional parties, but only in Greece have they taken power, although some have been the minority party in coalitions elsewhere.

As far as globalization, the article should have said that the older guard of liberals “claimed” to embrace globalization. Virtually none of them has sought to liberalize barriers that prevent foreign doctors and other workers in highly paid professionals from working in the United States and driving down the pay of U.S. professionals. These older guard liberals only seem interested in globalization when it is structured to reduce the pay of less-educated workers.

The “globalization” favored by the old guard also involves using trade deals to increase protectionist barriers in the form of longer and stronger patent and copyright monopolies. These protectionist barriers, which are equivalent to tariffs of many thousand percents, have the effect of redistributing income upward.

More recently, the old guard liberals have taken to using trade deals to lock in the protection enjoyed by Facebook and other intermediaries from the same liability that traditional media outlets face if they pass along false and libelous material. This policy is easy to understand if the goal is to make Mark Zuckerberg and people like him even richer, but it has nothing obvious to do with globalization.

Anyhow, this piece is a great example of the Post’s willingness to use its news section to press its case against populism. It also shows why populists would distrust a news outlet like the Washington Post.  



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