Populism is defined by a governmental or policy focus on benefits to the populace, as opposed to the interests of the administrative state or managerial class. This philosophy recognizes that a managerial class tends to become insular, corrupt, and ineffective. But what constitutes good populist policy?

There are two approaches to populist policy:

  1. handouts or benefits to people; or,
  2. development investments in people.

Handouts tend to foment problems:

  • they reinforce the power of the managerial class, who control the distribution of benefits;
  • they create tensions between groups over the distribution of benefits, eg creating racial divides;
  • they drain resources from productive members of society, worsening the situation; and,
  • they increase tensions between classes due to uneven burden.

By contrast, development investments “plant trees” that your children will enjoy. This approach still depends on the managerial class for distribution, but by investing in the development of commerce throughout society, over time, these investments devolve power away from the administrative state towards the broader public. Further, by providing widespread access to capital and training, while focusing on the long term benefits to the nation, this approach can unify people around a common goal and vision for the future: a prosperous society for all.

Example: Developing Manufacturing Workforce

Thailand is a country with a strong populist sentiment in its political structure. However, its politics are divided over how to provide benefits without pushing the country into financial trouble. One approach would be to invest part of the benefits funding (~240B baht; ~$7B USD) into building up their domestic manufacturing base.

That would look like taking approximately 34B baht ($1B USD) to invest in training, equipment/operating loans, and similar investments into modern manufacturing approaches. Eg, 13.5B baht ($400M USD) into equipment, 10.2B baht ($300M USD) into scholarships and training programs, and the remaining 10.2B baht ($300M USD) into operating grants for machine shops. Funding at this level would allow for investment in 1000 new machine shops, provide 10,000 scholarships, and support operation of similar numbers of machine shops.

This would benefit the government in three ways:

  1. repayment of loans for equipment means that invested capital will return for future programs;
  2. increased productivity in the economy will build the tax base, allowing for more generous future programs; and,
  3. government can reserve capacity in exchange for its operating grants, allowing providing resources to programs – eg, farm equipment innovation.

This forms a flywheel: as the investments mature, the country is wealthier than when it started, which allows it to further invest in benefits to its people. Further, this can be coupled into other programs – again, the reserved capacity in machine shops (in exchange for operating grants) can be used to innovate on farm technology to address other socially impactful issues, such as the smoke in the northern region of Thailand by reducing the need for slash-and-burn farming. And such policies compliment the efforts of the government to connect Thailand with online marketplaces, by providing new means of manufacturing goods for export.

This is the defining feature of strong populism:

A flywheel of success by coupling investment in capital with investment in human potential to benefit society.

Rather than draining resources from society, investment into strong populist policies returns benefits to society at large. This is akin to farming: you invest in your field so that way at maturation, you reap the fruits of that effort. And unlike other forms of populism, which can present an unsustainable drain on a nation’s finances.

Harmony of Strong Populism

The underlying philosophy of strong populism is to align the interests of groups at different levels of society:

  • personal improvement and enrichment, eg operating a machine shop or producing goods for export;
  • cellular and resilient economies, eg a large number of geographically distributed machine shops means that the country is resilient in its manufacturing; and,
  • development of a beautiful and vibrant garden that the ruling class (and His Highness) can take pride in on the world stage.

This harmony across layers of society creates a strong and vibrant society that all can enjoy – hence the name, Strong Populism.