Populism, experts and disagreements

Jean Pisani-Ferry expands that it is not only economic experts, as he previously argued, that people disbelieve and resent, but scientific experts in general. This divide between experts and citizens is worrying because supplying accurate facts to feed into deliberation is a crucial democratic task that breaks down if experts are not trusted. However, despite individual errors and scandals, this distrust is unwarranted because in academia these are swiftly and systematically corrected. Citing sociologist Gerald Bronner, he concludes that the problem may lay with mass education, which does not increase trust in science, while providing just enough information to empower criticism of experts. Alexander V. Hirsch writes that much disagreement in politics is about how best to accomplish certain goals, and not just what goals to pursue. Even though this disagreement about the best means is easier to solve, it is still quite disputed. Policy experimentation, when possible, may be the most effective way to improve accuracy in realizing shared goals.

The end of neoliberalism, social rebirth and the role of the Left

Martin Jacques, one of the first to herald the emerging dominance of neoliberalism, seems now convinced that this doctrine is faltering. The financial crises undermined faith in economic and governing elites, but its deep roots go to the heart of the neoliberal project: dismantling of market regulation, scorning of equality, condemning government, encouraging immigration, reducing taxes and tolerating corporate evasion. Due to this, the economic growth of the neoliberal period is half that of welfare capitalism and Keynesianism, and much more unequally distributed. The rising tide of populism is a natural reaction against the failure of the hyper-globalisation era which has been systematically stacked in favour of capital against labour. Rutger Bregman is on the contrary convinced that nothing changed after the financial crises, and enquires why the Left did not come up with an alternative proposal. A possible culprit is the “underdog socialist” attitude, typical of someone who finds liberal policies unfair, but it is not clear what he stands up for, and eventually caves in to the arguments of the opposition and propose only ameliorative policies. His biggest problem, however, is not that he is wrong, but that his attitude is dull. He has forgotten that that the story of the Left ought to be a narrative of hope and progress. In order to solve this problem, different authors have different recipes for the Left. Alessio Terzi argues that in order to save the single market, corrective mechanisms need to be reinforced at the national level, and introduced at the European level. Giosuè Baggio claims that, due to the global dimension of capitalism, the only viable alternative for the Left is to transform the plastic institutions of the EU into a federal union where liberal socialism can be democratically constructed by citizens and political parties. Vicente Navarro criticises the solution, invoked by Yanis Varoufakis, to deploy universal basic income to create demand and consumption that will stimulate the economy back to the required rates of growth. What is better, from his point of view, is a guaranteed basic income, founded by more aggressive taxes on capital, which better address the old social democratic principle: “to each one according to their needs, and from each according to their ability to pay”. Owen Jones remarks how the Left has to tackle the problem of inequality. Citing a Sutton Trust’s research, the 7% of Britons that go to private schools make up for more than 50% of most top jobs of the country. To solve this issue, the Left needs to refocus on class, otherwise it would be the populist right to champion working-class interests – not against bosses and bankers, but rather immigrants and benefit cheats.


This Ideas Monitor is by Giulia Bistagnino and Carlo Burelli


Photo Credits CC: Peter Busse



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