Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fixing the System: A History of Populism, Ancient & Modern


"Populism is the genuine 'third way' of politics . . . transcending both the 'big government' policies of the Left and the 'big business' policies of the Right. By decentralizing political and economic power, populism aims to replace top-down with bottom-up politics. This book is an attempt to present populism in its historical context, to retrieve it from the oblivion into which it has been thrust by its opponents, and to demonstrate the promise it holds for the future. At a time when our political process no longer represents ordinary citizens, when disparities of wealth and poverty are enormous and increasing, when irresponsible hubris goes increasingly unchecked among government and corporate leaders, when criminal wars of aggression undermine our international integrity, and when the environmental costs of economic growth threaten the planet itself, it is more important than ever to find alternative and more promising ways of thinking about our political and economic problems . . .

"How far do populists go? By 'property for all' populists means the widespread personal ownership of private capital sufficient to establish the relative economic independence of citizens vis-a-vis one another. Where none are rich enough to dominate others economically or poor enough to be so dominated, populists argue, the public interest rather than private interest is likely to be served. In an earlier agrarian era, populists called for the distribution of land (then the principal form of capital) among citizens, while in modern commercial economies they propose to distribute credit (now the principal form of capital) directly to citizens through various forms of public credit. The most comprehensive system of public credit -- developed by the nineteenth century American populist Edward Kellogg -- proposed to replace our privatized financial system with a decentralized but state-regulated monetary system based on direct low-interest loans to citizens.

"By 'democracy for all' populists mean full and direct participation in empowered local citizen assemblies -- such as those found in ancient city state, and in the town meeting of colonial and early federal America -- suitable confederated together into broader accountable representative bodies, as Jefferson outlined. In calling for a wide distribution and decentralization of both wealth and politics, populism offers a radical but plausible reform of the political and economic system found today in the United States and most other developed countries, where credit and property remain highly concentrated in private hands, and where representatives chosen in impersonal mass elections frustrate democracy by serving private interests rather than the public good. Populism seeks to complete a half-begun American revolution by establishing the full measure possible of individual political and economic liberty. In our time of crisis, this pragmatic program for fundamental social reform deserves serious consideration."

-- from the Preface to Fixing the System

Fixing the System, published in 2008 by Continuum Books, is available at Amazon.com

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