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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What would a True Populist do today?


This is a provocative, must-read article by Barry C. Lynn of the New America Foundation and Phillip Longman, a senior editor at the Washington Monthly. They review the history of Populism and import its essential ideas into the present era.

The… first Populists drew upon a political philosophy with roots back to the American Revolution. Part of this tradition is familiar—a belief that government must be run by the people. Populists called for direct election of senators and led the push for referendums and initiatives to bypass corrupt legislatures. But another part is largely forgotten—that the people are sovereign over the economy and have a responsibility to structure markets to promote the common good.

This was the “democratic republicanism” of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. It holds that, just like political power, economic power must be distributed as widely as possible. Thus, the Populists focused much of their energy on combating efforts to monopolize commerce and natural resources, especially land. They also closely studied how to govern large corporations, and strongly supported unionization of workers and farmers to counter the power of concentrated capital.


Read their proposals for restoring power to the people.

This is one I like a lot, and I would add charter schools to their list:

What would a True Populist do today? Insist that the managers of any corporation receiving more than a quarter of its revenues from taxpayers—including defense contractors, universities, and hospitals—work at government wages. And require that the bosses of local public utilities earn no more than the public servants who regulate them.

They also propose breaking up the giant monopolies of Google, Amazon, and Facebook, and localizing retail, banking and other services.

Since the 1970s, both Democrats and Republicans have undone almost all these laws. The result has been a concentration of power and wealth that would have horrified True Populists. In groceries, pharmacies, hardware, and office supply, control has been consolidated in as few as one or two giants. So, too, wealth—the Walton family alone is now as rich as 140 million other Americans combined. And with the rise of online goliaths like Amazon, which aims to be the “Everything Store,” control will only be yet further concentrated.

What would a True Populist do today? Besides neutralizing large online retailers, a True Populist would revive the laws Americans used to localize banking, farming, and retail through the heart of the twentieth century.

About fifteen years ago, the Bush administration dropped the guard against vertical integration. Since then Comcast, which distributes television shows, has been allowed to merge with NBC, which produces shows. Amazon, the dominant retail marketplace for books, has been allowed to go big time into publishing books. And Google, which dominates search, has been allowed to compete directly with companies like Yelp, which rely on Google’s search engine.

What would a True Populist do today? Break up Amazon, Facebook, Google, Comcast, and any other essential network monopoly by banning them from owning companies that depend on their services.

Wow! Now here is some fresh thinking.