Populism gets a bad rap from many in the liberty movement. This is because they view populism as an ideology that favors unlimited mob rule, allowing numerous violations of economic and personal liberties. While some populist movements may result in losses of liberty, populism can reduce government.
This is because populism is not an ideology but a strategy. Any movement that relies on mobilizing the public to achieve political change — instead of trying to work with politicians to bring about change — can be described as populist regardless of the goals.
Since the welfare-warfare state– and the central banking system– victimizes the majority of Americans, while enriching crony capitalists and empowering politicians, it makes sense that those seeking a return to limited government, free-markets, respect for individual rights, and a non-interventionist foreign policy would have more success pursuing a populist strategy than trying to “educate” or otherwise convince the political class to stand up for liberty.
Campaign for Liberty’s strategy of mobilizing pro-liberty Americans to pressure their elected official to vote for liberty is an example of populism in action.
Campaign for Liberty Chairman Ron Paul recently penned a thoughtful essay on the various forms of populism for the CNN website:
Ron Paul: What populism is really about
By Ron Paul 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.
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.