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Posts tagged with: America

Just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it a good idea.

Along with “democratic socialism,” “protectionism,” and “Berning,” the word “populism” has become part of 2016 America’s vernacular thanks to the circus that is the presidential election. Like it sounds, “populism” deals with popularity, in this case among American voters. In a new op/ed for the Detroit News, Samuel Gregg explains why populism will absolutely not make America great again.

This isn’t the first time populism has appeared in American or world history. “It often manifests itself,” Gregg argues, “whenever enough people conclude — sometimes correctly — that the political system is rigged in favor of insider-elites who pursue their own interests rather than the common good.” An individual capitilizes on disgust with “insider-elites” and the “establishment” for his or her own benefits.  This person sees the opportunity to utilize “frustration with the status quo” and he or she then promises the people real and serious change. Voters are lulled into trusting that once this charismatic leader is elected, he or she will fix everything and make the world a better place for the voters who felt overlooked by previous leaders.

Gregg explains some characteristics of the “populist leader:”

Over time, the actual content of the populist leader’s words starts to matter less and less. [Voters] ignore obvious contradictions in the leader’s statements and policy positions. These are never especially clear and regularly “evolve,” depending on the need or audience.

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UnemploymentSeries Note: Jobs are one of the most important aspects of a morally functioning economy. They help us serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and for communities. Conversely, not having a job can adversely affect spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals and families. Because unemployment is a spiritual problem, Christians in America need to understand and be aware of the monthly data on employment. Each month highlight the latest numbers we need to know (see also: What Christians Should Know About Unemployment).

Positive news is marked with the plus sign (+) while negative employment data is marked with a minus sign (-). No significant change is marked by (NC).
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trump-handsThe phenomenon that is Donald Trump and his presidential campaign can only truly be understood when you recognize his basic appeal: he’s bringing a brand of folk Marxism to an entirely new audience.

Before we unpack what this means, we must first understand what it does not mean. Folk Marxism is not Classical Marxism, much less communism. Marxism has so many varieties that even Karl Marx once said, “what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist.” Folk Marxism is no different, and in America it manifest in different forms among divergent political groups.

Folk Marxism differs from academic forms of Marxism in the same way most folk beliefs differ from scholarly beliefs. As economist Arnold Kling explains, “Ordinary people and scholars may treat the same ideas differently. In terms of influence, it is the folk beliefs of ordinary people that matter, not the beliefs of scholars.”

A decade ago, when it was still a belief system found mostly on the political left, Kling outlined the basics of folk Marxism:

Folk Marxism looks at political economy as a struggle pitting the oppressors against the oppressed. Of course, for Marx, the oppressors were the owners of capital and the oppressed were the workers. But folk Marxism is not limited by this economic classification scheme. All sorts of other issues are viewed through the lens of oppressors and oppressed. Folk Marxists see Israelis as oppressors and Palestinians as oppressed. They see white males as oppressors and minorities and females as oppressed. They see corporations as oppressors and individuals as oppressed. They see America as on oppressor and other countries as oppressed.

I believe that folk Marxism helps to explain the pride and joy that many people felt when Maryland passed its anti-Walmart law. They think of Walmart as an oppressor, and they think of other businesses and Walmart workers as the oppressed. The mainstream media share this folk Marxism, as they reported the Maryland law as a “victory for labor.”

This brand of folk Marxism has been popular on the left for more than a century and continues to grow in influence (see: Bernie Sanders). But Donald Trump has tapped into a strain of folk Marxism that has cross-ideological appeal and extends across the political spectrum.

Here are some of the defining characteristics of Trump-style folk Marxism:
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The Bosses of the Senate, a cartoon by Joseph Keppler. First published in Puck 1889.

Cronyism is ugly. It hurts the economy, it’s unjust, and corrupts the core of democracy.  “The damage that cronyism has inflicted on the economy is considerable,” Samuel Gregg writes in a new piece for Public Discourse. “[C]ronyism also creates significant political challenges that, thus far, Western democracies are struggling to overcome.”

The crony capitalism seen from the Trump presidential campaign and many others is not something that’s new to America or Western civilization. As long as there have been governments, there have been powerful people seeking special favors from them. From the 17th to 18th centuries, mercantilism “dominated the West,” which involved powerful guilds working closely with their government officials to limit trade and stifle innovation. Gregg explains the cronyism that’s common today:

Today’s crony capitalism is not outright corruption, though it often verges on or morphs into illegal activity. The expression itself first emerged in 1980 to describe how the Philippines’ economy functioned under the Marcos regime. It became prominent in explanations of the 1997–1998 Asian financial crisis, especially the role played in that crisis by government decisions that favored business “cronies” (many of whom were relatives) of political leaders, such as Indonesia’s then-President Suharto.

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unemployed-2Series Note: Jobs are one of the most important aspects of a morally functioning economy. They help us serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and for communities. Conversely, not having a job can adversely affect spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals and families. Because unemployment is a spiritual problem, Christians in America need to understand and be aware of the monthly data on employment. Each month highlight the latest numbers we need to know (see also: What Christians Should Know About Unemployment).

Positive news is marked with the plus sign (+) while negative employment data is marked with a minus sign (-). No significant change is marked by (NC).
(more…)

government_is_the_problem_poster-r60410fd507e74984b86adfb78cccb9fd_a3l0_8byvr_324What is the worst problem facing America? According to a recent Gallup poll, most Americans agree with former President Reagan, who said government is not a the solution, government is the problem.

An average of 16 percent of Americans in 2015 mentioned some aspect of government—including President Obama, Congress, or political conflict—as the country’s chief problem. The economy came in second with 13 percent mentioning it, while unemployment and immigration tied for third at 8 percent.

While government takes the top slot, that’s still an answer given by fewer than one in five citizens. We can’t even seem to come to a consensus about our biggest problems. Indeed, 2015 is only the second time since 2001 (2014 was the other year) that no single issue averaged 20 percent or more for the year. Rather than being focused on a single issue, there is a broad range of concerns troubling us; more than a dozen issues received 2-6 percent of the vote for worst problem.
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o-UNEMPLOYMENT-HEALTH-facebookSeries Note: Jobs are one of the most important aspects of a morally functioning economy. They help us serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and for communities. Conversely, not having a job can adversely affect spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals and families. Because unemployment is a spiritual problem, Christians in America need to understand and be aware of the monthly data on employment. Each month highlight the latest numbers we need to know (see also: What Christians Should Know About Unemployment).

Positive news is marked with the plus sign (+) while negative employment data is marked with a minus sign (-). No significant change is marked by (NC).
(more…)