Upcoming Conference on “Populist Plutocrats: Lessons from Around the World” (Sept. 23, Harvard Law School)

On Saturday, September 23rd, Harvard Law School, in collaboration with the University of Chicago’s Stigler Center, will host a one-day conference entitled “Populist Plutocrats: Lessons from Around the World.” The conference will focus on an important and dangerous phenomenon: political leaders who successfully exploit anti-elite sentiment in order to achieve power, but who, once in office, seem primarily interested in enriching themselves, along with a relatively small circle of family members and cronies. Many Americans might find that this description accurately captures President Trump, who campaigned as a populist, but who is governing as more as a “crony capitalist” plutocrat—or, some would allege, as a quasi-kleptocrat.

Americans seeking to understand the challenges our country is now facing might do well to look abroad. After all, while Trump’s leveraging of the power of the presidency for personal enrichment—enabled by anti-elite sentiment among his supporters—may well be unprecedented in modern U.S. history, it is not, alas, unprecedented in the modern world. Indeed, while every country’s experience is different, and we must always be careful not to overstate the parallels, many other democracies have had leaders who could be described as populist plutocrats, or even populist kleptocrats, in something like the Trump mold. While such resemblances have occasionally been noted (see, for example, here, here, here, and here), but there has not yet been much of a sustained attempt to understand populist plutocracy/kleptocracy and closely related phenomena in comparative perspective. The September 23 conference will seek to initiate more sustained exploration of these issues, and will also provide an opportunity for experts from other parts of the world–who have more experience with political leaders who combine populist rhetoric with self-interested profiteering and cronyism–to offer a distinct perspective on the challenges the United States is currently facing.

The conference will feature the following panels: Continue reading

Sins of the Father: Keiko Fujimori’s Presidential Candidacy in Peru

Dynastic politics are still strong across the globe. Hillary Clinton seems poised to follow in her husband’s footsteps and become President of the United States. Another Trudeau was elected Prime Minister of Canada last October. Chinese President Xi Jinping is a so-called “princeling.” And, as has been well documented on this blog, dynasties rule the political scene in the Philippines.

The front runner in Peru’s presidential election also has a familiar last name: Fujimori. Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori is the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, who held office from 1990 to 2000. Ex-President Fujimori’s regime did some good in Peru; for example, his liberal economic reforms helped to launch a period of economic growth. But his regime was also brutal and plagued by corruption. President Fujimori is in prison today, serving a 25 year sentence for human rights violations. He’s also been convicted of a number of corruption-related offenses, including using his spy chief to bribe journalists, business people, judges, and opposition politicians.

Despite this legacy of corruption, and the fact that Peruvians view corruption as one of the most serious problems facing the country, Congresswoman Fujimori sits atop the polls of the 2016 election. Is this a problem? How much should Peruvian voters consider Alberto Fujimori’s corruption and human rights abuses when they vote next month? And to what extent should the Fujimori family legacy affect their assessment of Congresswoman Fujimori’s approach to corruption?

Continue reading