How will we solve the rise of right-wing populism?

Ben M is a slugger reader from Dublin

Nigel Farage’s last-minute entry into the UK election is the latest manifestation of the rise of right-wing populism, but it’s happening in lots of other places too. All across Europe, and with Trump in America. Some people thought Ireland was immune, but it seems not. There are a huge number of such candidates for the upcoming euro & local election, though how they perform remains to be seen.

One aspect of this puzzles me. There seems widespread agreement on why this is happening, yet few people discuss fixing this by tackling the root causes they identify. Most people seem to think the rise of the right-wing populists is a result of neoliberal economic policies. They have been the defining economic paradigm for almost half a century.

A prominent factor in the rise of conservative and right-libertarian organizations, political parties, and think tanks, and predominantly advocated by them, neoliberalism is often associated with policies of economic liberalization, including privatization, deregulation, globalization, free trade, monetarism, austerity, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.

Neoliberalism needs constant economic “growth”. If rising wages don’t support this, then it needs more workers with stagnant wages to “grow” the economy. Hence the need for constant immigration. But neoliberalism also believes in leaving things to the market. So it’s not very concerned with housing these people or providing them with adequate public services. So it worsens these for everyone else, as there is less to go around.

This decline for the masses, while the rich benefit from the “growth” seems to have reached a point of crisis, and the symptom of that crisis is the breakdown of established politics and the rise of the right-wing populists. But this doesn’t solve these problems, as the right-wing populists don’t understand how to, or aren’t truly motivated to do so. In many cases they are just cynically exploiting the situation. They are merely a symptom of the problem, they are not a solution.

So how will the solution come? Neoliberalism, the cause of the problem, is thoroughly embedded in politics around the world. Even “left-wing” parties like the UK’s Labour or the US’s Democrats, are merely a different flavour of neoliberalism. If SF managed to get in power in Dublin and tried to enact policies that went against neoliberalism, they would be torn asunder by the press & FG/FF. I doubt they would get into a coalition with such policies, FF would never agree to them.

Will centrist and ostensibly “left-wing” political parties ever be able to abandon neoliberalism to combat the rise of right-wing populism?


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