The Financial Times commentator, Martin Wolf, is a must-read columnist (for me, anyway). He’s a deeply serious and wise man. On Mayday, he had a really interesting (and sobering) column — “A politics of hope against a politics of fear” (Financial Times, May 1, 2019).
Starting from the undeniable fact that faith in liberal democracy is declining and that charismatic politicians are enticing people into giving them support, he addresses the question: how should liberal politicians respond? He suggests ten principles that should underpin their response.
- Leadership matters. Democratic politics is not about buying votes. Politicians have to persuade people — i.e. get ‘buy-in’.
- Competence matters. Most populists are good at campaigning but useless at governing.
- Citizenship matters. “A democracy is a community of citizens. The sense of what is owed to — and expected from — citizens is the foundation of successful democracies.
- Inclusion matters. In the US the Gini coefficient (which measures inequality of market incomes) is not particularly high, but inequality of disposable incomes is much higher. This is a policy choice, not an accident.
- Economic reform matters. As Paul Collier (in The Future of Capitalism) and Colin Mayer (in Prosperity) argue, we need reform of taxation and of the corporation if we are to create a society that is economically successful and more inclusive.
- The ‘local’ matters. “devolving decisions, while also giving communities the means to revitalise themselves, must be part of good new politics.”
- Public services matter — “even if people dislike paying the taxes needed to support them…. The libertarian idea of a minimal state that leaves all this to a free market is not only unworkable, but incompatible with democracy”.
- Managed globalisation and global cooperation also matter. “No country is an island. We depend on ideas, resources, people, goods and services from other countries. National sovereignty does matter. But it is not all that matters.”
- Looking ahead matters. “We live in a world of large long-term upheavals — notably climate change, artificial intelligence and the rise of Asia. Good governments must look at these changes and what these things might mean for their peoples. If democracies cannot do this kind of forward thinking, then they will fail.”
- Complexity matters. Mencken: “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” Wolf: “A politics that rests on popular anger and despotic whim is bound to fail. The right response has to be a politics that bases hope on realism. That is the only sort of democratic politics worth doing.”
If you like distilled wisdom, this is it.