Plutocrats vs. populists

All of these are triumphs of populists over plutocrats: Mr. de Blasio is winning because he is offering New Yorkers a chance to reject the plutocratic politics of Michael R. Bloomberg. The left wing of the Democratic Party opposed the appointment of Mr. Summers as part of a wider backlash against the so-called Rubin Democrats (as in Robert E. Rubin, who preceded Mr. Summers as Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration) and their sympathy for Wall Street. Even the Tea Party, which in its initial phase was to some extent the creation of plutocrats like Charles and David Koch, has slipped the leash of its very conservative backers and alienated more centrist corporate bosses and organizations…

Plutocratic politics have much to recommend them. They are pure, smart and focused. But at a time when society as a whole is riven by an ever widening economic chasm, policy delivered from on high can get you only so far. Voters on both the right and the left are suspicious of whether the plutocrats and the technocrats they employ understand their real needs, and whether they truly have their best interests at heart. That rift means we should all brace ourselves for more extremist politics and a more rancorous political debate.

Where does that leave smart centrists with their clever, fact-based policies designed to fine-tune 21st century capitalism and make it work better for everyone?

Part of the problem is that no one has yet come up with a fully convincing answer to the question of how you harness the power of the technology revolution and globalization without hollowing out middle-class jobs. Liberal nanny-state paternalism, as it has been brilliantly described and practiced by Cass R. Sunstein and like-minded thinkers, can help, as can shoring up the welfare state. But neither is enough, and voters are smart enough to appreciate that. Even multiple nudges won’t make 21st-century capitalism work for everyone. Plutocrats, as well as the rest of us, need to rise to this larger challenge, to find solutions that work on the global scale at which business already operates.