Neo-Populism

The word ‘populism’ has become almost synonymous with the practice of the politics of envy and an arbitrary economic leveling. Its practitioners were often a dime’s worth of difference from socialists.

It had a peak of support as a political movement during the Golden Age in which some dinner parties featured gold flatware and cigarette girls passing out products rolled with segments of hundred dollar bills. Railroads were seen as rapacious instruments for robbing men of the soil of the fruits of their labor and those who robbed trains of cash were often treated as popular heroes.

During our Great Depression, few truly starved and the Rockefellers spent part of their fortune constructing a complex that was a short-term risk. Yet jobs were created and future profits were assured.

The politics of envy seems to have lost its effectiveness. There are some very wealthy people but dynastic fortunes seem to vanish after a couple of generations. Involuntary hunger is a rarity. Upward mobility is not hampered by a caste system or other arbitrary barriers.

The free market has its fluctuations but has never allowed the near-universality of poverty associated with socialism.

But should we seek a society where socioeconomic Darwinism rule in a harsh and arbitrary fashion? Those who would take the writings of Ayn Rand as holy writ with the same uncritical eye as present in the most rigid Christian Fundamentalist might agree. Yet there are needs for safeguards and safety nets.

Should we envision a new and refined version of populism?

Banks (especially the larger ones) have created automatic mechanisms for rapacity. Charges for services often bear no resemblance to their cost. When the operations involve credit cards, matters get even worse. A couple of payments that are a day or two late can result in escalation of interest rates to levels once deemed to be criminally usurious. Subsidiaries of ‘respectable’ banks may offer ‘payday loans’ to the unsophisticated at rates over 100% per annum. Self-serving ‘public interest’ advertisements may be run on programs unlikely to be watched by their usual clientele but the ads to provide some window dressing.

Insurance companies may use arcane evaluations of credit reports to justify escalation of rates. While this might seem appropriate for habitual deadbeats, a credit score approaching 800 and no record of default is not a shield. A number of ‘gotcha’s are available to rip off the consumer. One excuse is an account with a balance near the credit limit. This can be among a number of accounts with no balance and others well below the limit. The single offending account may have been recently opened to obtain a discount on a major purchase. A first payment well over the minimum should give a hint that the purchaser is going to pay off the entire amount in a few months to avoid paying any interest. Automated evaluation does not take this into account.

One problem in Ireland was the drain on the local economy of absentee landlords. Many of the locals were descendants of persons dispossessed by conquerors. They had to pay increasing rents for property taken from their ancestors without any compensation. Disputes often provoked violence and the landlords did hold valid titles. A related situation exists in Delaware and it involves the sites of ‘manufactured home’. The plots of land are small and many are owned by person with powerful connections. Rents escalate in an often arbitrary fashion. What is the answer? Legislators seem unable to fashion an equitable solution.

We need more elected officials who can balance a respect for property and a sense of fairness. Such persons would not be likely to get any campaign contributions from some moneyed special interests but the battle needs to be waged.

7 Comments

  1. But should we seek a society where socioeconomic Darwinism rule in a harsh and arbitrary fashion? Those who would take the writings of Ayn Rand as holy writ with the same uncritical eye as present in the most rigid Christian Fundamentalist might agree. Yet there are needs for safeguards and safety nets.

    It’s interesting that Wm F Buckley basically read Ayn Rand right out of the then rising conservative movement. He published a scathing review of her book “Atlas Shrugged” in his National Review magazine.

  2. It’s interesting that Wm F Buckley basically read Ayn Rand right out of the then rising conservative movement. Eric

    Rand’s anti-spiritualism likely offended Buckley but I would not discredit her completely. She made some valid points but was not infallible. The same can be said of the late William Buckley.

    Rand’s writing has brought many into the Libertarian door of the Conservative movement, a house that has many mansions.

    The problem with Ayn Rand is that many of her characters are totally evil or totally perfect. Life is not like that.

    There was only one perfect person and Dostoevsky provided the name.

  3. The review was by Whittacker Chambers, and it was pretty harsh, including the line “To the gas chambers – Go!” (his basic take on her philosophy).In any event, Buckley made it clear there was no room for Rand in his new conservative movement.

  4. The problem with Ayn Rand is that many of her characters are totally evil or totally perfect. Life is not like that.

    Very true. That, and her “movement” turned into something of a cult. I think that’s what Buckley wanted to avoid.

  5. We should not discredit the entire body of Ayn Rand’s work but see it as an entry point for a libertarian branch of conservatism.

    Her ‘perfect people’ do not exist in real life, but the prototypical villain of Ellsworth Toohey is often replicted in would-be ‘opinion leaders’.

    She has probably influenced more people than the efforts of the John Birch Society and the net effect is positive.

    Credit should be given as due to all who have advanced the cause of liberty.

  6. She has probably influenced more people than the efforts of the John Birch Society and the net effect is positive.

    Credit should be given as due to all who have advanced the cause of liberty.

    I agree. She was a brilliant critic. No one saw through the “idealism” of Communism (and left wing thought generally) like she did. She also was a strong defender of individual liberty. In some respects, the Chambers review was unfair. But her “philosophy” could also be cold and harsh. I don’t think she got the difference between government enforced “altruism” and simple Christian charity. Her staunch atheism was probably the biggest turn off to Buckley. But you are right. We have to give proper credit where due.

  7. “Sub-Prime” insult and abuse would be compounded if Boy-Mayor turned Twerp-Governor Martin O’Malley has his way.

    The one-time spoiled brat from from Montgomery County moved up in politics after marrying into a bad family from Baltimore. He slithered into the Governor’s Mansion by blaming his Republican predecessor for an electric deregulation scheme that was the work of his predecessor. O’Malley promised to do something about rising electric bills. He did keep his promise. They are now higher.

    Many a home buyer lacked the sophistication to read the fine print on loan applications and some payments have escalated into an intolerable burden.

    Some have an avenue of escape in refinancing. The former lenders would like to extract their pound of flesh by imposing penalties on those who pay off their loans early.

    Maryland law currently forbids prepayment penalties but the fat-cats seem to have a friend in O’Malley and some of his cohorts. Thy want to change Maryland law to allow consumer gouging.

    Naturally, this is being presented as being good for the people.

    Leaders in the organized labor movement in the State have already smelled a rat but O’Malley’s henchmen may yet serve special interest that brings to mind the villain in “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

    On the National Scene, we should not forget the ties between the Clintons and the CEO of InfoUSA, a firm tied to the senior citizen data base that is used by a variety of telemarketing and direct mail scammers. Bill even provided his contributor mailing list to the firm for a relative pittance.

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