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What are the pros and cons of populism in politics? Show more Show less

Be they right-wing or ultra-leftist, Europe has been seemingly swept by a wave of populist sentiment. What does this mean for Europe's democracies, economies and political landscapes?

Populism is bad for politics Show more Show less

Populism is poison to political, economic and social wellbeing in Europe
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Populism makes for worse policy

Populism has no regard for the feasibility or inherent worth of any policy it pushes for

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Context

The uniting feature of all populists is that the policies they offer are often touted as THE solution to a myriad of complex problems. Greek populists blamed the elites, in France it was the immigrants who were at fault, and all around the continent Euro-skepticism grew. The problem with this is that once populists get into government, they are disastrous in setting and carrying out actual policies.

The Argument

Populists are rarely technocrats with a wealth of experience in government. They pitch themselves are outsiders who are driven by a key principled idea - be that anti-immigrant sentiment, socialism, or protectionism. That key principled idea is popular because it speaks to people's core frustrations and promises them an easy way out. But complex frustrations about the state of society and the economy are not easily solved with a simple fix. Large swathes of the population feel left behind by globalisation. Wages are stagnating and the economy is difficult. Populists blame immigrants as an easy, probably differently-coloured scape goat. They make it seem like a quick fix, when in reality the issues are huge and complex like inequality and job automation. At its heart, the problem with populism is that it appeals to people by promising a quick and easy fix to what are often complex and difficult problems. Because of this, it will not solve the issues people are struggling with. Banning Muslims from entering the US will not give the millions of Americans living in poverty a high standard of life and dignity they deserve. Populist policies are attractive as soundbites or campaign slogans. They are not actionable plans that solve the issues they love to exploit.

Counter arguments

Just because populists speak in a language that people understand and don't obscure their policies in meaningless jargon doesn't mean that those policies are meaningless. A populist gains their power first and foremost by connecting with people and engaging them in a political process they would otherwise feel alienated from. If they can cut to the heart of the matter with a solution that is simple and effective - why penalise them. Secondly though, when people vote for populists they also evaluate the merits of their policies. Even if those evaluations aren't technically proficient, they are important because people don't need expert knowledge to know what will be best for them. There's a reason we elect our officials rather than choose a panel of experts to run the government - because we think that regardless of their knowledge, experts do not have access to our interests and feelings.

Framing

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Premises

1. To be a successful populist, you must promise simple solutions for complex problems. 2. Simple solutions to complex problems are often impossible to implement or unsuccessful at solving the problem. 3. Populist policies will be impossible to implement or will be unsuccessful at solving problems. 4. A government is good if it can pass effective and successful policy, therefore, a populist government would be a bad government.

Rejecting the premises

2. Simple solutions to complex problems are often impossible to implement or unsuccessful at solving the problem. We are given no reasons why this is true. Why is it that we reward politicians who unnecessarily clothe everything in jargon and complexity. 4. A government is good if it can pass effective and successful policy, therefore, a populist government would be a bad government. Even the most effective and successful policies passed by an authoritarian government would not make it a successful government. We measure a government's success not just by the objective outcomes of its policies, but also by how well it represents the voices of the people who vote for it.

Proponents

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Further Reading

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This page was last edited on Monday, 20 Jan 2020 at 15:52 UTC