Six Blind Social Scientists Examine the Populist Elephant in Some Detail


This morning Thomas B. Edsall, opinion writer for the Washington Post and professor of journalism, calls our attention to a Harvard Kennedy School working paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, Trump Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash. The article, and the scholarly work it describes, complement and contrast with other recent efforts to get our arms around populism in Europe and the United States.

What I have to say is a second hand account of a second hand account, so please go read the original if the topic interests you.

The learned authors, it appears, label progressive thinking of the contemporary sort as “postmaterialism,” evidently because we contemporary progressive folk are said to be more co ncerned about cultural issues than about bread and butter issues.

 “Postmaterialism,” they write, “eventually became its own gravedigger.”

The rise of postmaterialism here and in Europe, Inglehart and Norris argue,

brought declining social class voting, undermining the working-class-oriented Left parties that had implemented redistributive policies for most of the 20th century. Moreover, the new non-economic issues introduced by Postmaterialists overshadowed the classic Left-Right economic issues, drawing attention away from redistribution to cultural issues, further paving the way for rising inequality.

Again, I don’t pretend to do the article full justice, but the essence appears to be that the Left took its eye off of economic inequality and the plight of those whose jobs were lost or threatened, causing the latter to manifest whatever racist, xenophobic, and cultural fears they already had in latent form.

Aardvark is confident that the documentation for all this is helpful, but from a bird’s eye level, it strikes me as the painful elucidation of the obvious.

What’s less obvious is how to fix it. Some seem to think it would help if Harvard professors go down and drink beer with the longshoremen. An even better approach would be to find a way meaningfully to address the valid economic concerns that many of the Trump supporters—a significant number of which, after all, voted for Obama in previous elections.