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Reclaiming Populism


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Table of Contents


Chapter 1 - The Inequality Delusion and Other Scapegoats for Populism

Chapter 2 - The Fairness Instinct

Chapter 3 - Economic Unfairness and the Rise of Populism

Chapter 4 - The Twin Virtues of Equal Opportunity and Fair Unequal Outcomes

Chapter 5 - Constraints and Solutions to Economic Fairness

Conclusion - Scripting A Path Forward


About the Author

Eric Protzer is a Research Fellow at Harvard University's Growth Lab.
Paul Summerville is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Victoria's Gustavson School of Business.


"Eric Protzer at Harvard and his [Canadian] collaborator, Paul Summerville, have crunched vast amounts of data from opinion polls and social surveys to address the question "why populism?" and they give us some clues about how to counter it ... they come to some highly significant conclusions. The usual explanations from the left (that populist politics is a response to growing inequality) or from the right (that it is due to permissive immigration policies) both appear to be wrong. Rather, what lies behind the political rage which produces populist politics is a generalised sense of "unfairness" which arises from a decline in social mobility and frustrated opportunities. In other words, people have little objection to a minority becoming "filthy rich," provided it is achieved through hard work, risk taking or good luck when opportunities are open to all and provided the wealthy are contributing as well as being rewarded."
Vince Cable, The Independent

"The growing economic inequality we see today has failed to explain how populism arises in some places such as the United States and not in others. And government measures to encourage more equal outcomes have failed to combat populism. Eric Protzer and Paul Summerville argue persuasively in Reclaiming Populism that electorates tolerate inequality but not what they see as economic unfairness, especially in times of limited social mobility. This thought-provoking book should be read by anyone wanting to understand and deal with today's turn to populism."
Christopher Gainor - author, historian

"By focusing so well on the lack of social mobility as a major contributor to the rise of populism, this book makes a big contribution to the debate about how to create better, more productive, and fairer societies"
Bob Rae

"Reclaiming Populism provides much needed insights into the reasons for populism. By debunking popular explanations, it shows why we need to create fairer societies and how this can be achieved."
Professor Ian Goldin, Oxford University

"This book is an important contribution to the vital debate about why so many voters feel disenchanted and how to assuage their concerns. As the authors show with rigorous analysis and empirical research, it is the lack of opportunity, not an absence of equality, that is undermining the social contract in Western societies - and it is only by giving people the chance to realise their potential that we can start to repair it. Wherever you sit on the political spectrum, no matter where in the West you live, this book has something for you."
Will Tanner, Director of Onward

"Reclaiming Populism is a must read for all those who think we are going through some weird era, that populism is some kind of strange unjust phenomenon and realise that there are numerous examples of unfairness out there that require proper policy attention in order to make capitalism work better. I have become a big believer of Profit with Purpose in recent years, and especially following the tragedy of Covid-19 the issues that relate to fairness of policy and the rise of populist backlashes need to be treated in a much more open manner. And as the authors demonstrate, much oft perceived causes of anger are often incorrect diagnoses, and dealing with issues in a fairer way lies at the heart of a better society and world."
Jim O'Neill, ex Commercial Secretary to the UK Treasury, ex Chief Economist of Goldman Sachs, Senior Advisor to Chatham House

"This book is a timely reminder of the fundamental importance of making thoughtful political choices with a laser focus on fairness - "promoting equal opportunities and fair unequal outcomes" - because it is a winning formula. Protzer and Summerville's work comes at a critical juncture with a concerning number of possible shocks and opportunities for cheating in the mixed economic responses to the pandemic, the evolution of geo-politics and dominance shifts, intergenerational inequality and the pressure that the climate crisis places on policy makers. We can all learn the lesson that "fairness is a critical policy input." The book provides considerable food for thought, and refreshingly with practical solutions. It shouldn't be surprising to say, but sadly it still is, that embedding economic fairness is the key for the future of any pluralist trying to reclaim populism."
Annabel Mullin - Principal Consultant at OneFifty Consultancy, Co-Founder - Stand for Something

"Protzer and Summerville contribute astutely to a large and varied literature on inequality with a work of sharp and timely analysis. Reclaiming Populism asserts that there is an ethic of fairness that underlies, or should underlie, economic arrangements. Their insight that a "fairness principle" is being undermined in a "rigged system" where "forgotten people' are desperately trying to communicate their pain through the populist channel, is deliciously incisive. Protzer and Summerville offer a set of policy prescriptions that are carefully calibrated to the subtle sense of unfairness that has governed the emergence of so many populist movements in recent years. This book is a home run."
Allan Dwyer, Associate Professor of Finance, Mount Royal University (Calgary)

"Why have electorates around the world become more susceptible to populist political ideas? Is it income and wealth inequality? Is it immigration? Is it globalisation? Is it social media? According to Protzer & Summerville, it's none of these. This deep, data rich analysis of the root cause of rising populism ekes out a more subtle but profound answer to the dilemma of our age. To paraphrase Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign strategist James Carville, "It's fairness, stupid." With a profound understanding of our natural Fairness Instinct as its foundation, this important book brings the current system's flaws into sharp relief. Any politician wishing to find the centre of political gravity should read it."
Andrew McNally, CEO of Equitile Investments and Author of Debtonator - How Debt Favours the Few

"A expert and even-tempered dissection of the myths of populism. It exposes the fundamental tensions that underlie the twin ideals of freedom and equality. By highlighting the crucial difference between equal opportunity and equal outcomes, the authors show how economic fairness is the best resolving chord."
John Brodie Donald, Author of Catataxis: When more of the same is different

"Controversial and self-consciously provocative to be sure, this is a timely, thoughtful, original and even brave book that should be read by all those troubled by the rise of populism and the worrisome state of contemporary democracy."
Chris Watson, Former National Director, New Democratic Party of Canada

"This clearly written and well researched book offers a fresh perspective on our current political malaise. It argues that an old-fashioned virtue - fairness - offers the way forward. Increasing equality of opportunity and social mobility is the road back to prosperity, pluralism and democratic resilience."
Rod Tiffen, University of Sydney

"A deeply researched and trenchant examination of the economic forces that have led to populist movements in North America and Europe. Critically, the authors lay out how crucial it is for policymakers to create economic policies that are widely perceived by citizens as fair, stressing the vital importance of equality of opportunity for all."
Bill Powell, Chief Washington Correspondent, Newsweek Magazine

"You think income inequality causes populism? Think again! Reclaiming Populism convincingly argues that the issue is not how unequal income is, it is the lack of social mobility. Unlike so many books on populism, the authors propose a policy agenda to guide action so that accidents of birth do not determine a person's chances in life."
Ricardo Hausmann, Harvard University

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