You’ve probably heard that Obama told a group of business leaders that
My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.
I am not a populist. But I do wonder if angry, anti-corporate populism can be put to good use. There are many industries — the credit card industry and broadband and wireless providers come to mine — that are actively ripping off consumers using lack of regulation and/or monopolistic practices.
Can populist anger be channeled into pushing back against these industries (and others, like the health insurance industry, which is perhaps less obviously a scam but more obviously problematic on a larger scale)? I think the answer isn’t clear because in the United States, populism has generally had more to do with “cultural” and racial divisions than on economic inequality. Here’s Krugman on that:
And who can honestly deny that race is a major reason America treats its poor more harshly than any other advanced country? To put it crudely: a middle-class European, thinking about the poor, says to himself, “There but for the grace of God go I.” A middle-class American is all too likely to think, perhaps without admitting it to himself, “Why should I be taxed to support those people?”[….]
Consider this: in the United States, unlike any other advanced country, many people fail to receive basic health care because they can’t afford it.
It’s not just race, of course, it’s also gay marriage, flag burning, school prayer, abortion, etc.
Is there any hope that this will change? Any chance that angry Americans will begin demanding health care for themselves and an end to corporatism instead of blaming our economic crisis on poor black people and stockpiling weapons for the coming government take-over?
I realize that the answer is probably “no”, of course. We may see a few more angry outbursts over things like the AIG bonuses, but I suspect things won’t go much farther than that. Time-Warner and MBNA and the rest likely have very little to worry about.