Like-Mindedness: A Playground for Populists

Pink Sherbet Photography via flickr || CC 2.0

A stuffy room, with a high rate of bowties per square meter. Someone at the dias explaining why free markets or social liberties are the best for humankind. Everybody nods or nods off. Is this a familiar scene? If you are a liberal or a libertarian you’ve probably been to an endless stream of such lectures. I know I have.

And it is fine. It is always important to find like-minded people, to educate ourselves further, and to be passionate about these things. But haven’t we forgotten something? While we are busy confirming our biases and preaching to the choir, who will reach out to the billions of other who don’t think like us?

There is always at least one member in the audience of our lecture halls who says that whoever disagrees is an idiot, a statist, a communist or whichever label is en vogue. They then go back to their ivory towers.

I know it is much more comfortable to stay in our own bubbles, but in order to be better, we must push ourselves and step out of our comfort zones. Beside cultivating a relationship with our audiences (and educating them better on communicating liberty), we have to build the roads to others.

Beyond the relatively well off, a kind of hipster crowd to the cities, there are a lot of people in smaller towns and villages who are being increasingly marginalized. They don’t care about liberals saying that the world is a better place than it used to be. They don’t care about champagne socialists saying they want to help the poor while they cavort in fancy parties.

Only the populists manage to reach out to some of them. These people vote for populists not because they are stupid, but because populists are the only ones who seemingly care about them.

Yes, of course, the world is getting better and better, but we tend to rely too much on hard data and not on conceptual evidence. A lot of people feel like they are the losers of globalization. Even if data suggests that they are doing well, they see that others are doing so much better.

People in rural areas see others in big cities enjoy Uber and unreasonably expensive coffee. Facebook and social media users see their friends are happy, married, successful, and richer than they are, when in fact people just tend to share more positive things than negatives.

We have to reach out those who feel left behind, and convince them of the benefits of free market and social liberties ne step at a time. Rather than wanting a liberal utopia in an instant, we must aim for smaller victories, which in time will facilitate bigger changes.

This method is called the Overton Window. Strive for possible outcomes and by succeeding push the limits of opportunities.

Don’t campaign for a completely decentralized, private education, when the majority of people debate about what to have in the curriculum of the highly centralized school system. First, for example, push for a wider choice of subjects, then school vouchers – and so on and so forth, until in the long run you reach your ultimate goal.

Populists are successful because they speak to the people left behind. Trump did that, so did Orbán in Hungary. They play on the fear in people, confirming their biases.

Our goal should be to break down the biases of those people, as well as ours. Only then would the world truly be a better place.

Mate Hajba
Free Market Foundation