Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Dangerous Rise of Populism by Albert Wenger (

The Dangerous Rise of Populism

My book World After Capital argues that we are living in a dangerous time of transition: industrial capitalism is breaking down and we don’t yet have a viable alternative. Incumbent politicians are still clinging to fixing the existing system while insurgent populists are arguing for big changes. This to a large degree explains the scary rise of populism we are seeing around the world and in the United States.
Populist leaders have come to power around the world in recent years, such as Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey and most recently Duterte in the Philippines. Many of them share the same backwards fundamental characteristics such as re-emphasizing the nation state, being anti-globalization and anti-science, cracking down on minorities, usurping personal power and rolling back democratic institutions.
Here in the United States, Donald Trump has been tapping into the frustrations and anxieties of those who feel left behind by the economic and social changes that are resulting from the breakdown of industrial capitalism. He is providing a resonant message with “Make America Great Again” and his proclamations are similar to populists around the world (nationalist, anti-science, anti-minority, pro personal power).
What continues to be missing is an alternative narrative. Hillary Clinton is uninspiring as a candidate because she stands squarely for the idea that small tweaks to the existing system of industrial capitalism are all that is needed. Many people clearly see it differently, which also accounts for the popularity of Bernie Sanders. Unfortunately Sanders too is in his own way a populist who wants to go back to the past, in his case the socialist models of Europe (just as those are breaking down).
We in technology mostly live in a bubble where everything is getting better (and faster and cheaper). We see the breakthroughs in technology from machine learning to CRISPR and ignore the extraordinary powder keg of frustration that is building up around us (or worse: claim that there is no reason for anyone to be frustrated).
This is why I have been writing World After Capital. My goal is to provide an alternative narrative. One that doesn’t revert to easy and dangerous populism (whether right or left) but points a way forward into a knowledge society.

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