"Populism" was one of the big buzzwords of this election cycle. It was largely attached to the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, with both candidates referred to as "populists" despite having distinctly different political philosophies. Still, they both used the approach -- with success -- to tap into the deep dissatisfaction of the average American voter. For Donald Trump, populism has paid off well: In a shock to the political establishment, Trump has ridden populism straight to the White House. But we must understand what populism is really all about.
Populism has traditionally been understood to include trade protectionism, low interest rates, and government welfare to the poor and middle classes. The philosophy is meant to appeal to the common person, as opposed to establishment elites. Populism has historically seen a revival when economic conditions have deteriorated for the average person while the elites continue to prosper.
Demagogues rush to use the dreadful economic conditions to their political advantage. However, the solutions offered by so many opportunistic politicians aren't really solutions at all. The proposals are always laced with promises that government will "do something" to fix the problem.
Unfortunately, most people still fail to understand that the economic pain they are suffering is the government's doing in the first place. Government monetary, economic and trade policies lie at the root of the problem. The lack of a free market, sound money and genuine private property rights inhibit the return of economic prosperity. This widespread lack of understanding leads those who fall for the siren song of populism down a road of perpetual disappointment.
The problems created by government meddling cannot be cured with more government meddling. Cause and effect have yet to be overturned. Nevertheless, more intervention seems to be the only item on the menu, no matter which party happens to hold the reins of power. The option of peeling government away from our lives is rarely presented to the American public beyond some occasional, and insincere, campaign rhetoric.
Populism is contagious, and once it catches on both conservatives and liberals rush to capitalize on the moment. They both promise to rescue the middle class from the scoundrels who have been in charge. The situation is framed as the people versus the privileged class, and if such a fight is not properly understood it has the potential to create even greater harm for everyone.
Despite what the demagogues often proclaim, economic distress is not the result of free markets. It is brought about by layers of government regulation, a central bank that tries to "run the economy" by counterfeiting money and manipulating interest rates, and the fanatical idea that the United States should run the world militarily.
Something has to change, but the solution cannot be further government involvement in our economic lives and liberties.
The only real "populism" worth thinking about is that which the ideas of liberty provide. If one really cares about the middle class and poor, more government meddling can no longer be an option. Instead, we must consider the tremendous economic benefits that a true free market would provide. In a free society, there would be no bailouts to the too-big-to-fail banks, artificially low interest rates, crony regulations or coveted government contracts.
Cozying up to power would be a thing of the past since such power centers would cease to exist. America's disastrous foreign policy of regime change and armed "liberation" would be tossed into the dustbin of history where it belongs. The practice of aggression at home and overseas leads a country to disaster.
The essence of the liberty movement is the embrace of the nonaggression principle. One may never use aggressive force against one's neighbor for any reason. One may also never use government force to aggress against one's neighbor. Government cannot act as your proxy to expropriate the property of others. Force, if it is to be used at all, is for the purpose of defending yourself from an aggressor.
More government, and more of the same, will end. A different philosophy must be adopted that will truly serve the rich, poor, and middle-class alike. It is a philosophy of liberty and peace. There are many encouraging signs that Americans are coming in our direction on this. Our movement is growing.