Let me say at the outset that I expected to disagree with the thesis of my esteemed guests: economist Paul Summerville, who earned his PhD from the University of Tokyo, and technology policy expert Eric Protzer, now a fellow at The Growth Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School. Their new book, Reclaiming Populism: How Economic Fairness Can Win Back Disenchanted Voters discusses both causes and solutions to what they call illiberal populism. They argue that economic mobility is the culprit.
I believe that the reasons for the disenchantment we have seen over the past several years are deeper, and multifaceted. Politics is about values, not just value, often trumping economics. Historically, as we now sadly witness, war can be waged even if it goes against the economic interests of the combatants. However, I have to admit that their research into the underlying causes of the current unrest and division is enlightening and intriguing. I hope you will enjoy our discussion in this podcast.
Their book draws on original research, cited by the UN and IMF, to demonstrate that illiberal populism strikes hardest when success is influenced by family origins rather than talent and effort. Protzer and Summerville propose a framework of policy inputs that instead support high social mobility, and apply it to diagnose the differing reasons behind economic unfairness in the US, UK, Italy, and France. By striving for a fair, socially-mobile economy, they argue, it is possible to craft a politics that reclaims the reasonable grievances behind populism.
Both Summerville and Protzer are Canadians, and when we spoke the truckers’ blockade in Ottawa was in full swing. It surprised many people because Canada hardly seems a breeding ground for populism, in fact quite the opposite. Canada ranks quite high on access to both healthcare and education, which the authors say are the preconditions of economic mobility. I asked them what then caused the Ottawa insurgence.
The answer in Canada’s case at least seems to be Covid. Fears about both the vaccine and and resistance to vaccine mandates created a political divide. Interestingly, polls show linkage between Canadians who oppose the vaccine and other political views such as support for sanctions against Russia.
Source: The Star, March 19, 2022
So there seems to be more to this divide which could survive the pandemic. And lest you think Canada and Russia have nothing in common other than climate, it is good to remember that they are the two largest countries on earth, followed by China and the US.
Largest Countries in the World by Area - Worldometer
(area=land + water bodies)
There is a second connection between Canada and Russia that has been pivotal in the war in Ukraine. Canada’s Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is a former journalist who entered Canadian politics less than ten years ago. Known as the Minister of Everything, she is the person who designed the response to the Freedom Convoy, which included expropriating their assets as well as Canada’s first declaration of emergency government powers. A fierce Putin critic, she is of Ukrainian heritage and speaks the language fluently. As events unfolded in Ukraine prior to the Russian invasion, she was the person behind the global push for unprecedented sanctions against Russia, calling governments around the world to successfully rally them to her cause, freezing the assets of Russia’s central bank. The precedent this sets is impossible to gauge; its effectiveness remains to be judged.
When even formerly peaceful Canada’s global role is changing, and populism has emerged where it seemed so unlikely, there is no shelter from the storm of geopolitics. Just as Covid spread around the world, regardless of its many possible causes political unrest within countries is rising everywhere. On the present course, the consequences won’t be contained within national borders. Just one example: it is probable that this year we will see famine on a historic scale, which will in turn lead to more protests, especially in the developing world.
Perhaps talk of a new world order is not at all fantastic; we have definitely taken too much for granted for a very long time. Summerville and Protzer’s book offers a thoughtful and well-researched view of the changes we need to make, if we can find leadership and the political will to do so before they are forced upon us.
I've heard newborn babies wailin' like a mournin' dove
And old men with broken teeth stranded without love
Do I understand your question, man, is it hopeless and forlorn
Come in, she said
I'll give ya shelter from the storm
Always worth a listen to Bob Dylan.
Feb 14, 2022 / The New York Times
Baffled by the Chaos in Canada? So Are Canadians
The protests seem to challenge the cherished image that Canadians are moderate, rule-following and just plain nice.
Feb 2022 / The Montreal Review
Is Canada Descending Into Trumpism?
Eric Protzer and Paul Summerville
Was Canada wrong to think it could avoid the same fate as its British and American cousins? Does the Freedom Convoy mark the start of a new, populist chapter in Canada’s political trajectory? What can policymakers practically do to guard against this eventuality?
Feb 23, 2022 / The Agenda with Steve Paikin
Paul Summerville discusses his new book on the Agenda along with Miles Corak, economics professor at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York; and Armine Yalnizyan, economist and Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers.
Feb 1, 2022 / Independent
Why populism is so seductive – and how to counter it
Illuminating political research emerging from the world of data science gives us some clues about why Boris Johnson won in the first place
Feb 17, 2022 / Harvard
Book Talk: Reclaiming Populism (Video)
Ricardo Hausmann, Director of the Harvard Growth Lab, discusses the book, Reclaiming Populism with author Eric Protzer.
Jan 16, 2022 / Fortune
Don’t focus on income inequality to tackle populism. It might end up making the problem worse
Low social mobility, rather than high income inequality, is the source of populist disruption.
Jan 3 & 10, 2022 / The New Yorker
In a new era of hyperpartisan identities, can anything bring “us” and “them” together?
Nov 26, 2022 / National Post
Liberals so focused on carbon taxes, they missed the flood coming in the back door
For a Liberal government that has made climate change one of its top priorities, its policies on disaster mitigation have been nothing short of negligent.
Feb 17, 2022 / CBC Radio
Academics Paul Summerville and Eric Protzer discuss why they don’t think the conditions that create strong populist movements are present in Canada.
Feb 24, 2022 / Victoria Forum
Reclaiming Populism to Bridge Divides
As part of the debate on bridging divides in an era of populism, the Victoria Forum is pleased to present this webinar on reclaiming populism. Panelists include Eric Protzer, author of the book Reclaimed Populism.
Feb 12, 2022 / TK News via Substack
The Great International Convoy Fiasco
As America puts the Canadian Prime Minister's unmentionables in a vise over a truck protest, it's clearer than ever: the world's leaders have forgotten how to govern.
Mar 13, 2022 / Academia
Toward Greater Opportunism: Balancing and Bandwagoning in Canada-US Relations
Have Canada-U.S. relations changed since 9/11? This paper examines the evolution of Canadian government’s international security policy strategy towards the United States.
Episode 25 with Yanzhong Huang - China's Unique Covid Vulnerability
This week’s guest is an expert I have followed for a long time, Yanzhong Huang, who is Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations and Professor at Seton Hall University. He writes extensively about global public health and China’s health care system in Foreign Affairs and major publications.
Episode 24 with Elizabeth Economy on China: How China Sees the World
My guest today is Elizabeth C. Economy. We first met while she was Director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. On leave from the Hoover Institution at Stanford, she now serves as Senior Advisor for China to the Secretary of Commerce. Everyone who follows China follows Liz Economy. She has become one of the most listened to voices in her field in the Biden Administration.
Episode 23 with Evan Ellis on China in the Western Hemisphere - As China & Latin America Grow Closer, What Could Go Wrong?
Today’s guest Dr Ellis is currently research professor of Latin American Studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, with a focus on the region’s relationships with China and other non-Western Hemisphere actors such as Russia and Iran. During our podcast, he offers a disturbing tour d’horizon of the changing political and economic landscape in Central and South America.
Episode 22 with John J Mearsheimer: A Realpolitik View of US-China Relations
If you are concerned about the US-China relationship, Mearsheimer’s works are required reading for understanding the arc of engagement between the two countries over the past fifty years. And yes, we discussed Russia and Ukraine during this December podcast.
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With best wishes and peace for all,
Lyric Hughes Hale