Why have the new populists emerged right now?
Globalisation. Recession. Mass migration. Soaring inequality. The perceived failure of the political establishment to deal with any of the above. A slew of factors have combined in recent years to create the impression – some would say, the reality – that the world is run by plutocrats, oligarchs and semidetached politicians in the interests of the few not the many.
A quarter of a billion people are on the move around the world, providing more ammunition than ever before for rightwing populists who argue that political elites have failed to get a handle on the kind of immigration that they say threatens jobs, wages and social cohesion.
Meanwhile, the number of billionaires has jumped fivefold in the past 20 years, to more than 2,200, according to Forbes, as globalisation opened up new markets for entrepreneurs to tap while at the same time making it possible to shield capital, assets and income from the taxman. The world’s eight richest people own as much as the poorest 3.5 billion. The amount of money offshored by the financial elite is put at as much as £10tn.
But there are also many non-economic factors that may offer partial explanations for populism’s rise: a cultural backlash against elites, a technological revolution that has rewired our politics, a convergence of now indistinguishable left and right political parties on a technocratic centre.
Exactly what mix of factors has created such a fertile backdrop for populists is a subject of much debate. But as Benjamin Moffitt puts it in his book, The Global
Rise of Populism: “The time is ripe for canny political actors who can speak effectively in the name of ‘the people’ to make great political gains.”