Monday, March 23, 2009

NEWSWEEK Cover: The Thinking Man's Guide to Populist Rage

22 Mar 2009 17:42 Africa/Lagos

NEWSWEEK Cover: The Thinking Man's Guide to Populist Rage

Newsweek Looks at Perils of Populist Rage in a Series of Essays

The Best Way To Respond is To 'Treat Americans as Partners in the Grand Enterprise of Governance,' Writes Michael Kazin

Robert J. Samuelson, Eliot Spitzer, Rick Perlstein, Robert H. Frank, Joel Kotkin Look at Whether Populism is Threat to Capitalism or Opportunity

NEW YORK, March 22 /PRNewswire/ -- At its core, populism in the United States remains what it has always been: a protest by ordinary people who want the system to live up to its stated ideals - fair and honest treatment in the marketplace and a government tilted in favor of the unwealthy masses, writes Michael Kazin in an essay in the current issue of Newsweek. "The best way for big men, and big women, to respond to such protests is to try to do what is moral, as well as popular -- and treat Americans as partners in the grand enterprise of governance."

(Photo: )

Kazin, an author and professor of history at Georgetown University, writes that as Congress and President Obama rush to balance solidarity with a new wave of populist anger alongside the need for smart policy during a crisis, "they might reflect on how well previous politicians fared at the task. History does not repeat itself. But sometimes it does hum a familiar tune." Kazin's essay is one of several that make up the March 30 cover package "The Thinking Man's Guide to Populist Rage" (on newsstands Monday, March 23). The package examines how populist rage, while it can be cathartic, can also lead to bad decisions. But it can also present opportunity. In the cover package:

-- Author Rick Perlstein writes that populist anger in America is the
anger of dispossession. "That's how most Americans are thinking now
about the bonuses paid to feckless financial engineers," Perlstein
writes, adding that we "do not like to reward those who do not
produce." He writes that the meltdown is complex as is the decision
making. But if it happens only in "antiseptic back rooms, government
experts negotiating with corporate experts, proud to tune out the
public's righteously simplifying indignation, those policies will
fail... Take away taxpayers' sense of ownership stake in an issue
(especially, as with AIG, when taxpayers literally own the company)
and their rage will not go away. It festers ... And that's when the
'bad' kind of populism -- the hateful kind; the violent kind; the
demagogic kind -- can flourish."

-- Newsweek Contributing Editor Robert J. Samuelson writes that great
reform waves often proceed from scandals and hard times and that the
outcome of the present populist backlash may not be benign. "The
parade of big companies to Washington for rescues, as well as the
high-profile examples of unvarnished greed, has spawned understandable
anger that could veer into a vindictive retribution... If companies
need to be rescued from 'the market,' then why shouldn't Washington
permanently run the market? That is a dangerous mindset. It justifies
punitive taxes, widespread corporate mandates, selective subsidies and
more meddling in companies' everyday operations."

-- Author Robert H. Frank writes that anger over the AIG bonuses is
spilling onto a broader range of targets. "And unless we're careful,
we'll shoot ourselves in the foot. Even before AIG's moment in the
spotlight, angry populists had begun calling for executive pay caps at
20 to 25 times the average American worker's salary. If applied to the
financial-industry executives who steered the economy into the ditch,
such caps would be defensible." There are also many executives in
other industries whose pay, at least in hindsight, was vastly greater
than any reasonable measure of their value added. "Yet any broader
effort to cap executive salaries would do more harm than good."

-- Chapman University presidential fellow Joel Kotkin writes that
populism is far from dead and "represents a force that could shape our
political future in unpredictable ways... The critical issue facing
the new administration is finding useful ways to channel this
disenchantment." He writes that populist rage creates the political
support for taking far bolder steps against Wall Street. "A good first
step would be to allow the TARP - backed giant banks to come under
some sort of federal control, or bankruptcy process, effectively
wiping out the holdings of the financial malefactors and decimating
any hopes for future bonuses."

-- Former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, writes that "anger-fed
populism now is no better a policy compass than libertarianism
masquerading as capitalism was during the Bush administration. This
may become evident all too quickly as public rage -- generated by the
catastrophic risk-taking of many Wall Street traders -- is fanned by
Washington legislators desperate to make up for their own decade of
neglect." He writes that the economic cataclysm we are living through
now is the consequence of 30 years of intentional destruction of the
rules needed to keep capitalism on track. "Just as democracy needs
rules or it descends into anarchy, so capitalism needs rules to guide
the behavior that becomes wealth creation. What we should be seeking,
and what has not emerged from the cacophony of Washington, is a
principled guide to the intersection between government and the

(Read all essays at Michael Kazin essay - Rick Perlstein essay - Robert J. Samuelson essay - Robert H. Frank essay - Joel Kotkin essay - Eliot Spitzer essay

AP Archive:
AP PhotoExpress Network: PRN2
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Source: Newsweek

CONTACT: Jan Angilella, +1-212-445-5638, of Newsweek

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