How the Populist Wave Could Reshape Policy

Populism is here—and it isn’t going away. The ideology can come from either side of the political spectrum, and it can have a big impact on policy, the macroeconomic landscape and—ultimately—how we invest today.

The drivers of populism’s rise in the West today include economic insecurity, social insecurity and political ineffectiveness. Based on previous populist episodes (particularly in Latin America) and current populist agendas, we expect policy changes to focus on three broad categories (Display):

Raising the Drawbridge: These policies, which were prominent in US President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, focus on several areas. They include more trade protection and restrictions on immigration and cross-border labor flows, together with withdrawal from supranational relationships. Immigration has been a key theme in recent European elections, and Brexit is perhaps the most dramatic example of a country choosing to withdraw from a supranational relationship.

Institutional Erosion: Attacks on the media, which have escalated in the US since Donald Trump entered office, are one example of the erosion of institutions globally. There have also been government attacks on the media, institutions of state, bureaucracy, the judiciary, parliamentary arrangements and other institutions. Turkey’s referendum in April, for example, gave President Recep Tayyip Erdogan powers widely regarded as autocratic. From a macroeconomic perspective, a key risk is the potential to undermine central bank independence through money-financed fiscal stimulus.

Redistribution Policies: These policies involve redirecting government largesse from the “rich” or “elites” toward the poor. The specific actions could include higher taxes on corporations and high-income earners and big wage increases. Redistribution is the least evident of the three policy areas in developed countries right now—in fact, the US under President Trump is actually moving to cut corporate taxes. But it did form a core part of the program that helped the opposition Labour Party come within a whisker of winning the recent parliamentary election in the UK.