A World of Insecurity: Democratic Disenchantment in Rich and Poor Countries by Pranab Bardhan covers territory that will be widely familiar to those of us who yearn for punishment and who have read books like How do democracies die? Where How Democracy Ends. He points to the cynicism of populist leaders who, themselves part of the elite, and busy[ing] to some pruning of the welfare state” and stacking economic regulation in their favor, nevertheless blame the “elites” for the consequences of their own decisions. He notes the “trampling[ing] due process and the rules and institutions of representative government. But he also argues that there has been a growing cultural chasm between the liberal professions and blue-collar workers, facilitating the blame game played by populists. And observe the massive distributive consequences of massive amounts of QE.
The distinctive aspect of the book is to look at rich and poor countries through the same prism, Modi and India in particular. In any case, he argues, the way of thinking about the role of the state is its particular role “in the pooling and underwriting of risks for the masses of the people” – a task in which most states have recently failed in the face of to immense shocks – with more to come as people get cold and hungry this fall and winter.
In the context of incompetent populist governments, it is hard to see how the state will rise to the task. Bardhan places his hopes in labor unions and community organizations. The book ends with a plea not to despair, even if it’s a dark read. The last sentence is a quote from Rabindranath Tagore’s last speech: “Looking around me, I see the crumbling ruins of a proud civilization scattered like a vast heap of futility. And yet, I will not commit the grave sin of losing faith in man.