Does Populism Work?
The team used the data, a comprehensive tracker of populist discourse among world leaders in 40 countries, to analyse what happens when populists come to power.
The most surprising finding, they said, was that populists across the political spectrum tend to narrow the gap between rich and poor. The academics described the correlation between populism and greater equality as “a fairly large effect”.
The impact on inequality appears largely driven by leftwing Latin American populist presidents, such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s former president Rafael Correa and the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. However the statistical analysis controlled for ideological differences between leaders, and also holds, although to a lesser extent, for centrist and rightwing populists.
“This was contrary to what I expected,” said David Doyle, an associate professor at Oxford University, who led the economic analysis. “Maybe I’ve just been biased by years of research that tells us that populism is bad.”
There’s an interesting question as to “why”? As tempting as it might be to attribute this to the success of leftwing policies, the article goes on to state that it’s not a product of redistributive policies.
In the US, there is virtually no difference in the aggregate Gini between red states (.466) and blue ones (.467). If you control for population – for instance, assigning greater weight to Texas than Wyoming – a small one does open up (.472 vs .484). Even if you look at racial demographics (for instance) as a driver, it does appear to play a role but there is daylight between California (.490) and Texas (.480), and Vermont (.454) and Wyoming (.436).
My first thought is that in the US greater inequality favors Democratic politicians, but if that were a driver you would expect greater inequality in populist (especially left-wing populist) countries, which isn’t there. Perhaps this points to the limits of the Gini coefficient as a political measure.
Feature image from “All The King;s Men”, 1949, from Columbia Pictures