Tag Archives: SocialDemocracy

Why is populism suddenly all the rage? – Matthijs Rooduijn * IMF Report. Populism and Civil Society – Tito Boeri, Prachi Mishra, Chris Papageorgiou, Antonio Spilimbergo.

In 1998, about 300 Guardian articles mentioned populism. In 2016, 2,000 did. What happened?

What is populism?

Populists tend to frame politics as a battle between the virtuous ‘ordinary’ masses and a nefarious or corrupt elite and insist that the general will of the people must always triumph. The Guardian is adopting the classic definition of populism proposed by political scientist Cas Mudde. Populism, he says, is often combined with a “host” ideology, which can either be on the left or right.

Populism is as old as democracy itself, but the last 10 years have proven particularly fertile: populist leaders now govern countries with a combined population of almost two billion people, while populist parties are gaining ground in more than a dozen other democracies, many of them in Europe.

Populism is sexy. Particularly since 2016, the year of the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump, it seems as if journalists just cannot get enough of it. In 1998, the Guardian published about 300 articles that included the terms “populism” or “populist”. In 2015, these terms were used in about 1,000 articles, and one year later this number had doubled to almost 2,000.

The increasing popularity of the term is no coincidence. Populist parties have tripled their vote in Europe over the past 20 years. They are in government in 11 European countries. More than a quarter of Europeans voted populist in their last elections.

Why? There is no easy answer to this question. Recent academic studies have shown that throughout the western world populist attitudes are widespread. Many citizens take the view that ordinary, virtuous people have been betrayed, neglected or exploited by a corrupt elite. Although citizens with strong populist attitudes do not necessarily vote for a populist party (in fact, many of them don’t), there are various circumstances that increase the likelihood that they will do so.

Firstly, when a society is more individualised, and voters are more independent and emancipated, electoral volatility tends to be higher. Such circumstances will enhance the probability that populist attitudes are translated into real populist votes. After all, without a certain degree of detachment from traditional mainstream parties, voters are unlikely to actually switch away from them and turn to populists.

Secondly, there is a fertile breeding ground for populists when mainstream left and right parties converge ideologically. If this is the case, many voters will be susceptible to the message that mainstream political parties are all one and the same. A good example is how in France the Front National (now National Rally) merged the names of the centre-right UMP and the centre-left PS into “UMPS” in its campaigning the political equivalent of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Moreover, when mainstream parties converge, they leave fallow a lot of ideological space, and therefore tend to be unresponsive to the worries of more radical citizens.

Thirdly, crises can make the activation of populist attitudes more likely. A financial crisis, for instance, makes mainstream parties highly vulnerable to the critique that “the established elite” has messed things up. The European refugee crisis provided populist parties with ammunition for the argument that governing elites had opened up the borders and were unable to deal with the inflow of immigrants.

Fourthly, Widespread corruption plays straight into populist hands. If it turns out that political parties are highly corrupt, the populist claim that people are exploited by an inward-looking, condescending elite will find wide public support. This is exactly what happened in Italy in the early 1990s, for instance. As a result of a nationwide judicial investigation into bribery, nepotism and other forms of corruption, the whole party system was turned upside down. This cleared the way for the rise of populists such as Silvio Berlusconi and the League.

Yet a fertile breeding ground for populism is not enough for populism to thrive. There should also be a credible populist challenger who offers an attractive alternative to the existing parties. In order to be perceived as an attractive alternative, a challenger party needs to express a message that appeals to large numbers of discontented voters. Moreover, what also helps is an alluring leader and, especially in the long term, a well-functioning party organisation.

The changing media environment also plays a role. Because of dwindling subscription rates, traditional media increasingly focus on topics they expect to sell well, such as scandals and conflict, fuelling the sense of crisis that populists can draw on.

Of course, sociopolitical contexts vary by geography and so does populism. In northern Europe, successful populists are mainly radical rightwing populists. Parties such as the Danish People’s party, the Finns and the Sweden Democrats all combine a xenophobic nationalist outlook with a populist message. Leftwing populism is much less widespread in this part of Europe possibly because the strong economies and generous welfare systems of the Nordic countries make a radical leftwing populist message less pressing.

Southern Europe looks different. In countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece, populism is not exclusively a radical rightwing phenomenon. This might well be due to the fact that the financial crisis hit these countries harder than most. They therefore form the perfect setting for a leftwing populist message. Parties like Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece combine their populism with a radical leftwing main ideology. In Italy, the Five Star Movement combines populism with a diverse array of ideological stances.

Western Europe differs from southern Europe in that radical leftwing populists are less successful. This is most likely due to the fact that countries in this part of Europe have much stronger economies than their southern European neighbours. The exception that proves the rule is Ireland. This country did not perform very well economically and harbours a relatively successful radical leftwing populist party: Sinn Féin.

The landscapes in central and eastern European countries look very different. Here, populism generally did not bob up at the fringes of the political spectrum, but in the centre. Parties such as Fidesz in Hungary and Law and Justice in Poland started their political lives as mainstream parties. Only later on did they also embrace populism and, even later, nativism. It is probably because these do not have radical heritages which could potentially thwart their “respectable” images that they have managed to become the leading parties in their respective countries.

Despite all these geographical differences, throughout Europe the breeding ground for populism has become increasingly fertile. And populist parties are ever more capable of reaping the rewards.

Matthijs Rooduijn is a political sociologist at the University of Amsterdam

The Guardian

See also:

IMF Report. POPULISM AND CIVIL SOCIETY – Tito Boeri, Prachi Mishra, Chris Papageorgiou, Antonio Spilimbergo.

THE EU IS A NEOLIBERAL, CORPORATIST PROJECT – Bill Mitchell * The Left Case Against the EU – Costas Lapavitsas.

“A cabal of elites who are unelected and largely unaccountable.”

Under current EU trade agreements being negotiated profit becomes prioritised over the independence of a legislature and the latter cannot compromise the former.

There is never a case to be made that a corporation should have institutional structures available that allow it to use ‘commercial’ arguments to subvert national legal positions.

The EU is not an institution or structure than anyone on the progressive Left should support or think is capable of reform any time soon. It has become a neoliberal, corporatist state and hierarchical in operation, with Germany at the apex, bullying the weaker states into submission. Divergence in outcomes across the geographic spread is the norm. It is also the anathema of our concepts of democracy, both in concept and operation. It is more like a cabal of elites who are unelected and, largely unaccountable. By giving their support to this monstrosity, the traditional Left political parties (social democrats, socialists etc) have been increasingly wiped out, such is the anger of voters to what has become a massive coup by capital against labour.

One of the the hallmarks of the neoliberal era has been the way it has pushed the concept of ‘society’ to the background. People live in societies not economies. Economies are meant to serve those societies (and us) not the other way around.

Over the past three decades, financial globalization has produced a highly interconnected but deeply unstable financial system. Almost all of the transactions that this sector is engaged in are unproductive, wealth shuffling.

The problem is that when the players get ahead of themselves the folly they create spills over into the real economy and starts damaging the well-being of all of us. What we have now is a financial sector that is way too large and which uses its financial clout to manipulate political systems to ensure policies structures allow it to get even larger.

“The framework of financial market liberalization may restrict the ability of governments to change the regulatory structure in ways which support financial stability, economic growth, and the welfare of vulnerable consumers and investors.” IMF

Under current EU trade agreements being negotiated profit becomes prioritised over the independence of a legislature and the latter cannot compromise the former.

In other words, a democratically-elected government is unable to regulate the economy to advance the well-being of the people who elect it, if some corporation or another considers that regulation impinges on their profitability. Corporation rule becomes dominant under these agreements.

The agreements create what are known as ‘supra-national tribunals’ which are outside any nation’s judicial system but which governments are bound to obey. The make-up of the tribunals is beyond the discretion of a nation’s population, and are typically dominated by corporate lawyers and other nominees. The notion of accountability disappears.

These tribunals can declare a law enacted by a democratically elected government to be illegal and impose fines on the state for breaches. With heavy fines looming, states will bow to the will of the corporations. Corporation rule!

There is never a case that can be made where a corporation has primacy over the elected government. So there is never a case for so-called ‘Investor State Dispute Mechanisms’ in bi-lateral agreements between nations.

A nation state is defined by its legislature and that institutions set the legal framework in which all activity within the sovereign borders engages. Corporations have rights under that framework as do citizens. But the assumption is that the legislative framework should reflect the goals of national well-being.

There is never a case that a corporation should have institutional structures available that allow it to use ‘commercial’ arguments to subvert national legal positions.

The EU technocrats work away every day on strategies and rule designs and negotiations which explicitly undermine the capacity of elected governments to represent the best interests of their nation. Their trade agreement negotiations are just one aspect of that behaviour.

This is core EU. If you were to eliminate it the ‘European Project’ as it has become would be terminated.

Prof. Bill Mitchell

Book review

The Left Case against the EU

Costas Lapavitsas

A new book advancing the case against the EU is of crucial importance in arguing that its neoliberal structures are irreformable and incompatible with left advance.

COSTAS LAPAVITSAS’S detailed critique of the EU is of immediate importance to all on the left. A renowned expert on the dynamics of contemporary capitalism and professor of economics at London University (SOAS), Lapavitsas was elected as a Syriza MP in 2015.

He resigned from the party in protest at the Syriza government’s capitulation to unending EU demands for austerity and its attacks on the labour movement.

The book contains a penetrating analysis of EU economics. However, its strongest recommendation is the author’s own political experience.

Lapavitsas’s conclusion is that the left can never win if it argues within the terms set by the EU, that the EU cannot be reformed and that its structures, including the single market, are fatally prejudicial to any attempt to implement left policies or indeed simply measures that promote industrial regeneration and defend employment of a left Keynesian character.

He warns the Labour Party that the single market ”is not compatible with the aim of beating neoliberalism, restructuring the British economy and reducing the power of the City in favour of workers and the poor through a far reaching industrial strategy.”

Why has the EU taken on this neoliberal character? Lapavitsas argues that it was always present.

Long before the Treaty of Rome, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite economist Frederick Hayek had advocated a Federalist Free trade association in Europe as offering the ultimate protection against socialism.

Supranational structures would make it possible to bypass popular pressure on national governments for democratic control over capital.

The same supranational institutions would give legal sanction to the myth that economic well-being demands that markets remain free and supreme even if, in reality, such markets are monopolised and also reflect the monopoly power of some states over others.

Lapavitsas argues that this antidemocratic potential became fully explicit with the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 and the introduction of a single currency. At that time, massive differences in economic power existed across the EU between the great industrial combines of Germany and to a lesser extent the Benelux countries and Sweden and the rest, Greece, Portugal, Spain and even Italy.

Trapped within the single currency, deficit countries could no longer devalue to compete. Nor could their governments use any form of state aid to stimulate industrial redevelopment.

As a result, inequality increased and trade imbalances, financed by German, French and British banks, grew to massive proportions.

The outcome, in 2008-2010, was financial crisis, but it is a crisis that is not resolved. Big capital in Germany and its allies elsewhere remain opposed to any fiscal union that would internationalise these debts across the EU. Why? Because this would rob them of the power to secure further institutional and economic change across the EU.

Here Lapavitsas exposes another and less well-known aspect of German industrial dominance, its reliance on driving down labour costs.

German capital investment in industry has in fact been quite low and the country’s high productivity has depended on a series of strategic reductions in labour costs.

In the 1990s, German industry was able to do this by driving industrial supply chains into Eastern Europe to exploit highly qualified but much cheaper labour. Once this potential was largely exhausted, there was an assault on the domestic labour market.

From 2002 the Hartz reforms ensured, says Lapavitsas, that “the protection of German workers in the labour market was profoundly weakened and wage pressures intensified.”

Where did German capital investment go ? Lapavitsas documents the capital flows and demonstrates that it was used to consolidate monopoly control elsewhere within EU economies. And the same pattern continues today. The drive to reduce labour costs continues in Germany and across the EU as competition intensifies with the US.

This is why German capital and its allies need the bargaining lever of debt and austerity to compel further institutional change and, like all processes that involve monopoly power and exploitation, it is unlikely to have a happy ending.

Lapavitsas urges the left, and especially Britain’s Labour Party, to look this reality in the face and seek instead “a radical internationalism that would draw on domestic strength and reject the dysfunctional and hegemonic structures of the EU giving, fresh content to popular sovereignty and democratic rights.”

The Left Case Against the EU

Get it at Amazon.com

IMF Report. POPULISM AND CIVIL SOCIETY – Tito Boeri, Prachi Mishra, Chris Papageorgiou, Antonio Spilimbergo.

“Despite popular perception there is not an overwhelming trend in favour of populism in Europe.”

Populism: An ideology that considers society ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonist groups, ‘the pure people’ versus the ‘corrupt elite’.

Populists claim to be the only legitimate representative of the people. Does this mean that there is no space for civil society?

What is peculiar about the recent wave is that populism has spread and sometimes became dominant in countries with well established liberal democracy.

Why do voters vote for parties which are ultimately against their own interest?

Our main finding is that individuals belonging to associations are less likely to vote for populist parties.

The issue is important because since Tocqueville (1835), associations and civil society have been recognized as a key factor in a healthy liberal democracy.

We ask two questions:

1) Do individuals who are members of civil associations vote less for populist parties?

2) Does membership in associations decrease when populist parties are in power?

We answer these questions looking at the experiences of Europe, which has a rich civil society tradition, as well as of Latin America, which already has a long history of populists in power.

The main findings are that individuals belonging to associations are less likely by 2.4 to 4.2 percent to vote for populist parties, which is large considering that the average vote share for populist parties is from 10 to 15 percent. The effect is strong particularly after the global financial crisis, with the important caveat that membership in trade unions has unclear effects.

1. History

Populism is not new. Waves of populism have spread through Russia and the US. at the end of the 19th century and through several European and Latin American countries in the 20th century. In previous episodes, populism remained marginal (like in Europe in the second half of the 20th century) or became dominant in weak democracies (like Latin America.) What is peculiar about the recent wave is that populism has spread and sometimes became dominant in countries with well established liberal democracy. This begs the question of how populism not only coexists but even thrives and prospers in liberal democracies.

What is populism?

Populism has been defined in various ways and is often used as a derogative term in political debates. In line with a common view in political science, we use the definition of populism as “an ideology that considers society ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonist groups, ‘the pure people’ versus the ‘corrupt elite’”.

The key issue of interest here is that the populist ideology considers the people as a monolith, and populist leaders claim to have the monopoly of political representation of the people. This monopoly on representing “the people” is almost a moral right which delegitimizes all other parties, associations, and groups in the populist discourse. In the populist view, a (corrupt and detached) elite is in opposition with the (homogenous and virtuous) ‘people.’ In the populists’ Manichean view, there is no intermediate space between the ‘virtuous people’ and the corrupt elites. This view is in contrast with the concept of liberal democracy.

Liberal democracies are political systems based on pluralism where different groups represent different interests and values, which are all legitimate provided they respect the rules. In liberal democracies, multiple political parties compete in free elections, branches of government are separated, and a system of checks and balances exists. Associations are formed to organize and give voice to these different values. Associations play a key role in liberal democracies.

Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America (1835) writes on the role of associations in democracies:

“Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. Thus, the most democratic country on earth is found to be, above all, the one where men in our day have most perfected the art of pursuing the object of their common desires in common and have applied this new science to the most objects. Does this result from an accident or could it be that there in fact exists a necessary relation between associations and equality? All citizens are independent and weak; they can do almost nothing by themselves, and none of them can oblige those like themselves to lend them their cooperation. They therefore all fall into impotence if they do not learn to aid each other freely. If men who live in democratic countries had neither the right nor the taste to unite in political goals, their independence would run great risks, but they could preserve their wealth and their enlightenment for a long time; whereas if they did not acquire the practice of associating with each other in ordinary life, civilization itself would be in peril. The morality and intelligence of a democratic people would risk no fewer dangers than its business and its industry if the government came to take the place of associations everywhere. In democratic countries, the science of association is the mother science; the progress of all the others depends on the progress of that one.”

This citation illustrates well the role of associations in well functioning liberal democracies.

In sum, liberal democracies are pluralistic and associations are key to aggregation; in contrast, populists consider ‘the people’ as a homogeneous group, which cannot be divided.

But what is the role of associations if the populist leaders are the only legitimate representative of the people? This paper looks at the issue of single individuals’ preferences in a large sample of European and Latin American countries. Are individuals who belong to associations more prone to vote for populist parties? Did the global economic crisis and the Euro area crisis change this relation?

We test the hypothesis on whether belonging to a body in civil society (by belonging to a civil society association or a trade union) reduces the probability to vote (as stated in retrospective questions) for a populist party. We use several waves of the European Social Survey (ESS), which comprises more than 60,000 individual observations, covering 17 European countries with populist parties for about 15 years, and several waves of LatinBarometro, which covers all major Latin American countries for several years.

Our main finding is that individuals belonging to associations are less likely to vote for populist parties.

In Europe, individuals belonging to associations are 3.2 percent less likely to vote for populist parties during the post global financial crisis period. The result is driven specifically by membership in civil associations rather than trade unions. The finding is robust controlling for several variables that could co determine jointly the voting behaviour in favour of populist parties and the decision to join an association, and removing outliers to estimate a 2 step Heckman model that accounts for the probability of participation in voting.

We find qualitatively similar results for Latin America, where voting is compulsory, albeit with very limited data that precludes conducting several robustness checks. We interpret the findings as associations provide ideological anchors, identities, and voice mechanisms; as individual beliefs became more unhinged from ideological anchors post crisis, people felt more open to voting for new parties. Another interpretation is that associations promote social responsibility and acts as a protective shield against populism. Finally, it is not only that association members are less likely to vote for populist parties, but there is also some suggestive evidence for trade union density to be lower in countries where populists have been in power.

This paper makes contributions in three fields:

First, our approach is useful in explaining one of the puzzles that populism is generally not correlated to economic crisis. For instance, despite the deep economic crisis, Ireland and Iceland did not have strong populist movements. On the other hand, Poland, which did not experience a recession during the global financial crisis, has a party classified as populist in power. We investigate how the presence (or absence) of civil society can explain these differences across countries.

Second, there is an ongoing debate about the importance of economic versus cultural and social factors in explaining the rise of populism. Our approach focusing on the intermediate bodies argues that these factors need to be complemented as the spread of populist ideas depends on the presence of a civil society.

Third, our results provide indirect evidence for the old idea that populism may be the response of a society losing its ‘collective consciousness.’ The idea, which is old in sociology, is that a society needs a system of solidarity between individuals, providing cross-cutting social ties. When this system breaks down, individuals feel anemia and are ready to support new movements. According to this view, populists gain support after big shocks only if the society does not have enough intermediate institutions which provide an ‘ideological anchor’ to individuals.

The paper is organized as follows. Section 2 reviews the literature on populism and economics with a focus on the effect of the recent global financial and euro crises. Section 3 describes the data sources used in the empirical analysis and takes a first look at these data. Section 4 discusses the empirical strategy followed by Section 5 that reports and discusses the results. Section 6 looks at what happens to trade union membership when populists gain power. Section 7 draws conclusions.

2. Literature Review

The literature on the causes and the electoral success of populism is old and voluminous, but so far answers have been elusive to historians and political scientists. In this paper, we focus on three questions on which economists have focused:

1) What is the role of populism in rich postmodern societies and why has populism been on the rise even before the global financial crisis?

2) What are the effects of the global financial crisis and, in particular, the euro crisis on politics?

3) Why do voters vote for parties which are ultimately against their own interest?

Populism in post modem societies

The rise of populist parties in Europe since the 1980s has revived the literature on populism in political science. The success of (far right) populist parties in the last thirty years has been remarkable. With the Green Parties, the populist far right parties are the only new party family in Europe in the last seventy years and the only one to spread consistently in both Eastern and Western Europe. The reasons for the rise of populist parties are complex, involving both demand and supply factors, A key issue is the revival of populist parties in rich countries where democracy is well established.

Inglehart and Norris (2016) explore two leading explanations:

First, there is the widely held view that economic insecurity has caused the rise of populism. According to this view, deep structural transformations of the last fifty years have created economic uncertainty and social malaise, especially amongst the economic losers of these transformations.

The second view focuses on cultural backlash. In addition to deep economic changes, the last fifty years have seen profound social transformation; the introduction of new values in the society has caused a reaction in sectors of the population which felt threatened.

Using the European Social Survey, Inglehart and Norris (2016) find strong evidence in favour of the cultural backlash hypothesis. This finding suggests that the traditional left-right cleavage, on which politics was based before the 80s, is being substituted by a new cleavage between traditional and progressive values in (post modem) Western societies. Inglehatt and Norris (2016) also find evidence that the support for populist parties comes from small shop keepers and not from low wage workers and that unemployment status and income are bad predictors of populist votes.

The view that in post modern societies voting is more affected by cultural factors than by wealth or income is important for this paper. In fact, in a post modern world, associations, Which are part of the individual’s cultural world, should play an increasing role in determining voting intentions.

Are voters irrational?

Economists have found it particularly difficult to explain the success of populist parties because support for populism challenges the usual assumption in political economy that individuals act (and vote) following their own interests. Economists have long maintained that populists in power implement policies that in the long run damage the whole economy and, particularly, those groups that populists are supposed to favour. Why do people vote for populist movements that ultimately go against their own interests? If populism leads to bad economic consequences (as economists assume), why do people support populist parties?

This seems to violate the principle of rationality.

Economists provided different answers to this question. Dornbusch and Edwards (1992) argue that (most) voters are short sighted and often misinformed; this explains why they supported political movements in Latin America that promised wealth for everybody and ignored budget constraints. Caplan (2007) provides evidence that American voters do not behave rationally, at least in the economic sphere. Acemoglu et al. (2013) argue that populist policies are a signalling device by honest politicians directed to voters who have imperfect information about the politicians. Populist politicians choose ‘extremist’ policies to signal that they are not beholden to special interest. Di Tella and Rotemberg (2017) add voters’ distaste for ‘betrayal’ to a standard model and argue that voters prefer having incompetent leaders rather than feel betrayed. These explanations have merits, but also the big limit that they do not build on the insights of political science.

Finally, Rodrik (2017) argues that populism is a rational response to the shocks caused by globalization.

The views in this debate on the rationality of the voter span a wide range. However, all have the implicit assumption that the individual chooses (rationally or irrationally). Our paper innovates in this respect and shows that associations play a key role in explaining the populist votes.

Social Capital and populism

The role of social capital has been recognized in economics for a long time. Building on Tocqueville’s intuition, Putnam argues that social capital, which was key in building American society, has been declining since the 1960s. According to him, the decline in social capital has increased unhappiness and political apathy. Crucially, low level of social capital also decreases confidence in government and lowers frequency in voting and participating in political activity. In his original work, he did not deal directly with populism but all these correlates of social capital are often associated with populism. Satyanath et al. (2018) argue instead that there is a “dark side” of social capital, documenting that social capital aided the rise of the Nazi movement that ultimately destroyed Germany’s first democracy.

This paper also builds on this strand of the literature in linking social capital as measured by membership in association with populism.

Economic crises and populism

The global financial crisis (or Great Recession) in 2008/9 and the Euro crisis in 2012 have had unprecedented economic consequences; did the economic crises also cause political crises? After all, political crises and the ascent of Nazism followed the economic crisis in the thirties. Political scientists and economists give different answers to this question.

Rovira Kaltwasser, and Zanotti (2016) state that “in contrast to alarmist reports in the media claiming that the Great Recession is triggering the rise of anger, extremism and protest across Europe, most comparative (party) politics literature on the Great Recession tend to argue that so far the political consequences of the crisis have been limited.” The extended state of welfare is credited for preventing a different outcome than in the 30s. Moreover, the evidence points that the recession itself has not caused a large increase of votes for the French Front Nationale. The discontent caused by the economic crisis seems to have been channelled through retrospective voting (i.e. voters punish incumbents in government irrespective of their ideology). According to this view, the rise of populism after the Great Recession is the continuation of a pre-existing trend of punishment of the ruling class via voting for parties with mostly inexperienced politicians presenting themselves as anti establishment.

Economists hold the opposite view that the economic crises had profound political effects and, in particular, are fostering populism. Guiso et al. (2017), Algan et al. (2017), the EEAG report (2017), Dustmann et a1. (2017) argue that the crises and the attendant economic insecurity undermined trust in institutions, in particular, European institutions. Similarly, Funke et. al. (2017) find that voters flock to extremist parties, located at both ends of the political spectrum, after financial crises.

Contributing to this literature, our paper finds that the crises had indeed an effect on the voting preferences, but this was intermediated by associations. Results somewhat similar to ours were obtained by Coffé et al. (2007) in their analysis of the electoral success of the Vlaams Blok in the 2004 Flemish regional elections. They found the right wing populists to be particularly successful in municipalities with a small network of social organizations.

3. Data

This section starts with a brief account of the sources from which data were obtained followed by a first look at basic trends and descriptive statistics.

Sources

Our dataset is at an individual level and is drawn primarily from the European Social Survey (ESS). The ESS maps the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour patterns to socio economic and demographic variables. The surveys take place every two years, though not all countries and individuals participate in all the waves. Therefore, we have a repeated cross section rather than a panel. The data measure voting patterns at the individual level. The ESS asks individuals whether they voted in the last Parliamentary election and if they did, which party they voted for. The sample covers 17 European countries over the period 2002-16.

We also use data on voting patterns in Latin America from the Latinobarometro. The Latinobarometro is also an individual level survey similar to ESS, though with very limited information, and reduced coverage, relative to the ESS. The Latinobarometro also measures voting behaviour but asks a different question: if individuals are asked to vote the following Sunday for Parliamentary or Presidential election, which party would they vote for. The data for Latin America is very limited, covering 17 countries from 1996-2008 with many gaps. Given the limited coverage, we exercise caution in interpreting the results for Latin America and treat them as only suggestive evidence.

To identify populist parties in Europe and Latin America, we follow the recent literature. Inglehart and Norris classify populist parties based on the 2014 Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES). The CHES uses expert ratings on position of parties on a range of characteristics such as support for traditional values, liberal lifestyles, and multiculturalism, including economic characteristics such as state of the economy, and market deregulation. Inglehart and Norris classify a party as populist if it scores more than 80 points on a standardized 100 point scale built using thirteen selected indicators contained in the CHES. This definition of populist party is time invariant. We follow the same methodology to classify populist parties in Europe and Latin America. Based on this methodology, we define 28 parties in Europe and 22 parties in Latin America as populist.

A key variable in our analysis is membership of civil society associations. We construct association membership rates for Europe using the ESS Membership of civil society associations is elicited from a question on personal involvement in actions “trying to improve things or help prevent things from going wrong”. We consider members of civil society associations those stating not to have “contacted a politician” or “worked in a political party”, or “belonging to any particular religion or denomination” but to have “worked in another organization or association during the last 12 months”. More specifically, an individual is defined to be a member of a civil society association, if during the last 12 months he has worked in an organization or association trying to improve things or help prevent things from going wrong in her country. In some specifications we also use a measure of self reported trade union membership, though we argue later in the paper that this measure is more likely to be contaminated by endogeneity concerns than membership of civil societies. We define an individual to be a member of a trade union if he/she is currently “a member of a trade union or similar organization”.

The Latinobarometro dataset also has information on whether an individual is a member of any association, including trade union, though the variable is not available for most years. Moreover, the exact definition of association membership in the Latinobarometro varies from year to year. In the 2008 survey, for example, the definition includes membership in trade or labor unions as well as groups or associations related to “politics , students , religious , culture , sport”, or “ecology”.

We use several other socio economic variables such as age, gender, income, and education. Details of all the variables used in the empirical analysis is provided in Table A2. Table A3 provides descriptive statistics for the variables used in the analysis.

A first look at the data

Before going into the econometric analysis, we analyse the evolution of our key variables over time and analyse simple correlations. In Europe, there is no clear trend in populist vote intention between 2002 and 2016. Close to 10 percent of the population said they would vote for populist parties in 2002; the figure increased to close to 15 percent by mid 2000, before beginning to decline again more recently. This is consistent with the fact that, despite popular perception, there is not an overwhelming trend in favour of populism in Europe.

For Latin America, we find a clear break in the trend towards populism. Populism was flat till mid 2000s but has increased sharply since then. The rise of populism in Europe till mid 2000s has coincided with a rather constant level of civil association membership whilst union membership has been on a declining trend. In general union membership rates display a much higher time variation than membership in civil society associations.

Only for selected countries in Europe, such as Turkey, populist in power were associated with declining membership of associations. In the case of Latin America, on average, association membership rates have decreased in parallel with a rise in populism. In Brazil and Argentina, the years when populists were in power were also years when membership of associations declined.

How does membership of civil society association interact with political preferences for populist parties? Do populism and decline in, broadly speaking, association membership rates (including unions) go hand in hand, or are they driven by a third factor? We analyse these issues more rigorously in the next section using a novel dataset on voting patterns and association membership rates.

4. Empirical specification. See the full report (download link below).

5. Empirical Results

This section first reports results using a large voting dataset from 17 European countries followed by results from a smaller yet quite representative dataset from 17 Latin American countries.

Baseline Evidence from European voting data

We first show results for drivers of voting for populists using the ESS. Our dataset includes observations from 17 European countries with eight waves.

Table 1-2 shows the results from estimating Equation (1) by OLS and Probit respectively. Column 1 pools data from all available years from 2002-2016. Our key variable of interest is membership in a civil association. The estimated coefficient for this variable is negative in Column 1 of Tables 1-2 i.e. individuals who belong to associations are less likely to vote for populist parties. The result holds also across all waves in Tables 1 and 2, with the exception of 2004 in Table 1.

The coefficient on civil association is about 3 percent. This is a large number considering that the average vote share for populist parties is between 10 and 15 percent in most countries. In other words, membership of civil society reduces the vote for populist party by 20 to 30 per cent.

In addition to membership in a civil organization, being female and having attained tertiary education are consistently negative and highly significant, i.e., females and highly educated are significantly less likely to vote for populist parties. Self reporting insufficient income or income difficulties are significant sporadically but, in general, consistent with economic explanations of populism: self reporting having sufficient income is negatively correlated with voting for populist parties while reporting income difficulties is positively associated with voting for populist parties.

Effect of the European crises

Europe experienced the global financial crisis in 2008-9 and the Southern part of the Eurozone experienced another severe recession in 2012. Did the crises change the effect of associations on voting pattern?

Columns 2 and 3 in Tables 1 and 2 report the results when we split the samples between 2002-10, and 2012-16. These two sub periods are chosen also in light of the retrospective nature of the question on individuals votes. Columns 4-11 show the results for specific years. The coefficient on civil association membership is negative and statistically significant for every year (with the exception of 2004 for OLS in Table 1) but becomes even more negative after the global financial crisis. Note also that the coefficient of the variable for (self reported) insufficient income is negative and significant after the global Enancial crisis; and its magnitude increased 2-3 times in the post ctisis period.

What can explain the increasing negative correlation between civil association membership and populist vote? One potential explanation is that before the crisis party discipline was strong, and ideological vote was important. Post crisis, notably with the collapse of social democratic parties across Europe, individual beliefs became unhinged. With more unhinged beliefs, people felt more open to vote for new parties. Civil associations, on the other hand, provided ideological anchors and voice mechanisms alternative to voting for outsiders. Therefore, individuals who belonged to these associations voted less for populist parties.

This explanation is also consistent with the view that social capital represented by civil associations membership has a long term effect which manifests itself in moment of crises. Another complementary explanation is that economic crises have a big role in the system of beliefs on the role of the state. People, mostly young ones, demand more from the state but, at the same time, are more sceptical about the state. This unanswered demand is fulfilled by civil society associations and less by populist voting. Last but not least, the crisis had an impact on the supply of populist parties, making the vote more responsive to civil association membership.

Extended specification correcting for potential sample selection bias

OLS and Probit regressions have the potential problem of self selection given voters may decide not to vote. Indeed, individuals make two decisions: (1) whether to vote in an election, and (2) conditional on voting, which party to vote for, whether to vote for a populist party or not. This issue has been recognized in the literature, e.g. in Guiso et. al. 2017, and has been addressed through a two step Heckman model, to account for the bias that may result from the fact that party choice apply only to voters who turnout to vote.

Following the literature, we estimate a two step Heckman model. In the first stage, we estimate the probability of participation. In the second stage, we estimate the probability of voting for a populist party. For identification, we need to introduce at least one variable which affects the probability of voting but does not have a direct effect on the choice of party. As instrument we use proxies for lack of awareness about public choice issues.

We assume that lack of awareness affects voter turnout by increasing the cost of acquiring information about political platforms and candidates but does not directly impact choice of political party. We use several proxies for lack of awareness. The proxies are measured by the number of “don’t know” or “no answer” to questions relating to “anything about politics”: (i) TV watching, news/politics/current affairs on average weekday, (ii) how interested in politics, (iii) able to take active role in political group, (iv) confident in own ability to participate in politics, (v) easy to take part in politics, (vi) placement on left-right scale, (vii) state of education in country nowadays, (viii) state of health services in country nowadays.

Table 3 shows the results from estimating Equation (1) by the 2 step Heckman model respectively. Table 3a reports the estimates from the second stage of Heckman, while Table 3b reports the first stage estimates. The first stage reported in Table 3b shows the coefficient on our proxies for lack of awareness is strongly negative and statistically significant. We find strong evidence that individuals who are less aware are less likely to participate in elections, suggesting that lack of awareness is a strong instrument. Overall, the results from estimating the 2 step Heckman model support the main finding in Tables 1 and 2, and establish more conclusively that populism is negatively associated with civil society membership in Europe. Women, high income, highly educated, and older individuals, are less likely to vote for populist parties. The evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that voting for populist parties is less likely among people who are likely to be more economically secure.

The rest of the findings are broadly consistent with the literature. Income affects participation positively. High income individuals are more likely to vote, but less likely to vote populist; Low income individuals are less likely to participate, but have an insignificant effect on voting populist, relative to other individuals.

Controlling for other variables, women participate as much as men but, conditional on voting, they are less likely to vote for populist parties. The coefficient on women is consistently (and significantly) negative. The negative relationship between women and far right populist parties in Europe has been long noted. In the past, authors have argued that women may be discouraged by the fact that far right European parties have conservative values on civil rights, which may be not appealing to many women. More recently, Mudde (2007) has proposed an alternative explanation: women tend to vote for conservative parties but dislike extremist parties that are stigmatized as outsiders.

Age affects participation positively, bug conditional on voting, it has an opposite effect on populist vote. Education is considered in the literature to be a proxy for the ability to gauge long term costs of current policies and is hypothesized to be negatively associated with populist vote. Our results support the significance of education; however, we find interesting variation across different categories of education. Individuals with tertiary education are more likely to participate in elections, but significantly less likely to vote for populist parties. Individuals with secondary education are also more likely to participate in elections relative to those who are not, but they are not significantly less likely to vote populist, unlike the tertiary educated. Therefore, while our results support the importance of education in determining populist voting patterns, we find that it is only the highly educated who are less likely to vote for populist parties.

Robustness tests

In this section, we conduct robustness checks to analyse whether the coefficient on membership in civil associations is robust to alternative specifications, explanatory variables, and instruments. Table 4 presents the first set of robustness tests. Panel A estimates a logit specification. Panel B includes only a subset of selection variables for the first stage equation in the Heckman procedure. In particular, it excludes (i) TV watching, news/politics/current affairs on average weekday, (ii) how interested in politics, (iii) able to take active role in political group, from the set of selection variables listed above, in order to explore whether the results are driven by these variables.

Another potential concern relates to omitted variables that could co-determine jointly the voting behaviour in favour of populist parties and the decision to join an association. Panels C and D include a number of additional controls proposed in Guiso et. al. (2017.) These include indicators for risk aversion, trust in parties and institutions, watching television, watching politics news and programs, the unemployment spell over the last 5 years, exposure to globalization, preference for lower immigration, perception of negative effect of immigrants, and right wing ideology.

The main finding that membership of civil associations is negatively associated with voting for populist parties remains remarkably robust to different specifications, smaller set of selection variables, as well as additional controls. We do not introduce additional controls in the main specifications in Tables 1-3 to avoid issues of multicollinearity between the controls, and the Heckman 2 step estimates do not converge with the large set of additional controls.

Including Trade Unions Membership

Trade unions are a form of association and have traditionally played a big role in Europe, Do trade unions play the same role as other associations in diminishing the propensity for populist votes?

In our dataset, the average trade union and association membership rates in the sample are similar, at 27 percent and 22 percent respectively (Table A4). But the trends in the two variables are also quite different. As shown in Figure 1, while trade union membership rates show a steady decline since 2002, membership of civil society associations, on average, remained relatively stable.

As a first pass, we do replicate the specification of Table 1 (OLS), Table 2 (Probit), and Table 3 (Heckman) but changing the definition of the key variable of interest. In Table 5 Panel A it is belonging to a civil association or to a trade union. The results are not as strong as in the regressions using only membership in civil society as explanatory variable (as in Tables 1 through 4). The OLS results are significant only after the crisis; the results with Probit and Heckman are more consistent across the time periods.

One possible concern is reverse causality or omitted variables. Given that membership in trade unions is more likely to be endogenous than civil society membership at these frequencies, we use an instrumental variables strategy specifically to address this concern. We use as an instrument the sectoral trade union density in another country for the same sector in which the ESS individual works. We choose the United Kingdom, because it is a country where there is no extended coverage of bargaining (or where “excess coverage” is low), and therefore trade union membership rates are an appropriate measure of the strength of collective workers’ organizations. We assume that the sectoral trade union membership rates in the United Kingdom are exogenous to populist votes in other countries in our sample, which we believe is a reasonable assumption. To implement this strategy, we drop the United Kingdom from our regressions. The results are shown in Panel B in Table 5. The estimated coefficients on association or trade union membership remain negative and statistically significant in the instrumental variable estimations.

Focusing on trade union membership

In order to focus exclusively on the role of the trade unions, we replicate the same specification with only membership in trade union as explanatory variable (Table 6.) The results show that membership in trade unions has little significant effect on the propensity to vote for populist parties except in the 2014 wave. This confirms that trade unions, despite being a form of association, are quite different from other associations. This is also confirmed from a historical point of view. In Argentina, trade unions played a big role during the Peron period in consolidating a populist regime. Instead of being a barrier to populism, trade unions did in fact become a transmission belt of populism.

Role of the Trade Unions vs. Civil Associations

Membership in trade unions and membership in associations are likely to be correlated. Indeed, the correlation coefficient between the two variables in our sample is positive and significant (0.25 and significant at 1 percent level). To disentangle the effects of these two variables we run our basic specification using the two variables (membership in trade unions and membership in civil associations.) The results are reported in Table 7, which follows the same structure as Table 6. The results show that membership in civil associations drives the results while membership in trade unions becomes insignificant in most of the cases.

Are the results sensitive to the exclusion of any speciiic country?

To test the results from any specific country we replicate the Heckman specifications excluding one country at the time. The coefficients on associations are reported in Table 8. All coefficients remain highly significant in every year and excluding one country at the time.

We also run regressions on a subset of countries that are present in all waves of the survey. Our key results are, once more, unaffected?

Are the effects of association membership heterogeneous? Age and education

In this sub section, we analyse if the negative association between populist vote and association membership is driven by particular groups of individuals. Specifically, we analyse whether the effects are different across different age and education groups. We estimate the relationship between populist vote and civil association membership separately for three different age groups young, middle aged, and old. The results shown in Panel A of Table 9 show that populism and civil association membership do not depend on any specific age group. The negative correlation between populism and belonging to civil association, however, weakens in 2016 among the young, possibly indicating the importance of new social media, as collective voice mechanisms, for younger generations.

Panel A of Table 9 shows the results for three different education groups, less than secondary (i.e. less than 12 years of schooling), secondary to tertiary (between 12 and 16 years of schooling), and greater than tertiary (more than 16 years of schooling). Again, the negative correlation between belonging to civil association and populism is not driven by any education group.

Evidence from Latin American voting data

Next, we show results on drivers of voting for populism for Latin America, the continent with the longest history of populist parties in power. Another reason to analyse the Latin American case is that in these countries voting is compulsory (see Figure 2), making the issue of sample selection into voting less relevant than in Europe.

As noted above, the data for Latin America has very limited coverage, with much fewer observations compared to Europe. In addition, the data covers only the period from 1996 to 2008, with many gaps. Therefore, we cannot evaluate how the association between trade union membership and populist vote changed since the global fiscal crisis. Therefore, these results should be interpreted as being only suggestive, and should be taken with caution.

Table 9 presents the probit estimates of the drivers of populism for Latin America. The specification is identical to that for Europe. All regressions include indicators of income, age, gender, and education, and control for country time fixed effects. All standard errors are clustered at the country level.

The results, however, are qualitatively similar to what we found for Europe. Populist vote and trade union membership go hand in hand in the earlier part of the sample, but move in opposite direction since 2007. The estimated coefficient on trade union membership is positive and statistically significant for the sample period from 1996-2005, but turn negative and significant during 2007-2008. In other words, we observe qualitatively similar patterns between Europe and Latin America, albeit with different samples and databases.

Note that under the Latin American voting dataset we do not perform the robustness test by replacing the logit and probit models with the Heckman specification due to lack of data on instruments.

6. Populists in Power. See the full report (download link below).

7. Conclusions

Researchers have focused on the many reasons behind populism, including cultural backlash, economic uncertainty, and lack of trust. But no previous study has focused on the role of civil society. Civil society has long been recognized as a key defence of liberal democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote almost two centuries ago. At the same time, populists, who do not see a role for civil society, may pragmatically use associations as transmission belts, as the historical experience in Latin America may indicate. Thus, one can find arguments for civil society being a protective shield against populism or a vehicle of the populist ideology and the role of civil society in the rise of populism is an empirical matter. However, empirical tests have been lacking. This paper fills this gap.

This paper is innovative also because it encompasses both Europe and Latin America, in contrast from previous studies. This is important because Latin America has a longstanding experience with populist parties in power, and the literature in political science has recognized that all populisms have important traits in common despite the obvious differences due to the different geographical areas and right or left orientation. Our results show remarkable similarities in Latin America and Europe, an indication that the issue highlighted in the paper is important in understanding populism in general. This paper has also shown that unions in Europe (different from other associations) have a weak negative association with populism.

Finally, this paper also sheds new light on the role of the global financial crisis in the political process. The global financial crisis has not simply caused a populist wave. Rather, it may have changed (and enhanced) the role of civil society. In a world where political systems, institutions, and ideologies have been put into question and even discredited, where social democracy in Europe almost disappeared, civil society assumes a new role.

But this paper also opens important questions for future research.

First, why the role of civil associations as a vaccine against the populist vote was less important before the global financial crisis?

Second, what are the specific mechanisms through which belonging to a civil association lowers the populist vote? Is it because associations provide alternative information or because they offer an ideological anchor? Is it because they promote social responsibility beyond onesself? Is it because they offer voice mechanisms alternative to exit-punishment of incumbents? Is it because civil society associations are identity providers moderating the impact of migration on the identity of local communities?

Third, are all associations equivalent or are some associations more effective?

Fourth, do associations have a similar impact on all members of society or is belonging to an association more relevant for some groups?

Future research, possibly benefitting from data also covering the refugee crisis, should further investigate these issues.

Download the full report here (pdf) Populism and Civil Society

IMF Working Papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and to encourage debate. The views expressed in IMF Working Papers are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF, its Executive Board, or IMF management.

HOW SHALL WE LIVE? How Universal Basic Income Solves Widespread Insecurity and Radical Inequality – Daniel Nettle.

Answering the four big objections from critics of UBI.

“A host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Security is one of the most basic human emotional needs.

Contrary to the predictions of mid-twentieth century economists, the age of universal wellbeing has not materialised.

We are washed up on the end of one big idea, failed Neoliberalism, waiting for something else to come along. At best we are dealing with one symptom at a time. Each piecemeal intervention increases the complexity of the state; divides citizens down into finer and finer ad hoc groups each eligible for different transactions; requires more bureaucratic monitoring; and often has unintended and perverse knock-on effects.

Each conditional government welfare scheme generates a bureaucracy of assessment and the need for constant eligibility monitoring, at vast expense.

Something more systemic is needed; an idea with bigger and bolder scope. That big, bold idea just might be the Universal Basic Income.

For UBI to go mainstream, a positive case will need to be made that also draws on easily available simple social heuristics. If we can’t make it make intuitive sense, it will be confined forever to the world of policy nerds.

The health and wellbeing benefits observed in trials of UBI and minimum income guarantees, even over quite short periods, have been so massive that it is hard not to conclude that security does something interesting to human beings, out of all proportion to the monetary value of the transfer, just as Martin Luther King predicted.

Daniel Nettle is Professor of Behavioural Science at Newcastle University. His varied research career has spanned a number of topics, from the behaviour of starlings to the origins of social inequality in human societies. His research is highly interdisciplinary and sits at the boundaries of the social, psychological and biological sciences.

“Can we not find a method of combining the advantages of anarchism and socialism? It seems to me that we can. The plan we are advocating amounts essentially to this: that a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries, should be secured to all, whether they work or not.” Bertrand Russell

Today should be the best time ever to be alive. Thanks to many decades of increasing productive efficiency, the real resources available to enable us to do the things we value, the avocados, the bicycles, the musical instruments, the bricks and glass are more abundant and of better quality than ever. Thus, at least in the industrialised world, we should be living in the Age of Aquarius, the age where the most urgent problem is self-actualisation, not mere subsistence: not ‘How can we live?’, but ‘How shall we live?’.

Why then, does it not feel like the best time ever? Contrary to the predictions of mid-twentieth-century economists, the age of universal wellbeing has not really materialised. Working hours are as high as they were for our parents, if not higher, and the quality of work is no better for most people. Many people work several jobs they do not enjoy, just to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and the lights on. In fact, many people are unable to satisfy these basic wants despite being in work: the greater part of the UK welfare bill, leaving aside retirement pensions, is spent on supporting people who have jobs, not the unemployed. Thousands of people sleep on the streets of Britain every night. Personal debt is at unprecedented levels. Many people feel too harried to even think about self-actualisation.

Twin spectres stalk the land, and help explain the gap between what our grandparents hoped for and what has materialised. These are the spectres of inequality and insecurity. Insecurity, in this context, means not being able to be sure that one will be able to meet one’s basic needs at some point in the future, either because cost may go up, or income may fluctuate. Insecurity is psychologically damaging: most typologies put security as one of the most basic human emotional needs. Insecurity dampens entrepreneurial activity: one of the big reasons that people don’t follow up their innovative ideas is that these are by definition risky, and they worry about keeping bread on the table whilst they try them out. Insecurity deters people from investing in increasing their skills: what if they cannot eat before the investment starts to pay off? It encourages rational short-termism: who would improve a house or a neighbourhood that might be taken away from them in a few months’ time for reasons beyond their control? It also increases the likelihood of anti-social behaviour: I would not steal a loaf of bread if I knew there was no danger of going hungry anyway, but faced with the danger of starvation tomorrow, I would seriously consider it. Insecurity is a problem that affects those who have little to start with especially acutely: hence the link between insecurity and inequality.

Big problems require big ideas. Our current generation of politicians don’t really have ideas big enough to deal with the problems of widespread insecurity and marked inequality. Big ideas come along every few decades. The last one was about forty years ago: neoliberalism, the idea that market competition between private-sector corporations would deliver the social outcomes we all wanted, as long as government got out of the way as far as possible. Interestingly, neoliberalism was not such an obviously good idea that politicians of all stripes ‘just got it’. It took several decades of carefully orchestrated deliberate communication and advocacy, which was not at all successful at first, to eventually make it seem, across the political spectrum, that the idea was so commonsensical as to be obvious. I don’t think any of the early advocates of neoliberalism could possibly have dreamed that after thirty years of implementation of their big idea, available incomes would have stagnated or declined for the median family; public faith in corporate capitalism would have seeped away; even the UK Conservative party would have to concede that market mechanisms did not really work as envisaged; or that the major UK political parties would both be advocating government-imposed pricecaps in an area, the supply of energy, where the neoliberal market model had been followed to its logical conclusion. It feels like we are washed up on the end of one big idea, waiting for something else to come along.

Our current politicians propose to deal with symptoms piecemeal, a minimum-wage increase here, a price cap there, rent-control in the other place; tax credits for those people; financial aid to buy a house for those others. At best we are dealing with one symptom at a time. Each piecemeal intervention increases the complexity of the state; divides citizens down into finer and finer ad hoc groups each eligible for different transactions; requires more bureaucratic monitoring; and often has unintended and perverse knock-on effects. For example, helping young people to buy a house with government financial aid only maintains the high levels of house prices. Vendors can simply factor into the price the transfer from government that they will receive. The policy would be much less popular if millions of pounds of taxpayer money were just given directly to large property development corporations, but that might as well be what the policy did. No, something more systemic is needed; an idea with bigger and bolder scope. That big, bold idea just might be the Universal Basic Income.

A Universal Basic Income (UB1) is a regular financial payment made to all eligible adults, whether they work or not, regardless of their other income. People can know that it will always be there, now and in the future. It should not be a fortune, but it should ideally be enough that no-one ever needs to be hungry or cold.

All developed societies agree on the need to protect citizens from desperate want that may befall them, usually for reasons beyond their control. However, the ways we currently make these transfers are incredibly complex. Guy Standing reports that in the USA, there are at least 126 different federal assistance schemes, not to mention state-level ones. In the UK, individuals have had until recently to be separately assessed for unemployment support, ill-health support, carer support, working tax credits (which amount to low-income support), and so on. The new Universal Credit system only partly simplifies this thicket. Each conditional scheme generates a bureaucracy of assessment and the need for constant eligibility monitoring, at vast expense.

Moreover, conditional transfers always generate incentive problems. If you go back into work after being unemployed, you lose benefits. If you are a carer and the person you care for recovers, you are financially penalised: you do better by keeping them ill. If your wages or hours go up, you lose out in benefit reductions. Under the UK’s new Universal Credit system, the marginal tax rate (the amount you lose of every extra pound you earn in the job market if you are a recipient) is around 80%, and that scheme was a reform designed to increase the incentive to work! Moreover, the 80% figure does not factor in the fact that if you move briefly out of eligibility, for example for some seasonal work, you are uncertain about when and whether you would be able to get back in afterwards, should you need to. This is a disincentive for taking the work.

It is very hard to eliminate these perversities within any system of conditional, circumstance-specific transfers.

The UBI, then, seems like a good idea. It is far from a new one. It has fragmentary roots in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the twentieth century, there was one wave of enthusiasm in the 1920s, and another in the late 1960s and 1970s. The second wave generated a positive consensus, specific policy proposals, and a certain amount of pilot activity, but other paths ended up being taken. The idea has never quite died, though. It is now back in political consciousness in a very big way.

Why, when the UBI seems such a good idea, when it has been cognitively available to us for so long, when so many very clever people have modelled it and found it desirable, is there no developed society on earth in which it has been fully implemented? Partly this is because democratic governments, indeed societies in general, are poor at farreaching systemic reform, instead finding it easier to tinker with and tune existing systems. It’s only the political outsiders who dare propose massive change, they have less to lose. But it is also because human psychology is an obstacle to the UBI, and this is what interests me in this essay. As Pascal Boyer and Michael Bang Petersen have recently argued, when we (non-specialists) think about how the economy ought to be organized, we don’t derive our conclusions from formal theory, simulations, or systematic research evidence. No, we generally fall back on simple social heuristics, like ‘if someone takes a benefit, they ought to pay a commensurate cost’; ‘more for you is less for me’; or ‘people should only get help when they are in need’. These simple social heuristics are all well and good for the problems they developed to solve, basically, regulating everyday dyadic or small-group social interactions. But they don’t automatically lead us to the right conclusions when trying to design optimal institutions for a complex system like a modern capitalist economy.

Certain aspects of the UBI idea violate one of these simple social heuristics. In fact, the UBI sometimes manages to violate two different and contradictory simple social heuristics simultaneously, as we shall see. These violations are like notes played slightly out of tune: they just seem wrong, before one has had to think much about it. Politicians are afraid of these reactions; they don’t like going out to campaign and meeting the same immediate objections all the time. If you want to build a consensus for the UBI, you have to analyse these jarring notes with some care, and develop a counter-strategy. For UBI to go mainstream, a positive case will need to be made that also draws on easily available simple social heuristics. If we can’t make it make intuitive sense, it will be confined forever to the world of policy nerds.

Fortunately, the challenge can be met. Our simple social heuristics do not constitute a formally consistent system, like arithmetic (why would they?). Instead, they are a diverse bunch of often contradictory gut feelings and moral reactions each triggered by particular contextual cues. For example, we do have strong intuitions that people should not take a benefit without paying a commensurate cost, but these intuitions only get triggered when certain sets of features are present in the situation. These features include: the resource is scarce enough every additional unit of it is valuable to me; the resource was created by deliberate individual effort; the person taking the benefit is somehow dissimilar to me, so their interests are not closely tied in to mine; and it is feasible to monitor who is getting what at reasonable cost.

The features do not always obtain: the resource might be more plentiful than anyone really needs; its acquisition might be mainly due to luck; the other people might be fundamentally similar to me, or their interests closely bound up with mine; or the cost of monitoring who got what might be prohibitive. In such situations, humans everywhere merrily and intuitively sign up to the proposition: the resource should be shared out somehow. There are a number of ways this can happen: pure communal sharing, where each qualifying individual just takes what they like, or equality matching, where every qualifying individual is allotted an equal share as of right. Every society has domains in which communal sharing or equality matching is deployed in preference to market pricing (the rule ‘you should only take a benefit if you pay a commensurate cost’).

Hunter-gatherers deal with large game, chancy and producing a huge surfeit when it comes, by communal sharing. Even in the more private property focussed Western societies, communal sharing is ubiquitous. Households, for example. If I buy a litre of milk, I don’t give my wife a bill at the end of the week for whatever she uses. Su casa es mi casa. Communal sharing or equality matching happens beyond households too. It is anathema to suggest that the residents of Summerhill Square might charge passersby for the air they breathe whilst walking through. Very few people think that those who pay more taxes should get more votes. When proposals are made to move a resource from the domain of the communally shared or equality matched to the priced, there is outcry: witness the response that greets proposals for road tolls in places where use of the roads is currently free; or to charge money at the gates of the town park. The case for the UBI is the case for moving part, no means all, of our money the other way, out of conditionality and into the domain of the equality-matched. Getting your head around it involves framing your understanding of our current economic situation in such a way as to trigger the appropriate equality-matching intuitions. Here as in many other political domains, those who determine the framing of the problem get to have a big influence on the outcome.

Whenever one talks about the UBI, one hears the same objections, including:

– How can we afford such a scheme?

– Why should I give my money to people for them to do nothing in return?

– Why would anyone work if they were given money for free?

– Why should we give money to the rich, who don’t need it?

The first of these objections is the easiest to dispose of. There have been detailed recent costings for the UK, which vary in their assumptions, but the consensus is that introduction of a modest initial UBI scheme would require surprisingly little disruption to our current tax and expenditure system; perhaps modest tax rises, perhaps no change, perhaps tax cuts. If this surprises you, let me give you the following back-of-an-envelope calculations. There are around 65 million people in the UK, of whom 63% are aged between 16 and 64. Assuming that the over 65s will continue with their current pension arrangements instead of the UBI, that gives us at most 41 million adults to cater for, plus about 12 million under-16s. Let’s say we want to give £80 per week to each of the adults. This would cost £171 billion per annum. And let’s further say that we want to give £40 per week, to the mother or other caregiver, for each child under 16. That’s another £25 billion, giving a nice round £200 billion in total.

Of course, £200 billion a year is an eye-watering sum. But UK government expenditure in 2017 was £814 billion, so we are only talking about one quarter of what the government spends anyway. Increasing government expenditure by one quarter might be a rather rash move, but this would not be the net increase, because the UBI would produce savings elsewhere. The welfare bill for 2017, less retirement pensions, was £153 billion. It’s unrealistic to expect a UBI scheme to reduce this to zero: most UBI advocates argue for retaining some extra provision for the disabled, and also retaining, for the time being, means-tested benefits to pay housing rental in some cases (the cost of housing is so high in parts of the UK that many people would become homeless if this disappeared overnight). But certainly, we might hope to eliminate up to £100 billion, or 2/3, of the non-pensions welfare bill, including a very large part of the administrative cost. So we are already half-way there.

At present, most UK adults are taxed at a zero rate on the Iirst £8,164 of earned income, 12% from £8,164 to £11,500, and 32% above £11,500. What this means, in effect, is that anyone earning £11,500 or more is effectively being given a freebie from the state of £3680, compared to being standardly taxed at 32% from the first pound. This figure, £3680 per year is, you will note, not so very far off my proposed initial UBI of £4160 anyway. Personal tax allowances cost the government around £100 billion per annum in foregone revenue. If my proposed UBI were to be introduced, it would be reasonable to ask people to pay their taxes from the first pound. For people like me who earn more than £11,500 per annum, the introduction of the UBI would then be largely neutral, my tax bill going up by around £4000, offset by £4000 coming separately into my bank account as UBI.

So, if you will allow me very broad approximations, moving to a modest UBI would cost about £200 billion per annum, to be funded by about £100 billion of welfare savings, and about £100 billion from abolishing personal tax allowances, so pretty much fiscally neutral.

And this is just a business-as-usual analysis of the likely financial consequences. What advocates believe is that there will be positive knock-on effects: people will be able to move to more productive and enjoyable jobs, or start entrepreneurial activities; people have no financial disincentives to take casual work or increase their hours; the expensive negative psychological consequences of insecurity (anxiety, depression, addiction, maybe even crime) will improve. Thus, what you end up with will be a net saving for the government, not a net cost.

The initial scheme discussed above, and other proposals like it, are not immediately very redistributive. Those currently receiving full Universal Credit would only end up with about the same as their current entitlement; and, as I mentioned above, for well-off people like me, the UBI would be almost exactly offset by the increase in my tax bill. So what is the point of such a reform? The answer has to do with security. I see UBI not so much as an immediate solution to inequality (you would have to set it very high to have a big direct effect on the inequality figures), but as a prophylactic against insecurity. For a wealthy person such as myself, there’s not much financial difference between getting a personal tax allowance and receiving a UBI, until my life is hit with a shock. I am well-off now, but I might not always be. Say I suddenly lose my job, or need to care for my wife. I know the UBI will continue to be there, every week, without any action required of my part. I can factor it into my worst expectations. The same is not true of the transfer effected by my personal tax allowance. And this, briefly, is the best response to objection 4, ‘Why should we give money to the rich, who don’t need it?’ Well, as long as they remain rich, then they are net payers into the system, since their tax bill exceeds their UBI, so we are giving them money only in an accounting sense. But it is still better to have them make a large tax payment in and concurrently take a small UBI payment out, rather than just make their tax rate a bit lower, because they might suddenly become non-rich at any moment. The UBI is ready for that moment should it come. To counter objection 4, we need to activate the social heuristics: ‘anyone could have bad luck’ and ‘everyone is potentially in the same boat’.

There is a large difference between the knowledge that £80 a week will always come into my bank account, this week, next month, and for the rest of my life; and the knowledge that, if things go badly for me, I can do a complex application process, be subjected to a humiliating and lengthy bureaucratic examination, following which, after a delay of up to six weeks during which I will receive nothing, about £80 per week may or may not start to appear in my bank account, and could be withdrawn at any moment if I am ten minutes late for an interview, or am deemed to not be sick enough or not be trying hard enough to look for work.

It is ironic that the system we often refer to as ‘social security’ provides the exact opposite of that: it provides continual, unplannable for uncertainty akin to a sword of Damacles.

The insecure, such as those waiting for benefits decisions or enduring benefits sanctions, have short term problems of liquidity. They lose their homes and possessions, or end up having to borrow money at very high interest rates. This is expensive and spirals them into abject poverty. Reducing insecurity could have an indirect effect on inequality, by stopping this spiral. And the health and wellbeing benefits observed in trials of UBI and minimum income guarantees, even over quite short periods, have been so massive that it is hard not to conclude that security does something interesting to human beings, out of all proportion to the monetary value of the transfer, just as Martin Luther King predicted.

What about objection 2 (‘Why should I give my money to people for them to do nothing in return?’). The objection has two parts: there’s a part about my money being my money, and a part about giving to other people without them doing anything in return. Both parts are important.

First, the my money part. All societies distinguish between individually owned resources and communal resources, though they draw the line in different places. Across societies, alienating an individually-owned resource from someone is morally wrong; but depriving people of a communal resource is equally so. The kinds of cues that trigger intuitions of individual ownership are: my having transformed the material extensively through deliberate action; the resource having been given to me by someone in return for something specific; or the resource having been in my sole possession and use for some time. The kinds of cues that trigger intuitions of communal ownership are: the resource being very abundant; its use being hard to monitor and police; a little of it being essential for everyone’s survival; and the having of it being mainly due to luck. So I think a first move you need to make in making the UBI make sense is to loosen the hold of the individual ownership schema on the money in your wage packet.

The money in my wage packet certainly feels like a good candidate for individual ownership. I have worked hard to get where I have, and this leads to the intuition that every penny in my wage packet is mine, should not be given away to other people without a specific reciprocal service rendered. I supposed I should grudgingly admit that I have got some help from others in earning my salary as an academic, I mean it’s not quite all my own sweat. Following the logic of individual ownership, I should really have paid for all these inputs at point of use, but somehow I didn’t always do so. There’s the statistical computing language R, the backbone of all my research; developed by people I didn’t know and made freely available without me lifting a finger. Maybe 1p in every pound I earn is really owable to the R Foundation for Statistical Computing.

Then come to think of it there is the computer itself, developed by a mixture of public and private investment mainly before I was born. It’s unthinkable that I could be a productive modern professor without this input available. So really I should attribute 2p of each pound I earn to having had that available. Come to think of it, I could not really earn anything as a professor without the existence of an affluent society in which enough people are freed from daily subsistence activities as to want to spend their time studying behavioural science. So I guess I owe the Industrial Revolution say 5p; and then another 3p to those Europeans who invented a rather good system of universities for students to come and study at. Oh, and I do use the scientific method rather a lot (say 4p distributed across a wide range of people in many countries over the last couple of hundred years, and another 2p specifically for the intellectual work of creating my discipline). And a couple of pence in the pound for the philosophers of the enlightenment; without them to make the world safe for my kind I would at best be a priest with low wages. And then there’s the Romans. What did the Romans ever do for me? Well, there’s the sanitation. And the roads…

As soon as we complete this exercise, we are forced to concede that what seems like my money only partly meets all the triggers for individual ownership (my individual labour produced it). In large part, it is a windfall of cumulative cultural evolution. I just got lucky to be born into a shared cultural and technological heritage. I can’t pay back to all those parties whose cultural activities contributed to my luck, since many of them are long gone (and besides, they are innumerable and diverse). But accepting that what I earn is partly due to an abundant social windfall created by a whole society over time, whose use and scope is hard to monitor, and I acquired by sheer luck, loosens the hold of the intuition that all my money all belongs exclusively to me. It’s a short step from ‘a part of what I receive from society is due to our common, difficult to monitor, abundant social luck’ to ‘a part of what I receive should be shared out’.

So now we turn to the part about why I should give anything to strangers without requiring them to pay any particular cost in return. A popular pro-UBI argument here, which goes back to Thomas Paine, is that people should be recompensed for the natural heritage that has been alienated from them. The land has been enclosed and privatised; the water has been bottled and sold; you can’t just chop down the trees, hunt game or build a house where you want, as you would have been able to do at the dawn of society. The UBI is this recompense, the royalty, if you will, on an inheritance that was once socially shared but has been taken away by civilization. This reasoning is fine, but a bit lofty and philosophical. I prefer a quiverful of different, more forward looking arguments.

First, social transfers of some kind are necessary, and monitoring them under the current system is really costly. The UK government recently announced that it needed to review whether its rules on disability benefit claims had been applied correctly to recent claimants. This review is estimated to cost £3.7 billion. That’s enough to give my proposed UBI to everyone in the town of Hexham for over 8 years. Not the cost of the benefit, not the cost of administering the benefit, just the cost of one review of whether the benefit has in fact been correctly administered, for a benefit that only a small fraction of the UK population claims anyway. Scale that up and you appreciate the madness of how we currently administer social transfers.

Second, I do derive all kinds of payoffs from the welfare of others, even strangers. What are they? Well, I enjoy strolling around my city. I enjoy living in a nice orderly street. I enjoy going to the theatre. If my cocitizens were so hungry and desperate that they turned to assaulting their fellows, smashing property, not tending their yards, and abandoning the arts, my personal wellbeing would be directly reduced. I like writing books and giving lectures. It’s therefore in my direct interest that as many people as possible have the resources to read or attend these. Businesses can only flourish if there are people well enough off to be customers. This was the great insight of Henry T. Ford: he realised he could really make a lot more money once he paid his workers enough that they would be able to buy his cars. It’s the kind of reverse Ponzi scheme trick, or perpetual motion machine, of modern consumer capitalism: those at the top of the pyramid need enough money to get down to those at the bottom of the pyramid that those people can buy goods and services, which means that the money comes back up to them again. Otherwise the whole thing grinds to a nasty halt.

One way of thinking about this is to say that, in a community, because of the fundamentally social character of human life, the wellbeing of each individual creates a spill-over benefit for the others. It’s what economists call a positive externality. Because of the changes in behaviour that will follow from my neighbour not being in completely dire straits, my life improves a tiny little bit as theirs does. This improvement is very real and substantial, but hard to tie to any one act my neighbour does, and hence hard to monitor or account for in a ledger.

Third, the marginal wellbeing returns to keeping all of my money are diminishing. Diminishing marginal returns mean that if the first few hundred pounds of income massively improve my well-being, then the next few hundred improve it slightly less, and so on. A few years ago, Karthik Panchanathan, Tage Rai, Alan Fiske and I produced a simple model of what resource distribution a selfish actor should prefer when there are positive social externalities, and diminishing wellbeing returns. We imagined a simple world where there are two actors, me and someone else. We put a value 5 on the positive externality that flows to me as the other person’s well-being increases by one unit. Now we ask: if I can decide how all the available resources get divided up, what allocation should I prefer? The exact numerical answer depends on the value of s and the degree to which marginal returns diminish, but generally, the result is the following. I should want to keep everything up until the point where I myself have got off the steepest part of the increasing wellbeing curve. Above that, it becomes rational for me to want the other actor to have the next chunk of resource, since the positive social externality coming to me from their large increase in wellbeing (they are still on the steep bit of the curve, remember) outweighs the rather small increase in my wellbeing I get from keeping it (since I am on the flatter bit of the curve). There is no ‘problem of cheating’ in this model, since we assume that the positive externalities arise from behavioural changes that the other party will simply want to make anyway as their state improves. It’s a model of mutual benefit, or interdependence, rather than tit-for-tat.

This is the reasoning I would use with a well-off person to advocate funding a UBI from their taxes. The money you put into other people’s UBIs will directly increase your individual wellbeing, because in a society where no-one is desperate, it’s easier for the things you really value and derive benefit from to flourish. Furthermore, as already discussed, UBI offers security to you too. You may not need it right now, but you could do in the future. Both of these are self-interest arguments, where selfinterest is construed sufficiently broadly. You have to be careful about basing all policy arguments on self-interest: it can end up signalling that self-interest is the only normal reason for action, which could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nonetheless, perhaps here having self-interest on side helps buttress nobler motives. Experience shows that the long-term success of social policies is tied to the relatively well-off seeing themselves as getting something from them. Where schemes are perceived to benefit only an ‘underclass’, different in kind from the people footing the bill, support is easily driven away in the next downturn.

Objection 3 (‘Why would anyone work if they were given money for free?’) is based on the reasonable intuition that conditionality is important in motivating others to do something. One does not generally say to the plumber: ‘Here’s £100. I’m hoping that at some point you will fix my tap’. However nice the plumber might be, the incentives are a bit wrong here. And if people withdrew their supply of labour, the very affluence that can fund the UBI would be undermined.

The best way to loosen this objection is to remind one’s interlocutor of two things. First, the UBI is only ever going to be basic, and people want more than basic out of life. If people’s life ambitions were limited to gaining some modest level of income of £5000 or £10000 per annum a year and then stopping, then frankly, the behaviour of the vast majority of people in western societies for the last century would be completely incomprehensible. Lottery winners almost universally continue to work, though often not in their previous jobs. Academics don’t work less when they become full professors: they work harder. The very same critics who say that people won’t do anything if given money for free also often advocate the awarding of huge salaries, millions of pounds per annum, to CEOs and other leaders. Admittedly, those huge salaries are conditional on working, whereas the UBI is not. But the fact that the salary allegedly needs to be so huge to attract candidates implies that people are motivated not just by getting a little bit of money, but by getting a lot. So those who advocate large salaries must believe that the motivation for more money holds up at levels of income way above the basic (at least for the right sort of people, but hey, maybe all people are the right sort).

Second, more important than the amount of labour people supply is the productivity of that labour. By this, I mean people choosing to do activities that are socially useful, in which they are happy, and that they are good at. That has to be key to maximising social wellbeing as well as economic stability in future. There is plenty of evidence from pilot schemes of the effect of the UBI (or similar policies) on labour supply. In the 1970s North American schemes, reductions in work hours were real but very modest. No-one stopped working altogether (and these were minimum income guarantee schemes, which provide stronger disincentives for work than a fully unconditional UBI). The slight reductions in labour supply overall were mainly explained by the behaviour of specific groups: parents took more time out of the labour market to look after their children; and young people were more likely to stay on in education, to improve their skills. Need I point out that these are all things that the state currently subsidizes people to do, at considerable cost, because they are felt to be socially desirable? In short, as Michael Howard has put it: ‘In the pilot schemes people withdrew from the labour market, but the kind of labour market withdrawal you got was the kind you would welcome’.In more recent trials of a full UBI in India and Namibia, overall economic activity actually went up, as more people were able to afford to access job markets, or began entrepreneurial activities on their own accounts. I believe that under a UBI scheme, work would continue, and become better: innovation, worthwhile work, scholarship, and the arts would flourish, whilst degrading or miserable jobs would have to pay people more or treat them better. Hardly the end of civilization as we know it then.

If people persist with their intuition that UBI incentivizes people to do nothing, then the argument of last resort is the following: If you think it is stupid to give money to people even if they do nothing (UBI), then you ought to think it really stupid to give people money only on condition that they do nothing (the current means-tested benefits system). How much sense does that make?

There is one other great obstacle to acceptance of the UBI. People can’t figure out whether it is a left-wing idea, or a right-wing one, so neither side takes it fully to its heart. At first it seems left-wing: making the welfare system more humane and less conditional, transferring money from those with most income to those with less, is the latest tool to further a long-standing socialist or social-democratic concern with inequality and social justice. The neoliberal big idea has failed. A big idea based on collective action must replace it, and the UBI is part of that idea.

But good UBI arguments have come from the right, too. Freemarket economist Milton Friedman flirted with the idea, and the most serious Federal-level US policy initiative, the Family Assistance Plan (born about 1968, died about 1973) was proposed by a Republican president (Nixon) and largely killed off by the Democratic party. The right-wing (or libertarian) argument is that UBI massively simplifies the state, and could facilitate it relinquishing a lot of its micro-control over our lives. For example, if a UBI is there providing a protective floor for everyone, does the state also need to regulate minimum wages so closely? Couldn’t people protected from dire exploitation by the UBI make their own minds up about what paid labour they wish to do under what conditions? Perhaps, going further down this line, the UBI plus control of law and order, is pretty much all the state needs to do, internally at any rate. We’ve given everyone enough to avoid starvation and be able to participate in economic life in a minimally sufficient way. After that, they are on their own: they can contract for the goods and services they choose in the market. This argument makes UBI the missing piece that completes, not replaces, the neoliberal vision.

In another essay, I have written about the difficulty of inter-disciplinarity. Valuable integrative ideas can languish in the academic uncanny valley, not obviously owned by one discipline or another, and thus fail to have their potential recognized by anyone. Ideas that are quite good from two points of view, perversely, end up being championed by neither side, and thus have less immediate success than ideas that only appeal to one camp or the other. But what happens to the best of these ideas, in the end, is interesting: They go quite abruptly from all parties saying ‘that makes no sense’, to all parties saying ‘well, everyone knows that!’. There’s a similar adage in public policy: Important policy reforms are politically impossible, until just about the point where they are politically inevitable. We’ve seen plenty of examples of this in the slow and halting march of progress. Perhaps that is what will happen with UBI. We will look back and wonder what took us quite so long. Until then, and this is what scholars are uniquely placed to do, we have to keep the idea alive.

Excerpt from Hanging On To The Edges by Daniel Nettle (2018).

Evonomics

The “Exhausted Majority”, Hidden Tribes of America – More In Common.

Turning the tide of tribalism is possible, but it won’t be easy. A majority of Americans are fed up with America’s polarization, we have more in common than that which divides us.

Progressive Activists seek to correct the historic marginalization of groups based on their race. gender, sexuality, wealth and other forms of privilege.

Devoted Conservatives believe that individuals need to be raised to be obedient, well behaved and hard working. They take pride in the Judeo Christian faith and American culture.

Despite these stark differences this study also finds reasons for hope. America’s political landscape is much more complicated than the binary split between liberals and conservatives often depicted in the national conversation.

America has never felt so divided. Bitter debates that were once confined to Congressional hearings and cable TV have now found their way into every part of our lives, from our Facebook feeds to the family dinner table. But most Americans are tired of this “us-versus-them” mindset and are eager to find common ground. This is the message we’ve heard from more than 8,000 Americans in one of our country’s largest ever studies of polarization: We hold dissimilar views on many issues. However, more than three in four Americans also believe that our differences aren’t so great that we can’t work together.
Americans have real differences and real disagreements with each other. We must be able to listen to each other to understand those differences and find common ground. That’s the focus of the Hidden Tribes project: to understand better what is pulling us apart, and find what can bring us back together.

Progressive Activists are deeply concerned with issues concerning equity, fairness, and America’s direction today. They tend to be more secular, cosmopolitan, and highly engaged with social media.

Traditional Liberals tend to be cautious, rational, and idealistic. They value tolerance and compromise. They place great faith in institutions.

Passive Liberals tend to feel isolated from their communities. They are insecure in their beliefs and try to avoid political conversations. They have a fatalistic view of politics and feel that the circumstances of their lives are beyond their control.

The Politically Disengaged are untrusting, suspicious about external threats, conspiratorially minded, and pessimistic about progress. They tend to be patriotic yet detached from politics.

Moderates are engaged in their communities, well informed, and civic-minded. Their faith is often an important part of their lives. They shy away from extremism of any sort.

Traditional Conservatives tend to be religious, patriotic, and highly moralistic. They believe deeply in personal responsibility and self-reliance.

Devoted Conservatives are deeply engaged with politics and hold strident, uncompromising views. They feel that America is embattled, and they perceive themselves as the last defenders of traditional values that are under threat.

Hidden Tribes

ABOUT MORE IN COMMON

The report was conducted by More in Common, a new international initiative to build societies and communities that are stronger, more united, and more resilient to the increasing threats of polarization and social division. We work in partnership with a wide range of civil society groups, as well as philanthropy, business, faith, education, media and government to connect people across the lines of division.

Principal Authors

Stephen Hawkins, Director of Research – Daniel Yudkin, Ph. D., Associate Director of Research – Miriam Juan-Torres, Senior Researcher – Tim Dixon, Co-Founder

More In Common

This report is about polarization in America today: what is driving us apart, and what can bring us back together.

Political polls and years of knife-edge elections have convinced many that our country has become a 50:50 society. divided into two opposing political tribes and trapped in a spiral of conflict and division.

Our research uncovered a different story, one that probes underneath the issues that polarize Americans, and finds seven groups that are defined by their core beliefs, rather than by their political opinions, race, class or gender.

In talking to everyday Americans, we have found a large segment of the population whose voices are rarely heard above the shouts of the partisan tribes. These are people who believe that Americans have more in common than that which divides them. While they differ on important issues, they feel exhausted by the division in the United States. They believe that compromise is necessary in politics, as in other parts of life, and want to see the country come together and solve its problems.

In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America’s differences have become dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants, the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.

These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security, become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.

Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate. The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us.

Our polarization is not simple, but not is it insoluble. We need to understand it, so we can fix it. More in Common hopes that this report can help inform and inspire this urgent work.

Executive Summary

This report lays out the findings of a large-scale national survey of Americans about the current state of civic life in the United States. It provides substantial evidence of deep polarization and growing tribalism. It shows that this polarization is rooted in something deeper than political opinions and disagreements over policy. But it also provides some evidence for optimism, showing that 77 percent of Americans believe our differences are not so great that we cannot come together.

At the root of America’s polarization are divergent sets of values and worldviews. or “core beliefs.” These core beliefs shape the ways that individuals Interpret the world around them at the most fundamental level. Our study shows how political opinions stem from these deeply held core beliefs.

This study examines five dimensions of individuals’ core beliefs:

– Tribaiism and group identification

– Fear and perception of threat

– Parenting style and authoritarian disposition

– Moral foundations

– Personal agency and responsibility

The study finds that this hidden architecture of beliefs, worldview and group attachments can predict an individual‘s views on social and political issues with greater accuracy than demographic factors like race, gender, or income.

The research undertaken for this report identifies seven segments of Americans (or “tribes”) who are distinguished by differences in their underlying beliefs and attitudes. Membership in these tnbes was determined by each individual‘s answers to a subset of 58 core belief and behavioral questions that were asked together with the rest of the survey. None of the questions used to create the segmentation related to current political issues or demographic indicators such as race, gender, age or income, yet the responses that each segment gives to questions on current political issues are remarkably predictable and show a very clear pattern.

The segments have distinctive sets of characteristics; here listed in order from left to right on the ideological spectrum:

Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.

Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.

Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.

Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial.

Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant. Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.

Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged. uncompromising, patriotic.

The relevance of the segmentation is evident on a wide array of subjects, from issues of race and prejudice to gender and sexuality. Progressive Activists, the most liberal group, and Devoted Conservatives, the most conservative. show strong degrees of consistency within their ranks, while being almost perfectly at odds with each other. Middle tribes, by contrast, orient themselves incrementally on the ideological spectrum.

Further evidence of the relevance of core beliefs and their associated tribal identities is that tribal membership predicts differences in Americans’ views on various political issues better than demographic, ideological, and partisan groupings. This can be seen on subjects such as approval of President Trump, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and approval of the modern feminist agenda. On these questions and many others, the differences between the most ideological segments are greater than the differences between, for instance. self-described “strong Republicans” and “strong Democrats.”

The most dramatic difference between the tribes is that which arises between the Progressive Activists and the Devoted Conservatives.

Devoted Conservatives believe that individuals need to be raised to be obedient, well behaved and hard working. They take pride in the Judeo Christian faith and American culture. They believe that their traditional values can transform flawed individuals into people of self discipline. character and responsibility.

Progressive Activists, who are at the opposite end of the spectrum. are skeptical of traditional authority and norms. They see those values as being established by socially dominant groups such as straight white men, for their own benefit. Progressive Activists seek to correct the historic marginalization of groups based on their race. gender, sexuality, wealth and other forms of privilege.

But despite these stark differences. this study also finds reasons for hope. America’s political landscape is much more complicated than the binary split between liberals and conservatives often depicted in the national conversation. In particular, we find among the seven tribes, an “Exhausted Majority,” whose members do not conform to either partisan ideology.

The Exhausted Majority contains distinct groups of people with varying degrees of political understanding and activism. But they share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.

Members of the Exhausted Majority are considerably more ideologically flexible than members of other groups. While members of the “wing” groups (on both the left and the right) tend to hold strong and consistent views across a range of political issues, those in the Exhausted Majority tend to deviate significantly in their views from issue to issue.

Furthermore, the wing groups, which often dominate the national conversation, are in fact in considerable isolation in their views on certain topics. For instance, 82 percent of Americans agree that hate speech is a problem in America today, but 80 percent also view political correctness as an issue. By contrast. only 30 percent of Progressive Activists believe political correctness is a problem.

Similarly, most Americans hold complex views on refugees. Sixty-three percent of Americans are concerned that the refugee screening process “is not tough enough to keep out possible terrorists”, but 64 percent simultaneously believe that “people should be able to take refuge in other countries, including America, to escape from war or persecution”. Just 27 percent of Devoted Conservatives agree in this principle of the US accepting refugees. This suggests that the Exhausted Majority is more practical and less ideological than its more extreme counterparts.

Yet it would be a mistake to think of the Exhausted Majority merely as a group of political centrists, at least in the way that term is traditionally understood. They do not simply represent a midpoint between the warring tribes of the left and right. They are frustrated with the status quo and the conduct of American politics and public debate. They overwhelmingly believe that the American government is rigged to serve the rich and influential, and they want things to change.

With that said. there is nevertheless one segment within the Exhausted Majority that matches the traditional understanding of centrism: the Moderates. who comprise 15 percent of the population and whose views are consistently very close to the center of public opinion.

The Exhausted Majority may be the key to countering polarization.

Traditional Liberals and Moderates instinctively support compromise. Their voices would be strengthened if the Passive Liberals develop greater confidence in the value of their participation. On the other hand. the Politically Disengaged are at risk of being drawn into polarizing us versus them narratives, especially given their comparatively high levels of distrust and suspicion.

Differences in people’s underlying beliefs have always existed in healthy societies. Today, however. these differences are becoming more difficult to mediate. Liberals and conservatives are moving farther apart, and tribal tensions are boiling over more regularly in politics and media as well as in daily life.

The forces driving polarization have a variety of sources including economic insecurity, growing inequality, cultural and demographic change, and the weakening of local communities.

Many people are feeling a loss of identity and belonging. Populists and extremists are exploiting these vulnerabilities by advancing us-versus them narratives, often focusing on immigrants and refugees. Social media is heightening conflict in public debate and bringing extreme narratives into the mainstream?

If we can better comprehend what lies behind our differences, we may prevent this polarization from spiraling out of control. Many Americans today suffer from deep injustices related to their race, sex, religion, sexuality and other facets of their identities. But productive national dialogue about these and other critical issues has reached an impasse, in large part due to the widening gap between the major ideological and partisan perspectives.

The goal of this report is to improve our understanding of this polarization and its underlying causes. It highlights the need to unite Americans of conflicting beliefs and values. These connections create empathy and put people’s opinions and beliefs into a more human context. This report tries to capture that human context by allowing Americans from every position on the political spectrum to speak for themselves.

Download this report Hidden Tribes

The Collapse Of European Social Democracy, Part 2 – Paul Sweeney.

In the first part of his analysis Paul Sweeney pointed to a variety of causes behind the decline of social democracy over the past 30 years or more. In this second part he looks at wider economic and social trends since the 2008 crisis, including the ever-widening gap between rich and poor and growth in inequality, and concludes that social democrats must revaluate and revalue the role of the (benign) state – not least in defending precious liberties.

Social Democrats embraced conservative parties’ populist appeals for low taxes on incomes, inheritances and, particularly, on corporates profits. Thomas Piketty has shown how far taxes on top incomes and wealth have been reduced over decades from rates over 90 percent on incomes in the USA, Germany, Britain and France in the 1950s to less than half of that today. There was also a pronounced shift to more regressive taxes on consumption. This impacted the poor most – traditional SD supporters. Industrial-scale tax avoidance and evasion enabled by hyper-globalisation went unaddressed.

Social Europe

The Collapse Of European Social Democracy, Part1 – Paul Sweeney.

Social Democracy is a political philosophy that supports intervention by the state in the economy and society to promote social justice. At its heart are Keynesian economics and the welfare state. SD favours a strong state over the market. SD used the power of the state to ensure that markets worked for all. It seeks progress by reform rather than by revolution within liberal democracies.

In 2000, Social Democrats or Socialists were part of government in ten out of the fifteen countries that then made up the European Union. In late 2018, they are in government in two states and in coalition governments in just 7 of the 28 member states.

Social Europe

The politics shaping the Nobel prize in economics. 

The prize matters to everyone, because of market liberalism, which advocates marketisation, deregulation, union-busting, financialisation, inequality, outsourcing of healthcare, pensions and education, low taxes for the rich, and globalisation. In the 1990s, this rightwing platform was endorsed by New Labour, Clinton Democrats, and their equivalents elsewhere.

Like market liberalism, economics regards buying and selling in markets as the template for human relations and claims that market choices scale up to the social good. But the doctrines of economics are not well founded: premises are unrealistic, models inconsistent, predictions often wrong. The halo of the prize has lent credibility to policies that harm society, to inequality and financial disorder.

In the meantime, the me-first assumptions of economics have led to corruption and tax inequity, and an escalating public mistrust of governing elites. Valid economic doctrine has come into disrepute. Disdain for experts, and disaffection with economic reasoning has energised a politics of the excluded, of Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and now Brexit. The Guardian