For centrists, government’s role is to tidy up some of the negative externalities generated by globalized markets and economic growth but never to become an impediment to them. It’s the markets and the growth that generates the rising tide of wealth that raises most boats and that government modestly redistributes to give a boost to the few left behind. The key is to find the right balance: Too little government and the losers suffer; too much government and the winners generate less wealth and everyone suffers. When a balance is struck, we’re all better off, with progress maintained and fairness achieved.
The left-wing populists view things differently. They believe that the centrists are far too inclined to follow Republicans in fetishizing markets and growth. In the process they fail to reckon with the income stratification and economic inequality produced by the policies of the past 40 years. The rich have gotten ever-richer while everyone else has stagnated or fallen behind. Reversing course will require far more than enacting a laundry list of policy tweaks. It will require a significant shift of direction and priorities — including a return to the higher tax rates that prevailed before the Reagan Revolution, significant cuts to defense spending, and several major new government programs to level America’s highly stratified playing field.