Three Questions with John Judis
John Judis recent book, The Populist Explosion, was featured by the New York Times as one of “Six Books to Help Understand Trump’s Win.” He recently visited GMF to discuss populism in Europe and America.
Q: Your book is subtitled “How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics?” Do you see populism primarily as an economic phenomenon? Would an improved global economy make populism a less powerful force in politics?
John Judis: Populism is economic in the very broadest sense. It's about the distribution of resources in society, but it often takes a predominately cultural form, as in George Wallace's or Pat Buchanan's candidacies. An improved national economy does tend to undercut populist appeals that are primarily economic. For instance, the internet boom of the mid-late '90s ended the widespread appeal of Ross Perot. So, obviously, can a foreign threat, like that of al Qaeda after September 11.
Q: Populism comes from both the left and right – it was a key ingredient in the rise of figures as different as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the United States, for example. Do you see the populism we’re experiencing now as a coherent worldview redrawing traditional political and ideological boundaries?
John Judis: I don't think populism is necessarily redrawing (permanently) boundaries, but it is challenging them. In the case of Sanders and Trump, both as candidates challenged one important tenet of the post-70s neoliberalism: the ability of corporations to move wherever they want around the world, often in order to escape paying higher wages and to avoid adhering to regulations. Much of this license to corporate mobility is written into "free trade" treaties.
Q: Populism has fueled many of the big political surprises of the past year, from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump. Should we expect further volatility from populist movements in the year to come?
John Judis: We already have volatility. Whether it continues will depend on whether the United States and Europe can fully recover from the Great Recession — I think the recovery in the United States has been somewhat exaggerated — see the Katz-Krueger paper on how the new jobs are primarily temporary, part-time, and contract. I don't think the eurozone has figured out how it supports both countries like Germany/Netherlands and countries like Spain/Greece/Italy, while retaining a single currency. Europe would have to move either toward a U.S. style national fiscal/monetary regime, which I doubt, or toward much greater flexibility with the euro.
John Judis is editor-at-large at Talking Points Memo and the author of seven books. He was a senior editor of The New Republic and senior writer for The National Journal.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.