I saw an article this morning on NBC declaring that Economic Populism Will Be Front And Center for 2016 Elections. It goes into detail about why this will be such an important issue in the coming year.

It does not, however, do very much to accurately define what Economic Populism actually is, and my google search for an explanation of the term only brings up a similar article from a year ago, a Wiki article on Populism (but not specifically economic populism) and Huffington Post Articles Tagged As "Economic Populism".

It sounds like it might just be a buzzword without any real meaning, but I wouldn't know since this is the first I've heard of it. Is there an actual definition for the concept of "Economic Populism"? And if so, what is it?

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    It is a buzzword, but it has meaning - basiclaly what it says on the label. It's populist ("Populism is a political doctrine that appeals to the interests and conceptions (such as hopes and fears) of the general people, especially contrasting those interests with the interests of the elite" - Wiki) approach to economics questions - things like robin-hooding money from those who have more to those who have less, etc...
    – user4012
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 16:27
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    @DVK That sounds like a partially-realized full answer.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 16:45
  • 1
    Economic populism = you are are gonna get all this stuff and someone else is going to pay for it. Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 12:01
  • short answer: an "ism" long answer: socio-communi-fasci-democro-cism
    – user6128
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 18:37
  • See also: economicpopulist.org
    – user70848
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 1:07

4 Answers 4


For economic populism as actual economists talk about it, you might want to see macroeconomic populism, usually as observed in Latin America.

Policies include: fiscal stimulus (as opposed to austerity), printing more money, and expanding deficit. This "emphasizes growth and income distribution and deemphasizes the risks of inflation and deficit finance".

There's debate (see this and this) over whether and when there's a right time for macroeconomic populism, but in general it's pretty risky and not a long term solution.

In the context of the 2016 election, "economic populism" refers to a general opposition to income inequality and globalization (ie trade agreements), as well as opposition to money in politics (per the effects of the Citizen United decision). Basically, the middle class is shrinking, jobs are disappearing overseas, and all the politicians are in the pockets of billionaires. Worrying to say the least.

Economists don't really have satisfying answer to these issues - they're a little late to the inequality question, they're firmly in favor of globalization, and money in politics is primarily a political issue, not economic.

So yes, economic populism as used in political writing is a buzzword that has little grounding in actual economics. Probably the closest you get in economics is the work of Thomas Piketty on income inequality, who prescribes progressive taxation.


There's a concept of economic populism but with points to take into account. The first, what you call economic populism in Latin America is known as Economía Solidaria (solidarity economy) which refer to an economy based not in grow the profits or valuate the company but to increase the quality of life through social activities in the community (Concept taken from economiasolidaria.org). Later, both populism and solidarity are used to define the same thing.

The concept was used for the first time in Brazil at the World Social Forum (2001) where they referred this kind of economy as one solution to destroy the gap between social structures. The main institution holding the concept itself are cooperatives around the globe. In the internet world, the solidarity economy is used by most of the open source projects and developers working in free software.

Paul Singer said about the solidarity economy:

"The solidarity economy has emerged as a way out of poverty and continues to do this."

There is also a good paper talking about the economic populism in Spanish called "Economía Popular", where the author explain the main characteristics of the populism and its impacts in the economy.

Spoiler alert: they have several similarities but in concepts or terminologies are differences.


I think my approach to defining economic populism would be to say that it's as open to interpretation as being, say, a liberal. What does being liberal mean? Well, it could be classically liberal like some free-market conservatives consider themselves to be, people like Jeremy Bentham or Adam Smith. For modern-day Americans, liberals could be proponents of government in peoples' lives like Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson, or William Jennings Bryan to step back in time a bit. In other words, what it really means depends on the context it's used in and what the issue being talked about is.

Economic populism in 2016 could be said to apply to Bernie Sanders on one hand, with calls for more government action and intervention. On the other hand, it could mean being open to libertarians to claim in their own way.

In other words, I think you can only try to get at your question, without there being a specific definition that answers the question. I think you're on the right track in that it's a buzzword that gets tossed around.


In the most basic terms, Economic Populism is "commonly defined as: "the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite."- Princeton University quote from Wikipedia. In other words, leveling the playing field. Anyone living and working in America today, has felt the heavy burden of striving to care for our families and to succeed in an purposefully flawed economic institution that is designed to cater to the elite few while keeping others at a marked disadvantage. These disadvantages have been the direct cause of most of the intercity turmoil that we are now experiencing in America. For those who work for minimum wage or can not work, the disadvantages include, poverty, poor healthcare, lack of adequate education, social divisions, racial divisions, crime and general feeling of hopelessness (to name a few). For those of us who happen to be considered "middle class", the system is designed to keep us just above the lower class but never giving us the tools or promotions needed to fully succeed. Both the "lower" and "middle" class struggle to provide in this economy. The Economic Populist seek to address our fears and concerns in an effort to reform the system that is creating our current stress and making life in America such an impossible struggle for most of us while an elite few continue to benefit from our misery.

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