The Sunday Mail
Chris Chenga Open Economy
How does one differentiate populism from popular will? This is the recurring question whenever the world’s elite meet every year in Davos, at the World Economic Forum. After all, the hypocrisy of the event is that it is often the world’s richest and most influential gathering at premium expense to share their supposed concern with the very structures that increase their wealth.
Now, the problem is not that the individuals and entities you see in Davos are wealthy for themselves.
Their wealth in ideal construct should be celebrated.
Drawing closer to the problem, increasingly over the past few decades it seems that the elite accumulate wealth only by tightening the structural impediments which close out opportunity for the rest of the world.
Likely up to this point, my chosen narrative seems typical populist rhetoric, and that is precisely the problem!
Unless an individual or entity belongs within the global elite, any contention raised about growing wealth disparity is interpreted as being of populist rhetoric.
Unless you are of the calibre seen at Davos, your shared discontent with the structural imbalances that exist throughout the global economy makes you to be likely populist.
So the irony is that what Davos has actually done, is to help affirm the mainstream notion that popular will cannot carry substantial intellectual weight, unless it is versed by the minority elite. In effect, to answer my own recurring question about Davos, what differentiates populism from popular will is who is talking on the matter of wealth disparity. When the rest of the world expresses its desire for greater parity in terms of opportunities, mainstream platforms have laboured to compartmentalise the varied forms of expression.
In fact, mainstream platforms — which are naturally financed by global elites — have allotted figureheads and intellectual representation for the many compartments of wealth disparity opponents.
In the developed world, a few years ago civic movements such as Occupy Wall Street were unkindly met with disparaging labels, particularly portraying the movement as economically illiterate to the importance of sophisticated financial markets, though in reality these financial markets grew alienated to the real economy.
All the gains of the US economic recovery since the recession of 2007 have gone to the elites alone, continued discontent prevailed until it expressed itself politically.
Apparently, through little convincing economic evidence, the rise of Donald Trump in the USA and intolerant nationalist political parties in Europe has been denied the more accurate interpretation that popular will is expressing its dissatisfaction with the existing management of the global economy.
Concededly, popular will does not merit the majority of mere citizens a level of economic understanding to the structural intricacies of an increasingly competitive and intertwined global economy.
However, popular will must be given its credence in indicating the wider sentiment towards how modern economies are allocating the gains of economic activity and presentation of opportunities. The greatest crime of global elites found at Davos is the disqualification of this popular will from it representing intellectual weight.
In an article written by Paola Subacchi, she goes as far as highlighting the fact that not only has intellectual merit been distanced from the masses, even the economics profession itself marginalized opponents of modern economic dividends.
Economists employed by multinational banks, hedge funds, and other globally elite entities were given prominence and a monopoly on mainstream platforms just to further the views of their elitist employers and clients.
Much of the rhetoric was to advance schools of thought that over time has piled ample academic evidence to the contrary of the promised prosperity these economists spewed.
The intention here is not to launch a diatribe against the world’s top earners per se. Instead, the greater point of emphasis is the sanctity of popular will and availing respected avenues of its expression.
Indeed the outcome of most global discontent has not ideally worked out to the favour of civic harmony and socio-economic integration, especially as it relates to ethnicity and nationality. However, the rise of intolerant nationalist movements and the resistance to socio-economic integration is the result of depriving popular will the intellectual space it deserves.
Much of the global economy is in recession, and almost all metrics of human welfare are stagnating.
Economic growth must not be emphasised in terms of returns in financialised markets of the elite.
The economic dividends of growth must be inclusive monetarily and structurally.
Before any sustainable traction can be seen in terms of such kind of economic growth and widening structural opportunity for as many people as possible, mainstream platforms should give intellectual space to popular will. Perceptions around how we define populism must be redefined.
The majority may not be well versed and literate to what actually influences their economic state, but the majority are the most credible metric on whether economies are working or not.