Pundits have been using the word “populist” a lot in connection with the recent “Occupy Wall Street” protest. This Atlantic article by Derek Thompson asks: “What Should a Populist Movement Ask of Washington?” Well, here’s my answer to his question.
Perhaps the most famous populist in U.S. history, William Jennings Bryan, wanted monetary stimulus to combat the depression that existed at the time. In Bryan’s time, the “fiscal hawks” we are familiar with in Congress had the authority to also be “hawkish” on monetary policy. Today, however, the Federal Reserve exists, and it provides a stimulative monetary policy.
But we still have fiscal hawks. Read Paul Krugman‘s commentary for an expert explanation of the problem, but the short version, as I understand it, is that the Conservatives are restricting growth by opposing fiscal expansion.
So, what Populists of today should ask for is almost the same thing the Populists of yore asked for: economic stimulus. Only they must ask for it from fiscal policymakers, not monetary policy makers.