Amusing quote from David Brooks' NYT oped today:
populism is popular with the ruling class. Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.’s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.’s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.’s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.’s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.
The development version of populism is to appeal for stronger and more sweeping actions to help "the poor." Of course, those actions will be implemented by the development elite. Unlike domestic politics, both elites in development are usually Ph.D.'s.
There are the "pro-market" Ph.D.'s that claim to have expert wisdom on how to make markets work in poor countries (with insufficient knowledge of those countries' complex informal and formal institutions). Think shock therapy in former Soviet Union and structural adjustment/Washington Consensus in Africa and Latin America.
Then there are the "pro-state" Ph.D.'s that claim to have expert wisdom on how to make states work in poor countries to alleviate poverty (with insufficient knowledge on the politics and capacity of the state). Think industrial policy, protectionism, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.
The alternative to top-down expert-driven populism in development is bottom-up development that promotes decentralized help and self-help by many, many actors...