A Discussion on Populism in the Economy and Regulation of Human Action
Institute for Market Economics, Bulgaria
March 27, 2020
IME published a discussion article investigating various examples of economic populism and regulations that have a direct effect on economic activity and the social environment in Bulgaria. The examples discussed are by no means exhaustive, but they aim to present the situation in many different human activities – from sharing economy to social activities, where there is a gap between real needs/actions and the current regulatory framework. Although in the cases discussed the actions of the economic operators are often on the edge or even beyond the law, we show that they are not usually offenses in their nature.
We take a deep look at five examples from different fields. The first two are focusing on the sharing economy and the gig workers, as these are clear examples of the collision of the new world with the old rules. Next, we look at examples from the social field, including restrictions on access to medicines and public transportation in small villages, as well as noise regulation in the late hours of the day. The last example is quite current and is related to the "fight against speculation" during the coronavirus crisis and the state of emergency. Interestingly, some of the examples are in fact intensified by the coronavirus crisis and, where necessary, placed in the context of the current situation.
Populism is not clearly defined in economic literature. In this article, we view economic populism as a set of policies that seems to be designed to protect the average person but actually limit his or her choices and opportunities. In this sense, we view populism as an anti-market phenomenon that intertwines, and sometimes is the origin, of severe regulations that limit natural human actions. In this case, we are not looking for a common assessment of the regulatory burden in society, but rather we want to give concrete examples and provoke a debate to open the society to the freedom of choice and the discovery of old and new solutions that make life better.
Examples discussed are an integral part of everyday life. Shared travel or rental apartments exist, and there is nothing in it that threatens the public or that should be considered a violation. Gig workers are also real – they just have a short-term activity and are difficult to fit into the general framework. Mayors are required to collect prescription books and deliver medicines to seniors' homes. Nightlife in the summer also has not disappeared, despite severe noise regulations. The fight against speculation is a traditional topic for politicians, which became especially popular during the state of emergency declared on March 13, 2020. These are all topics that affect many spheres of our lives and where human action seeks a solution but politicians have put up unnecessary barriers.
 The discussion paper is supported by Atlas Network „Illiberalism Grant Program”
Full version of the paper in Bulgarian is available here.