The main causes of these trends are clear. Anemic economic recovery has provided an opening for populist parties, promoting protectionist policies, to blame foreign trade and foreign workers for the prolonged malaise. Add to this the rise in income and wealth inequality in most countries, and it is no wonder that the perception of a winner-take-all economy that benefits only elites and distorts the political system has become widespread. Nowadays, both advanced economies (like the United States, where unlimited financing of elected officials by financially powerful business interests is simply legalized corruption) and emerging markets (where oligarchs often dominate the economy and the political system) seem to be run for the few.
For the many, by contrast, there has been only secular stagnation, with depressed employment and stagnating wages. The resulting economic insecurity for the working and middle classes is most acute in Europe and the eurozone, where in many countries populist parties – mainly on the far right – outperformed mainstream forces in last weekend’s European Parliament election. As in the 1930’s, when the Great Depression gave rise to authoritarian governments in Italy, Germany, and Spain, a similar trend now may be underway.
If income and job growth do not pick up soon, populist parties may come closer to power at the national level in Europe, with anti-EU sentiments stalling the process of European economic and political integration. Worse, the eurozone may again be at risk: some countries (the United Kingdom) may exit the EU; others (the UK, Spain, and Belgium) eventually may break up.