Co-operation collapses, institutions implode, consequences cascade

We cannot know our own country unless we see it in relation to somewhere else. For those of us who came to the USA from countries with more difficult histories, what currently is unfolding is a flashing red light, a wailing siren, a five alarm fire.

“America’s institutions remain strong” was a refrain I heard repeatedly in recent travels outside my usual professional and social bubble. This view, and the complacency it fuels, is profoundly misguided.

Institutions – “humanly devised constraints that structure human interaction” –  are anchored in a shared commitment to limit conflict.  The checks and balances architecture  laid out in the US constitution provides a vital formal guardrail – but the foundation on which the edifice ultimately rests comprises a shared understanding among stakeholders that they will abide also by tacit, conflict-containing norms.  In today’s USA, those norms are at –  perhaps already beyond – breaking point.  When conflict-containing  norms break down, then look out below.

An increasing body of excellent scholarship has used a comparative lens to understand the USA’s governance crisis. (See HEREHERE and HERE). In this piece, I add a personal perspective. Forty-three years ago, aged 23, I landed at Boston’s Logan airport, leaving behind a country then deeply in the grip of apartheid’s tyranny,  in search of my version of the American dream, citizenship in ‘a more perfect union’.  I continue to hope against hope that America’s better angels may yet prevail. But sustaining this hope is becoming increasingly difficult.

Two sets of entrenched habits of thought and action risk propelling the USA into an abyss. The first comprises a reckless propensity to polarize.  Integral to a thriving society is  a platform of shared commitment to the common benefit, to providing the myriad public goods which underpin a thriving society.  Views will vary  as to which public goods to provide, and how to provide them. With compromise, a society can thrive. But if protagonists adopt  ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ approaches to collective discourse,  social problems fester indefinitely.  (Aficionados of game theory will recognize this as a description of the game of ‘battle’.)

Failure to address deeply-rooted social problems has been the reality in many countries –  but not, I always assumed, of the USA. Yet currently the United States finds itself unable to achieve  sufficient consensus to make progress on any of a  myriad of pressing challenges: immigration reform, health care reform (including, as the covid19 pandemic has revealed, ongoing underinvestment in public health capability); investment in infrastructure; reforms to improve learning outcomes; protection of the environment;  support for basic research; social insurance; the list goes on and on…..

At the limit,  an unbounded, unconstrained willingness to  do what it takes to impose my-way-or-the-highway solutions –   to threaten and intimidate, including the threat of inflicting massive, mutual destruction – risks a slippery slope towards disaster. (Aficionados of game theory will recognize this as a description of the game of ‘chicken’.)   The absence of a coherent public domain is not laissez faire capitalism. It is the destruction of  the institutional platform which enables a market-economy  to function. It is the loss of the  predictability which provides the basis for thriving, vibrant human life. It is an accelerating destruction of  wealth; social capital; culture; knowledge; the institutional foundations of civilization. The specter of state collapse and a descent into violence comes into view.

A second set of entrenched habits of thought and action,  a sub-species of the first, may not lead all the way to state collapse – they risk driving the USA into a made-in-America variant of state capture.  Here I have in mind a cluster of ideas and interests which demonize the public sphere.  Being non-American born, and schooled in an eclectic economics tradition,  I take for granted the virtues of a mixed economy, with distinct public and private realms. So the depth of American distrust of government has come as a surprise   – though I’ve increasingly come to understand that it has roots both new and old: new in that it has been fueled by the billions of dollars spent by the Koch brothers propagating libertarian ideas (see HERE and HERE);  old in that distrust in government has long had a hold on the American psyche,  as Gary Wills has documented.

Libertarian world views offer no adequate response to changes in the economy in recent decades,  spurred by a combination of globalization and technological change (see HEREHERE and HERE) which have put new pressures on middle class livelihoods.  Rather than work to construct a new vision,  what has emerged among the protagonists of limited government has been the collapse of any sense of shades of gray. Inclusive policies of a kind which are uncontroversial in all other high-income countries become demonized as slippery slopes on ‘the road to serfdom’. Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon become left-wing fellow travelers. This would be farcical were it not for the consequences.

A pre-occupation with keeping taxes low, at whatever price, has led to the political swamp –  an openness to policies and ideologies profoundly antithetical to what had seemed to be deeply-held national values.  What is unfolding resembles nothing so much as a made-in-America variant of state capture – a toxic hybrid of ethno-nationalism and a corrupt, praetorian politics.

Ethno-nationalism and praetorian politics draw on distinctive American legacies: Huey Long, Father Coughlin and the violent white supremacist Jim Crow South (plus more genteel variants of superiority, rooted in a culturally-narrow vision of American exceptionalism). But what currently is unfolding resembles political currents which are  distinctly non-American:  the European ethno-nationalist fascist movements of the first half of the twentieth century (which in Hungary, Poland and other countries are making their own comeback);  cults of personality of a kind which are all-too-familiar in Latin American or African ‘big man’ politics.  Those of us who have lived and worked in such settings know that this generally ends badly.

***

Like most immigrants, I was drawn to America by  what seemed to be a happy combination of bold risk-taking and a pragmatic, can-do spirit, a sunny optimism. More than I knew when I came to these shores, darker impulses also festered beneath the surface; now they threaten to overwhelm.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

What drew me to America may have been an incomplete picture, but it was not false. Though currently in eclipse, the better angels of America’s nature could again be ascendant. Here is what I wish for: that the American center holds; that politicians of the center win a sweeping electoral victory, and renew the American polity, economy and society by learning from political practices which made America great in the 20th century:

  • The ‘bold, persistent, experimentation’ which characterized the far-reaching, inclusive reforms which comprised the New Deal of the 1930s – reforms which were vilified at the time by those on the right but which,  as Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself put it, “saved the system of private profit and free enterprise after it had been dragged to the brink of ruin.”
  • The non-violent activism of the 1950s and 1960s  civil rights movement, which offers an inspiring example of what can be achieved by embracing and universalizing,  rather than crashing through,  deeply-held (if imperfectly realized) American values of tolerance, respect for the individual, and the equal dignity of all people.
  • A civic-minded corporate culture,  part of a broader embrace of a mixed economy –  an embrace which Yale and Berkeley political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson usefully remind us in their  book American Amnesia was a key pillar of mid-twentieth-century American prosperity  (with strong support from a variety of business organizations, including the  Committee for Economic Development the Business Advisory Council, and the American Chamber of Commerce).
  • Legislative compromise in pursuit of the collective good, including Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s National Interstate Highway Act, which authorized 41,000 miles of new road construction; white southern Democrat Lyndon Johnson’s championing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and  Republican Richard Nixon’s  creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and championing of an expanded, modernized welfare system (including early support for a variant of Universal Basic Income).

These practices made America great (for many, not all…..)  in the twentieth century. Inclusive 21st century variants could provide a platform for renewal, for building  a thriving, inclusive and environmentally sustainable society, one which offers equal dignity and opportunity for all – and, in so doing,  could make America great again.

The cascading consequences of co-operation’s collapse

What happens when co-operation collapses? Where might this lead? Bill Ferguson’s recent efforts to interpret political settlements analysis through the  analytical lens of collective action and game theory offers useful insights. Drawing on Bill’s work, what follows summarizes three simple ‘games’ which illustrate how a collapse of co-operation  can lead to disaster. (This piece is not intended to be self-standing; its aim is to provide some game-theoretic details referenced in the principal/companion piece, “An Immigrant’s Plea – Make America Great Again”. )

    GROUP B  
    Co-operate Defect
GROUP A Co-operate 2,2 0,3
  Defect 3,0 0,0

Game #1 – how an abandonment of co-operation can lead to the collapse of rule-bound governance.  As Nobel-prize-winning economic Douglass North taught us, institutions – “humanly devised constraints which govern human interactions” – comprise a system of rules. But having agreed on a set of rules, will the participants abide by them? In classic free-rider fashion, each participant could get higher benefits by defecting from the co-operative agreement; but the incentive structure induces both to defect, leaving both worse-off compared to the co-operative equilibrium.  Benefits matrix #1 above illustrates. (This is, of course, the classic ‘prisoners dilemma’ game.)   Formal check and balance institutions (including the rule of law)  comprise the classic mechanism for guarding against opportunism, including vis-à-vis  market transactions.  However, when political leaders with  control over the levers of governmental authority defect from the co-operative agreement, then  guardrails of restraint can all-too-readily give way.    

Game #2: how a collapse of co-operation can result in a failure to provide  to provide the myriad public goods which are integral to a thriving society. Public provision requires multiple stakeholders  to agree both as to which public goods to provide, and how to provide them. Views may vary; political institutions provide the decision-making mechanisms to enable stakeholders to  reach sufficient agreement to move forward.  Consider what can happen, though, if participants adopt ‘my-way-or-the-highway approaches to collective discourse.  Benefits matrix #2 illustrates with an example where both participants are supportive of provision, but differ as to the modalities of provision. If neither is willing to compromise the result will be non-provision, leaving both worse off. (This is an illustration of game theory’s classic ‘battle’ game.)

    GROUP B  
    Compromise Insist on approach B
GROUP A Compromise 2,2 1,3
  Insist on approach A 3,1 0,0

Game #3 – how a collapse of co-operation can produce catastrophe, including state collapse and a descent into violence. In this game, as  benefits matrix #3 illustrates, the insistence of protagonists goes beyond an willingness to compromise to achieve joint gains (in which at least one party achieves less than their potential maximum benefit. In this game (the game of ‘chicken’) each protagonist embraces an unbounded, unconstrained willingness to  do what it takes, to threaten and intimidate – including the threat of inflicting massive, mutual destruction – to force acquiescence by others to some preferred outcome. As benefits matrix #3 illustrates, if one player backs off, then bullying behavior is rewarded. However, if neither player is willing to acquiesce to the other, indeed if each is willing to go to any length, including violence, in pursuit of his preferred outcome, the result for everybody involved could be disastrous.

    GROUP B  
    Co-operate Fight
GROUP A Co-operate 2,2    0, 4
  Fight 4,0 -4, -4

An immigrant’s plea – make America great again!

Hope, a vision of possibility,  is the beating heart of the American Dream. Like all immigrants, I came to the USA in search of my version of that dream, citizenship in ‘a more perfect union’. While I knew that the country would continue to fall short,  I could not have imagined  that it would risk being sucked into a vortex of nation-destroying challenges at the intersection of economics, politics and governance of a kind with which I have been pre-occupied for most of my professional life. If things go badly, the American dream could die on election day, November 3rd, 2020.

It sometimes is said that we cannot know our own country unless we see it in relation to somewhere else. There have been many excellent efforts to  use a comparative lens to understand the USA’s governance crisis (See HERE, HERE and HERE); I have been hesitant to add to what already is a crowded genre.  Indeed, I write this piece less as a specialist in comparative governance and more as an immigrant, hoping against hope that the better angels of America’s nature, which drew me to this country, may yet prevail.

In recent weeks, I have been engaging with people whose voices are very different from those of my usual professional and social bubble. What I have learned has evoked a sense of urgency. For those who have come from countries with more difficult histories, what currently is unfolding is a flashing red light, a wailing siren, a five-alarm fire.    So I have been startled by  a continuing belief among many that somehow America’s current distemper will magically disappear, that American exceptionalism will continue to shower the freedom, privileges, optimism and affluence which have brought so many (myself included) to its shores. The result is a continuing evasion among all-too-many of hard choices –  a siren song inviting  some on the left to abstain rather than voting for Joe Biden, and some on the center right to vote for their ‘team’, the Republicans, even it they don’t much like its current leader. If this siren song prevails, we will witness the American dream transmogrifying into the American nightmare. 

Two sets of entrenched habits of thought and action risk propelling the USA into an abyss. The first comprises a reckless propensity to polarize.  Integral to a thriving society is  a platform of shared commitment to the common benefit, to providing the myriad public goods which underpin a thriving society.  Views will vary  as to which public goods to provide, and how to provide them. With compromise, a society can thrive. But if protagonists adopt  ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ approaches to collective discourse,  social problems fester indefinitely.  (Aficionados of game theory will recognize this as a description of the game of ‘battle’.)   This has been the fate of many countries but not, I always assumed, of the USA. Yet currently the United States finds itself unable to achieve  sufficient consensus to make progress on any of a  myriad of pressing challenges: immigration reform, health care reform (including, as the covid19 pandemic has revealed, ongoing underinvestment in public health capability); investment in infrastructure; reforms to improve learning outcomes; protection of the environment;  support for basic research; social insurance; the list goes on and on…..

At the limit,  an unbounded, unconstrained willingness to  do what it takes to impose my-way-or-the-highway solutions –   to threaten and intimidate, including the threat of inflicting massive, mutual destruction – risks a slippery slope towards disaster. (Aficionados of game theory will recognize this as a description of the game of ‘chicken’.)   The absence of a coherent public domain is not laissez faire capitalism. It is the destruction of  the institutional platform which enables a market-economy  to function. It is the loss of the  predictability which provides the basis for thriving, vibrant human life. It is an accelerating destruction of  wealth; social capital; culture; knowledge; the institutional foundations of civilization. The specter of state collapse and a descent into violence comes into view.

The consequence of the second set of entrenched habits of thought is almost as bleak – a cluster of ideas and interests which demonize the public sphere, and  risk driving the USA into a made-in-America variant of state capture.  As an economist I take for granted the virtues of a mixed economy, with distinct public and private realms. So the depth of American distrust of government has come as a surprise   – though I’ve increasingly come to understand that it has roots both new and old: new in that it has been fueled by the billions of dollars spent by the Koch brothers propagating libertarian ideas (see HERE and HERE);  old in that distrust in government has long had a hold on the American psyche,  as Gary Wills has documented.

Libertarian world views offer no adequate response to changes in the economy in recent decades,  spurred by a combination of globalization and technological change (see HERE, HERE and HERE) which have put new pressures on middle class livelihoods.  Rather than work to construct a new vision,  what has emerged among the protagonists of limited government has been the collapse of any sense of shades of gray. Inclusive policies of a kind which are uncontroversial in all other high-income countries become demonized as slippery slopes on ‘the road to serfdom’. Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon become left-wing fellow travelers. This would be farcical were it not for the consequences.  

A pre-occupation with keeping taxes low, at whatever price, has led to the political swamp –  an openness to policies and ideologies profoundly antithetical to what had seemed to be deeply-held national values.  What is unfolding resembles nothing so much as a made-in-America variant of state capture – a toxic hybrid of ethno-nationalism and a corrupt, praetorian politics.

Ethno-nationalism and praetorian politics draw on distinctive American legacies: Huey Long, Father Coughlin and the violent white supremacist Jim Crow South (plus more genteel variants of superiority, rooted in a culturally-narrow vision of American exceptionalism). But what currently is unfolding resembles political currents which are  distinctly non-American:  the European ethno-nationalist fascist movements of the first half of the twentieth century (which in Hungary, Poland and other countries are making their own comeback);  cults of personality of a kind which are all-too-familiar in Latin American or African ‘big man’ politics.  

Those of us who have lived and worked in such settings know that this generally ends badly.  Indeed, in what one hopes against hope are the death pangs of the Trump administration, what we  are witnessing is all too familiar:  the fueling of identity-driven anger and fear; an effort to militarize America’s cities;  an assault on  state institutions (ranging from the Department of Justice, to watchdog Inspectors General, to the United States Postal Service, and even the Center for Disease Control).  which stand in the way of Trump’s re-election.

***

Like most immigrants, I was drawn to America by  what seemed to be a happy combination of bold risk-taking and a pragmatic, can-do spirit, a sunny optimism. More than I knew when I came to these shores, darker impulses also festered beneath the surface; now they threaten to overwhelm.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

What drew me to America may have been an incomplete picture, but it was not false. Though currently in eclipse, the better angels of America’s nature could again be ascendant. Here is what I wish for: that the American center holds; that politicians of the center win a sweeping electoral victory, and renew the American polity, economy and society by learning from political practices which made America great in the 20th century:

  • The ‘bold, persistent, experimentation’ which characterized the far-reaching, inclusive reforms which comprised the New Deal of the 1930s – reforms which were vilified at the time by those on the right but which,  as Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself put it, “saved the system of private profit and free enterprise after it had been dragged to the brink of ruin.”
  • The non-violent activism of the 1950s and 1960s  civil rights movement, which offers an inspiring example of what can be achieved by embracing and universalizing,  rather than crashing through,  deeply-held (if imperfectly realized) American values of tolerance, respect for the individual, and the equal dignity of all people.
  • A civic-minded corporate culture,  part of a broader embrace of a mixed economy –  an embrace which Yale and Berkeley political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson usefully remind us in their  book American Amnesia was a key pillar of mid-twentieth-century American prosperity  (with strong support from a variety of business organizations, including the  Committee for Economic Development the Business Advisory Council, and the American Chamber of Commerce).
  • Legislative compromise in pursuit of the collective good, including Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s National Interstate Highway Act, which authorized 41,000 miles of new road construction; white southern Democrat Lyndon Johnson’s championing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and  Republican Richard Nixon’s  creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and championing of an expanded, modernized welfare system (including early support for a variant of Universal Basic Income).

These practices made America great (for many, not all…..)  in the twentieth century. Inclusive 21st century variants could provide a platform for renewal, for building  a thriving, inclusive and environmentally sustainable society, one which offers equal dignity and opportunity for all – and, in so doing,  could make America great again.

 

Ideas as drivers of continuity and change: Big lessons from two small countries

Nothing matters more for a country’s long-run development than how it navigates cycles of hope, crisis and renewal. This piece explores these cycles, using the examples of  two small countries, Georgia and Benin.

The longstanding focus of my governance work has been on incremental with-the-grain approaches – and I continue to believe that they are useful for sustaining forward momentum in times of stability, when inclusive growth is rapid. However, over the longer-run, the crucial difference between countries which become affluent and those which remain poor is in the proportion of time they spend growing rather than mired in crisis.  Ideas turn out to be a crucial influence on how a country cycles from growth to crisis and back again.

The centrality of ideas has been highlighted by a variety of eminent economists, including John Maynard Keynes, Dani Rodrik, Douglass North and Albert Hirschman. [See this link for an overview.] Hirschman’s notion of an ideationally-driven cycle – which he framed in  a 1974 article in terms of  a changing tolerance for inequality in the course of economic development  – has proven to be especially helpful as  a framing device in my research and teaching.  Hirschman  introduced the cycle via an analogy with being stuck in intermittently moving traffic: 

“Suppose I run into a serious traffic jam in a two-lane tunnel. After a while the cars in the other lane begin to move. Naturally, my spirits lift considerably…. Even though I […may not gain…]…. I feel much better off than before because of the expectation that I shall soon be on the move….. 

“But this tolerance…. is like a credit that falls due….Advances of others supply information about a more benign external environment…. [which]  suspends envy…. [But]  non-realization of the expectation that my turn will soon come will at some point result in my ‘becoming furious’ that is, in my turning into an enemy of the established order.  No particular outward event sets off this dramatic turnaround.”

In recent years, I have encouraged  students in my masters-level Development Strategies course at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies  to write their term papers on how this  cycle has played out in specific countries.  This blog highlights two papers – Brittin Alfred’s paper on the central Caucasus country of Georgia and Luke Tyburski’s on the West African state of Benin. Both offer potent – but radically contrasting  – insights as to the role of ideas in the Hirschman cycle.

Georgia is an extraordinary example of the power of ideas in catalyzing institutional turnaround.  In 1991, it (re-) emerged as an independent country by seceding from the disintegrating Soviet Union. Following an initial period of political and economic turmoil, the country stabilized. Since the mid-1990s, economic growth has mostly been positive, averaging in the range of 5% per annum. In the latter 1990s, the country seemingly settled into an equilibrium of steady growth plus high corruption. But the early 2000s witnessed a transformation of governance  – a transformation which, from a comparative global perspective is unprecedentedly rapid and far-reaching.  In 2002 the Worldwide Governance Indicators scored the country as among the worst-performing 5 percent of countries in its control of corruption; by 2005, it was in the top half of performers; by 2012 it was in the top one-third.

Brittin’s paper explores how an orchestrated shift in social norms helps account for this renewal.  Drawing on the extensive literature on how social norms are shaped and changed (and, especially, the contributions of Elinor Ostrom), she argues that:  

peoples’ own preferences are constantly interacting with the preferences of others; given the opportunity to communicate and co-ordinate, people will often work together to find the most beneficial outcome – and these practices, once observed to be beneficial, will be ‘adopted’ more widely’ throughout a society.”

 What made the difference in the Georgian case was leadership, specifically the leadership provided by Mikheil Saakashvili.

Saakashvili, who become the country’s president in 2003 in the wake of the country’s Rose Revolution was, Brittin writes, “a passionate, charismatic and outrageously bold politician…. audacious enough to believe that [discontinuous] change was possible, charismatic enough to convince people of this belief, and tenacious enough to doggedly pursue converting this belief into reality”. The reform of Georgia’s traffic police illustrates how norm-shifting was achieved:

“Police would stop any motorist or pedestrian, and would shamelessly extort bribes….. Georgians would pay bribes to these police because they anticipated their fellow citizens would, and vice versa. Saakashvili launched a total assault on corruption within the police forces. Overnight, the entire 16,000 person-strong police force of Georgia was fired, and new police were brought on board. The new police were told there would be a zero-tolerance policy on corruption, and when the new force failed to adhere to this new, non-corrupt norm, they were fired again. After two rounds of firing and re-hiring, as well as drastically reducing the bloated rank numbers, police officers eventually began to get the message, and fall into line.” 

Things didn’t end well in Georgia for Saakashvili. His party lost parliamentary elections in 2012; he was forced to leave the country (and subsequently was charged with a variety of criminal offenses). But Georgia continues to be a beacon of the possibility of radical reversal of corruption. [More examples of how Saakashvili achieved this, plus a useful introduction to the  literature on norm shifts, can be found in Brittin’s paper.]

The role of ideas has been starkly different the West African country of Benin than in Georgia. The Georgian case illustrates how discontinuous changes in ideas and institutions can be mutually reinforcing. In Benin by contrast, as Luke Tyburski’s paper details,   ideas have been a source of continuity. The country has remained stable throughout the three decades since its 1990 transition to democracy  – notwithstanding moderate growth (about 4% per annum), mediocre institutions, and stubbornly persistent poverty for the bottom 70-80% of the population. To explore why this has been so, Luke reframes Hirschman’s tunnel effect in terms of three lanes:

  • a privileged lane for the upper elite, comprising maybe one percent of the population;
  • a lane for the salaried urban middle class, making up less than 20 percent of the population;
  • the vast majority of the population is left in a third lane, which has been static for too long to remember.

Luke suggests two ideationally-rooted explanations for the seeming passivity of people in the third lane.  The first of these is deeply rooted in Benin’s  legacy as a central locale for the slave trade. The Beninese port of Ouidah was West Africa’s largest slave port, a point of exit for over one million slaves. Slavery was abolished only in 1905; forced labor remained legal until 1946. As Luke details (and consistent with Paolo Freire’s classic book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed) internalized privilege and internalized oppression continue to shape the country’s polity and society.

“No consequential dismantling of the tribes and power structures involved has taken place. The Fon in the south are largely descendants of residents of Dahomey, while the widely enslaved Gando remain in the north…. Former identities, symbolism, and relations have proven incredibly resilient….Development has also proceeded unequally, with literacy rates in the northernmost district of 25 percent, compared to 87 percent in the coastal capital.”

Luke’s second explanation for Benin’s stability distinguishes among ‘tunnel effect’ interactions between the first and second lanes, and the second and third. As he puts it:   

“Benin’s tunnel effect is more [accurately] described as a pair of elite-middle class and middle class-masses relationships. Benin’s non-elites have their eye more on the ‘second lane’ than on the elites.”

He argues that Benin’s 1990 democratization was set in motion  by first-second lane interactions –  a turn from hope to anger on the part of the urban middle class vis-à-vis the upper elites. In addition, the democratization  moment sparked a benign tunnel effect for the third lane. Gains for this lane included some stirrings of political engagement in rural areas – new village associations, and some increased participation of historically-marginalized groups in producer organizations and local elections.  But expectations remained modest. As of 2019,  structural continuities appeared to continue to outweigh democratic gains among the non-elite – although it is noteworthy that, even though 73% of the population continued to prefer democracy, satisfaction with democracy declined from 69% in 2008 to 51% in 2017.

*****

How to reconcile the seemingly opposite roles played by ideas in Georgia (as a force for change)  and  in Benin (as a buttress for the status quo)? One option is recourse to a Marxian dismissal of ideas as ‘superstructure’, concealing the deeper (class) forces at work. This is not my view. Focusing on ideas has helped me to see some hidden fault lines in development discourse.  Development concerns complex systems, and how they change. There can be long periods of stability, periods when (as I explored in depth in earlier work)  change is cumulative,  incremental. But sometimes complex systems  recalibrate discontinuously.  Tectonic plates shift; evolution makes a rapid leap. Complex social systems can have similar moments of discontinuity – and at such moments  the direction of change is shaped by contestation over ideas. We currently are in the throes of one of these discontinuous moments. It is at the level of ideas that the path ahead will be shaped, for good or ill.

The centrality of ideas – some important contributions

The role of ideas as drivers of change is becoming increasingly central in my teaching and writing on comparative governance. This post summarizes, for reference, six sets of contributions which have been important influences on my thinking in this area.

1: Dani Rodrik’s recent writing.After decades as an eminent exponent of the centrality of incentives and institutions in shaping development, in recent years Rodrik has shifted direction. As he put it in a 2014 article:

Any model of political economy in which organized interests do not figure prominently is likely to remain vacuous and incomplete….. But a mapping from interests to outcomes, depends on many unstated assumptions about the ideas of political agents”.

Rodrik’s recent work with Sharun Mukand (see here and, for a more technical version, here) is a powerful exploration of how the interaction between two  channels of ideational politics – a ‘worldview channel’ aimed at shaping citizens’ understanding of how the world works, and an ‘identity channel’  aimed at shaping citizens’ perceptions of who they are – comprises the basis for toxic populism.

2: John Maynard Keynes highlighted ideas – specifically our fluctuating expectations of what the future holds – as central to his classic analysis of the business cycle. Here’s how he put it:

“ Our theory of the future, being based on so flimsy a foundation, is subject to sudden and violent changes. The practice of calmness and immobility, of certainty and security, suddenly breaks down. New fears and hopes will, without warning, take charge of human conduct…..”

Click on this link for more detail.

3: Albert Hirschman identified shifts in ideas in relation to inequality as key to  Latin America’s turn from the hopeful times of the 1950s and early 1960s to  the angry 1960s and early 1970s. He argued  that:

“Tolerance for inequality is like a credit that falls due….It is extended because advances of others supply information about a more benign external environment….This produces gratification [which]  suspends envy…. [But]  non-realization of the expectation that my turn will soon come will at some point result in my ‘becoming furious’ that is, in my turning into an enemy of the established order.  No particular outward event sets off this dramatic turnaround.”

More detail via this link.

4: How the mind works. A rapidly expanding literature on how humans think explores the ubiquity of cognitive biases. The 2015 World Development Report, Mind, Society and Behavior usefully summarized these biases as resulting from our propensities to think automatically, to think socially, and to think with mental models. Key contributions which provide a basis for the WDR include Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, Joshua Greene’s Moral Tribes.  Robert Sapolsky’s Behaveprovides a comprehensible, accessible review of the voluminous research.

5: Internalized privilege and oppression. A direct line links Paulo Freire’s classic 1970 book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed to Alice Evans 2018 World Development article, “Politicizing Inequality: the Power of Ideas”. I have long been inspired by South African Steve Biko’s vision that the end of apartheid would liberate whites as well as blacks, as whites “…realize that  they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realize that they are also human, not inferior.”

6: Douglass North. Late in his career, especially in his 2005 book, Understanding the Process of Economic Change,  North moved beyond his longstanding focus on institutions to explore also the role of ‘mental models’ in shaping long-run development. By contrast to Keynes and Hirschman, who focus on the changing, ephemeral nature of ideas,  North emphasizes the ways in which their ‘stickiness’ can inhibit a society’s capacity to adapt. He suggests (pp. 116-7) that:

“We are continually altering our environment in new ways, and there is no guarantee that we will understand correctly the changes in the environment, develop the appropriate institutions, and implement policies to solve the new problems we will face…..We tend to get it wrong when the accumulated experiences and beliefs derived from the past…… the set of mental models, categories and classifications of the neural networks through which the new evidence gets filtered….  do not provide a correct guide to future decision-making.”

As North reminds us, though, ideas don’t lock in only because of limits in the adaptive capability of neural networks:

 Dominant organizations (and their entrepreneurs) may view the necessary changes as a threat to their survival. To the degree that the entrepreneurs of such organizations control decision-making, they can thwart the necessary changes….”

How? Via the propagation of ideas –  for example, as per the recent work of Mukand and Rodrik, via a combination of identity and worldview memes which induce low-income voters to support policies which leave them worse off, and benefit the wealthy. 

Ideas matter, North tells us,. And, he also tells us, the intersection of ideas and power can be decisive.

[See the post linked here for an application of some of these ideas by two of my SAIS students to Benin and Georgia.]

Seven months. That’s all we have.

Greetings friends – from all over the world, most of us of a “certain age” (baby boomer & Covid19 vulnerable). I’m writing this post out of a deep sense of urgency. We have just seven months.
Over the course of our lives, many of us have been part of profound moral & political struggles – many of us have struggled from the center-left; some from further left; others from the center-right. But these nuances must now fall away. Especially for those of us living in the USA, the next seven months will be as crucial as any time we’ve lived through. A movement is (hopefully) coming together – even under the extraordinarily adverse conditions of Covid19 social distancing. Everything we’ve worked for is at stake.

For all of our lives, until now, enlightenment values have provided the taken-for-granted backdrop for our struggles. But a year from now these values could be irrevocably defeated in the USA – a country which has been their (uneven) champion through two world wars, through ongoing domestic civil rights struggles for both racial and gender equality, and (albeit weakly, for the past half-century…..) for economic justice. All of this could be swept away by the combination of a global pandemic and a toxic American president, whose vanity is overweening, whose understanding and appreciation of the values of constitutional democracy is non-existent, and who lacks any sense of restraint.

We have just seven months. To come together. To mobilize a united front from across the spectrum of those committed to constitutional democracy. To organize in the face of a pandemic. To resist efforts to block or steal the election. To turn around the toxicity that has been eating away at our life’s work. Elizabeth Warren’s powerful endorsement of Joe Biden is available via this link. Two days ago, Bernie Sanders gave him a ringing endorsement. Here’s Barack Obama’s strong endorsement, which communicates powerfully his sense of urgency. And Ezra Klein’s excellent piece (linked here) argues persuasively that Biden has important strengths as a leader, strengths which it is easy to underestimate. I’ve just made my first contribution to his campaign (at JoeBiden.com) I will make more. And I will look for ways to do what I can to help him win this election – and, also, to help defeat other toxic politicians who have been poisoning the national (and indirectly global) civic space on which our collective well-being depends.

“Assume a can opener…..”

Technical Communication - Technical Communication in Economics

An economist, a physicist and a chemist are washed up, shipwrecked, on an uninhabited island. There’s plenty of water, but no food…….They wake up the next morning, and……..

“We’re saved!!” A crate has washed ashore, with the name of its contents – “food” – written on the outside.They open the crate; the food is all in cans.

The physicist immediately gets to work, looking for shards of glass in the river which he could perhaps use to concentrate light and ‘burn’ the cans open.The chemist immediately gets to work, seeking a chemical compound that can eat through the cans.

The economist sits quietly under a tree, smiling.Eventually, the others become furious: What are you doing? If we don’t find a way to open the cans, we’re all going to die!!!”.The economist is untroubled: “No, its not a hard problem.”

“The solution is straightforward.”

“Assume a can opener……”

This is what we do when we assume away the challenges of decision-making, of designing the details of a new policy, of organizational functioning, and of implementation………

Undone by anti-government ideas- not only DT’s leadership

More people have now died from the Covid19 virus in the USA than in either Italy or China. It isn’t just Donald Trump that has made for this catastrophic failure of public leadership – it’s a set of ideological blinders on the part of some of those around him. Responding effectively to the Covid crisis calls for pragmatism in three domains –  between the public and private domains, between centralized and decentralized government,  and between individual and the collective interest. On all three, ideological pre-occupations have tied the US federal government in knots.

Over the past two months, Donald Trump indeed has given us a master class in catastrophic leadership. But the ideological blinders which have crippled the US response have little to do with him.  Trump’s most important surrogates in this crisis have been his son-in-law Jared Kushner and vice president Mike Pence.  Pence, as a Republican ‘Tea Party’ congressperson and then governor of Indiana earned a well-deserved reputation as an ideological hard-liner. Kushner is a classic example of New York “master of the universe” hubris – the golden boy of two billionaire families, certain of his own brilliance, of the marvelousness of the private sector and of the mediocrity of those, less magnificent, who chose to devote their lives to working in the public sphere.

As a result of  Pence and Kushner’s (and their fellow-travellers’) ideological preoccupations, the US government has been hamstrung at precisely the moment when decisive national leadership has been called for. Ideological blinders make it impossible to separate function from form .  If an obvious solution doesn’t fit the ideological filter, it cannot be considered. Indeed, if the problem doesn’t lend itself to an ideologically acceptable response, then the problem itself must be deemed not to exist.  (OK; this is not the time to go on about climate change…….)

An effective response to the coronavirus crisis requires decisive national-level leadership on testing, on the provision of urgently-needed protective and medical equipment, and on a comprehensive set of stay-at-home policies. In each of these, ideological blinkers have crippled the federal response.

On testing for coronavirus infection: we still don’t fully know why the Centre for Disease Control was so hamstrung in the early months. (I, for one, expect that in time we will discover that the trail of dysfunction in scaling-up testing leads directly to efforts from the upper reaches of the administration to  suppress bad news.) But we do know that when the federal government began to act on testing (via Jared Kushner’s task force!) its first announcement was that Google and Walmart would take the lead – in drive-thru testing which never got off the ground. We also know that a comprehensive testing regime is the crucial condition for re-opening the economy – but that, as of the time of writing this piece, there are only grab-bags of state and local initiatives, with no comprehensive federal actions, strategies or guidelines.

On the provision of medical and protective equipment – another muddle, this time because of deference to the private sector.  The results include: lagging domestic production (in part as a result of delays in invoking the Defense Production Act),  state and local authorities finding themselves competing on the open market for resources (with poorer localities left out in the cold), and the absence of any national mechanism for directing resources to areas of the most urgent national need.

On the need for comprehensive stay-at-home policies –  where there is an unavoidable tension between individual liberty and the collective interest.  A person can be infected with COVID19 but asymptomatic for days, inadvertently becoming a super-spreader fueling an out-of-control wildfire. For this reason, the vast majority has embraced the necessity of  stay-at-home.  But in some parts of the USA the  reluctance of a number of hold-out Republican governors to accept the need for stay-at-home orders has kept the wildfire burning out of control, undercutting the efforts of everyone else.  One can leave it to Republican Senator Rand Paul (son and heir of Libertarian Party founder Ron Paul) to find the ideological reductio-ad-absurdem with his equation of a stay-at-home order to  “quarantining someone for being Christian on Easter Sunday”.

There’s a classic wartime notion that “there are no atheists in foxholes”. The secularized, pandemic equivalent might be “there are no ideological purists in the midst of crisis”.   But in this COVID19 crisis moment it turns out that there are.   

Over the past four decades, the Republican Party has moved progressively from a party of government to one driven by ideological purity. (There are, of course, powerful interests behind this shift – but that’s another subject for another time.) The result has been accelerating polarization – and a political discourse, leadership, and caricatured vision of the public sector which has left the USA singularly unprepared to respond, at the federal level, to a public health emergency.

With the number of COVID19 deaths in the USA surpassing Italy’s and continuing to accelerate, now especially in those so-called “conservative” parts of the country (though it isn’t only conservatives  who embrace a commitment to ideological purity above all)  – we’re “reaping the whirlwind” of the embrace by the Republican Party of ideological purity, and its abandonment of American pragmatism. Perhaps, come November, American pragmatism will reassert itself – and voters finally will put a stop to this travesty, this debased politics which, before our eyes, is turning the American dream into an American nightmare.

Combat fire not with fire, but non-violent resistance

How to fight back against toxic populism? In the spirit of standing up against bullies, a natural tendency is to fight fire with fire. But is this the right response?

A few years ago, this question might have seemed to be largely of historical interest –  an exploration of, say, whether different tactics on the part of Germany’s left and center-left might have slowed the rise of the Nazi Party.  But rising political dissatisfaction and the mushrooming of an angry populism in country-after-country have given the question renewed, urgent salience. Hence this post, the third in a series which “wrestles with populism”.

In tackling difficult questions, I generally incline towards shades of gray, and uncover complexity rather than clear-cut black-and-white answers. To my surprise, that is not what happened here. I have become convinced that, when it comes to combating populists ready to tear down the guardrails of democracy, the inclination to fight fire with fire is unambiguously the wrong thing to do.  

A useful point of departure for making the case against fighting fire with fire is with  Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky’s classic distinction between system 1 and system 2 modes of thinking –  thinking ‘fast’ versus thinking ‘slow’,  responding to stimuli via  fast-intuitive system 1 reactions, or pausing and engaging system 2 slow-deliberative  thinking. In a confrontation with toxic populism, the logic of both system 1 and system 2 modes of thought inclines us to fight fire with fire – but both mislead.

That system 1 misleads is hardly surprising. As per my earlier discussion of  ‘us versus them’, a pre-disposition to co-operate among ‘us’, and to demonize ‘them’  is deeply rooted in our human psyche. In his book Moral Tribes Harvard psychology professor Joshua Greene draws on two inter-related metaphors to explore  how these us/them instincts are adaptive for some problems,  but maladaptive for others.

Greene’s first metaphor is the familiar ‘tragedy of the commons’.  The ‘commons’ is a shared, common-pool resource, potentially renewable, but only with careful stewardship;  absent the evolutionary adaptation of a propensity to co-operate among ‘us’, the destruction of the commons would be (even more) commonplace.  Greene suggests that for local-level common-pool-resource challenges,  we can safely think fast, trusting our evolutionarily-primed intuitions for co-operation among ‘us’. However, for problems which require co-operation between ‘us’ and ‘them’,  our predispositions to favor ‘us’ and to demonize ‘them’ can all-too-readily set in motion a downward spiral of  polarization and conflict between ‘our’ group and ‘them’, even if the returns to inter-group co-operation are high. Greene describes this as ‘the tragedy of commonsense morality.’

So here’s a first (and perhaps obvious) conclusion:  when it comes to navigating the polarized energies unleashed by populism, deliberative (system 2) decision-making is the way to go. No surprise there.  But here’s something perhaps more surprising: While for many complex interactions, a deliberative process points  towards selecting a strategy of fighting back, when it comes to combating toxic populism the standard logic does not hold.  

Game theory provides a classic rationale for fighting back – the tit-for-tat strategy. In ‘repeated play’ games, joint gains are highest when both players co-operate – but each player can increase his returns by ‘defecting’, as long as the other continues to co-operate. As has been rigorously shown, the optimal strategy for both players is to abide by the ‘co-operation’ rule. But if one player is confronted by rule-breaking, the preferred strategy is to respond in kind (that is to fight fire with fire) –  ready to revert to co-operative behavior immediately the other player does.

Populists, however, are likely to view a cascading sequence of rule-breaking  as a feature not a bug.  As ‘tribunes of the people’, they present themselves as uniquely manifesting the peoples’ will  –  and then target democracy’s guardrails as the mechanism through which the elite establishment frustrates the achievement of what the people need. Tit-for-tat – reciprocating in kind to a breach of the guardrails –  plays into their agenda, accelerating a downward spiral of polarization, thereby aiding  and abetting  their effort to break loose of institutional restraints.  

To be sure, a credible argument can be made (though the counter-argument is equally credible…..) that an electoral contest against toxic populism is more likely to be won by mobilizing enthusiasm and votes from the left than by trying to claim the center. But even if counter-polarization might be a winning strategy electorally, in countries with a functioning constitutional order  adding fuel to the fire is all-too-likely to  weaken the institutions and norms which underpin democracy – a case of winning the electoral battle, but losing the governance war.

Institutions, as Nobel Prize winners Douglass North and Oliver Williamson have explored in depth, are:

“…humanly devised constraints which govern human interaction…..Governance is an effort to craft order, thereby to mitigate conflict and realize mutual gains.”

In turn, institutions are underpinned by norms. Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt explain:  

“Even well-designed constitutions cannot, by themselves, guarantee democracy. Like any set of rules, they have countless gaps and ambiguities…. If the constitution written in Philadelphia in 1787 is not what secured American democracy for so long, then what did? We believe much of the answer lies in the development of strong democratic norms….Institutions are more than just the formal rules; they encompass the shared understandings of appropriate behavior that overlay them”.

To undermine the institutions and norms which underpin co-operation is to destroy the basis of a thriving society.

If not by fighting fire with fire, how then to combat toxic populism? Both content and process matter. Content-wise, as the second earlier post in this series explored, the key  is to  embrace hope, rather than anger –   an inclusive vision  of citizenship, underpinned by societal commitment to equal dignity and opportunity.  Process-wise, the crucial challenge is to work to foster (system 2) reflection and deliberative thought, rather than (system 1) automatic, angry reaction.

Toxic populism has  at its core a narrative of demonization; norms of discourse disciplined by facts get in the way. The populist’s preference is to ‘gaslight’ by redefining all facts as fake news, locking-in confirmation bias and expanding space for  attacks of  the ‘other’ – and pushing society in the direction of Joshua Greene’s ‘tragedy of commonsense morality’. In the closing pages of his book, Greene argues that a key ingredient in the antidote to this downward spiral is to:

 “,,, focus on the facts, and make others do the same…..one can’t know whether a proposal is good or bad without knowing how it’s supposed to work and what its effects are likely to be….We should provide – and demand evidence…… And when we don’t know how things work, in theory or practice, we should emulate the wisdom of Socrates and acknowledge our ignorance…”

Greene’s is an equal opportunity admonition; it applies both to the worst kind of ethno-populism, and to the  high-minded utopian visions offered from the opposite end of the political spectrum.

Populists bring into politics a much needed dimension of moral struggle.  But even as we can learn from populists, we also need to reflect carefully as to which lessons are worth taking to heart.  Contrary to populists’ approach, moral struggle and deliberative discourse can be mutually reinforcing, rather than opposites.

Learning from populism’s four moral struggles

While I’ve not become a born-again populist, a sea change in the tenor of political discourse has led me to explore some uncomfortable terrain: What might be usefully be learned for the task of democratic renewal from the resurgence of populism in country after country?

I have come to understand that the health of societies and polities depends on  modes of discourse which raise the stakes beyond what a narrowly pragmatic way of engaging with the world can offer. As Harvard economist Dani Rodrik put it:

Any model of political economy in which organized interests do not figure prominently is likely to remain vacuous and incomplete….. But a mapping from interests to outcomes, depends on many unstated assumptions about the ideas of political agents”.

The way populists use ideas is far more potent as a call to political action than  a narrowly pragmatic pre-occupation with material interests. Populists frame politics as:

 the people in a moral struggle against elites” .

Moral, emotionally-charged language fits uncomfortably with the (seemingly) reasoned discourse with which many of us are most comfortable. However, as Berkeley professor George Lakoff  has emphasized, “political thought begins with moral premises”. Rather than recoil,  the challenge for non-populists is to engage in ‘moral struggles’ in ways which can support democratic renewal, fostering hope rather than fueling rage.  

This post distills some ideas as to how this might be done, organized around  four questions suggested by the logic of populism:

  • Who are the ‘people’?
  • Against what do the people struggle?
  • For what do the people struggle?
  • How do the people struggle?

Who are the ‘people’? The notion of the ‘people’ is (as per a recent book by Columbia University’s Nadia Urbinati) a “stubborn ambiguity” at the heart of political discourse – one which populists are adept at exploiting. The ‘people’ can be characterized variously as those who enjoy legal standing (i.e. those in whose name laws are made and enforced); as the socio-historical body that lives in a specific territory (i.e. the ‘nation’); or as some subset of the broader legal or socio-historical entities. Populist leaders set themselves the task, as Urbinati puts it, of:

 “the extraction of the ‘true people’ from the empirical people… Their notion of the people corresponds to ‘the right people’: this is the only people they plan to speak for.”

Rather than separating out a sub-group (the ‘true people’) from everyone else,  a very different way of mobilizing  ‘the people’ for a moral struggle is to embrace  an inclusive vision of “we the people”, of an active citizenry.  South Africa’s ‘united democratic front‘ which mobilized against apartheid South Africa offers a powerful, recent example of a, “we the people” struggle by an inclusive, active citizenry.

‘Active’ entails more than voting in national elections; it includes engagement at local, state and national levels; in civic organizations; and, crucially, in political parties. ‘Citizen’ entails a sense of shared obligation, a willingness to play by rules shared with other fellow-citizens – and a clear, broadly accepted framework which lays out eligibility criteria and mechanisms for transitioning from non-citizen to citizen status. (yes: immigration policy….). A sense, as a synonym for active citizenship, of civic patriotism.

Against what do the people struggle? For populists, the moral struggle is against the peoples’ enemies – those who exploit the people, humiliate them, deprive them of their just patrimony. The fuel comes from anger: vanquish the enemy, and all will be well. But once an oppositional framing has been introduced, the demon of us-versus-them polarization lurks exceedingly close to the surface – and (as I explored in an earlier post in this series) the consequences of its unleashing can all-too-readily become a catastrophic downward spiral. 

Viewed from a non-populist perspective, the struggle ‘against’ need not be personalized, but could aim instead to combat entrenched asymmetries of power which undercut  equal rights and opportunities of citizens, both economically and politically.  The  World Bank’s  2017 World Development Report, Governance and the Lawlaid out some hard truths about power asymmetries and their consequences with surprising frankness. As the WDR put it:  

The unequal distribution of power—power asymmetry—can influence policy effectiveness….the negative manifestations of power asymmetries are reflected in capture, clientelism, and exclusion”.

For countries with a strong-enough institutional platform, a struggle ‘against’ could usefully focus on a revitalization of anti-monopoly policies,  and reform of the rules governing the financing of political campaigns (including limiting the role of ‘dark money’ in politics).

For what do the people struggle? For populists, the struggle ‘for’ generally is the mirror image of the struggle ‘against’ – fueled by a false promise that once the enemies of ‘the people’ are defeated,  all will be well.  By contrast, the struggle ‘for’ is central to a non-populist vision of a thriving  democracy. It is a struggle for equal opportunity and equal dignity as citizens – for a polity, economy and society within which all citizens can work to shape their own lives,  and participate peacefully in the shaping of their societies, according to their distinctive visions of freedom and justice.  It is a ‘moral struggle’, built not on resentment, but on a foundation of empathy and mutual obligation among citizens. 

Central to the non-populist struggle ‘for’ is the classic tension between markets and the public sphere. Markets offer economic freedom and a platform for accelerated economic growth –  but left unchecked are likely to be accompanied by rising inequalities and power asymmetries. An active public sphere not only sustains a level playing field, it also is the locus for economic and social policy reforms aimed at strengthening inclusion and opportunity for all citizens:

  • Strengthening ladders of opportunity, via additional public investment in early childhood development; primary, secondary and tertiary education;  technical and vocational education; and on-the-job learning.
  • Support to help those left behind to navigate change, including strengthened social insurance; a minimum safety net; and active labor market policies.
  • Pro-active efforts at redistribution, including capital endowment and income support policies, and tax reforms which expand fiscal revenues and enhance the progressivity of the tax system

There is ample scope to debate the details of each of these, to broaden (or contract) the list. Whatever the details, what is needed is an openness to far-reaching innovation, responsive to 21st century challenges to inclusion and equal dignity – globalization, accelerating technological change, the rise of network industries, information (and dis-information) abundance,  and ongoing climate crises.

How do the people struggle? Both for populists and for non-populists, ends and means are inseparable. All-too-often, populist leaders present themselves as ‘tribunes of the people’, who uniquely manifest the peoples’ will  –  and then target democracy’s guardrails as the mechanism through which the elite establishment frustrates the achievement of what the people need.  Compromise with the enemy establishment becomes betrayal.  Concentration of power in the leader’s hands becomes the natural way to realize their vision.  The erosion of norms and institutions of restraint is a feature, not a bug.

For non-populists, by contrast, both  ends and means point in the direction of institutional stewardship, fostering co-operation rather than fueling conflict. This is well-captured in how two Nobel Prize winners, Douglass North and Oliver Williamson, define institutions, namely as:

“…humanly devised constraints which govern human interaction….. an effort to craft order, thereby to mitigate conflict and realize mutual gains.”

As means, institutions provide the necessary foundation for an inclusive economy and society, capable of offering  equal opportunity and the prospect of a better life for all their citizens. As ends, commitment to equal dignity is inseparable from waging a moral struggle in ways which respect guardrails of restraint on the abuse of power.  

Insofar as respect for institutions is central to the way in which non-populists struggle, it seemingly poses a dilemma –  requiring them to struggle against toxic populism with one hand tied behind their back. Might it not be better to defeat toxic populism by fighting fire with fire? Perhaps surprisingly, as the last post in this series explores, the answer is an unequivocal “no”.