Matt Bai’s strange populism


Lisa Kramer

Lisa Kramer is a contributing contributor at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.

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6 Responses

  1. Avatar gregiank says:

    i’m not sure how related this is, but over the last 20-30 years rebellion has become a product. All sorts of companies market their crap as a way to make you a wild rebel ( the best example is Harley-Davidson). If you ride a Harley or wear their clothes you are not a rebel you are either a yuppie, a tool or think consuming equals being different. It doesn’t.

    I wonder if in some ways populism has become another product. If you buy an Apple you are not just a rebel but are fighting big brother ( for those of you who remember those old commercials). But if you buy something to be a rebel or a populist then aside from being a 2 watt bulb, you will tend to like corporations. Also more money will lead you to be able to buy more rebellion or populism so that messes with the traditional class/economic angle of populism.Report

    • Avatar Sam M in reply to gregiank says:


      But hasn’t NOT buying become somewhat toolish as well? Go to a college campus and take a look at all the kids who opt to shop at the local thrift store. Ot’s cheaper, sure, but it’s just as commodified and standardized as shopping at the Hot Topic at the mall.

      As for this: “over the last 20-30 years rebellion has become a product…” I think it goes back a lot farther than that. Read Twain’s Corn Pone Opinions, or pick uo a magazine from the 30s and look at the ads.Report

  2. Avatar Louis B. says:

    To make matters worse, Bai’s conclusion that the “only viable brand of populism” is now “the individual versus the institution,” isn’t populism at all, but libertarianism – in most ways, populism’s ideological opposite.

    I’d appreciate it if you expanded on this. As far as I see libertarianism and populism are pretty much non-overlapping magisteria.Report

  3. I think there are venues for a sort of progressive libertarian populism that directs resentment at concentrations of power, and not necessarily concentrations of wealth (for instance Front Porch Republic). From the perspective of economic theory, the two are really indistinguishable, and from the perspective of classical liberalism, economic and political freedoms are really the same thing. Whether this means limiting corporate or government power is up for interpretation.Report

  4. Avatar Rufus says:

    I think progressives are up a creek on this one. I think of my working class father, who shares the populist anger against the government, and isn’t exactly enamored with corporations, but still thinks our only hope is the beneficence of businessmen, who he says are smarter than the rest of us. Granted, my father was a union rep for 23 years, but I don’t think anyone’s going to get him on a corporate-bashing bandwagon.Report

  5. Avatar Barry says:

    “And at a time when nearly half of all Americans own stocks, a certain ambivalence dilutes the strength of the assaults on Wall Street that returned with the financial debacle of 2008. We resent these fallen wizards for wrecking our economy — but rely on them to make it healthy again.”

    As for power, it’s clear that Wall St and the financial elites certain qualify as massive and extremely problematic concentrations of power. As for Kazan’s statement:

    1) I recall reading back in the 1990’s, that half of all households had no stock holdings whatsoever (as Kazan has said), but also that the median holdings of the half that do own stock was $5,000. This means that 3/4 of households don’t own enough stock to matter – given a choice between a layoff and losing their stock, they’d be better off losing their stock.

    2) “We resent these fallen wizards for wrecking our economy — but rely on them to make it healthy again.”

    There are words for people who think like this (relying on the people who f*cked you to help you, with no countervailing force): fool, deluded, etc.Report