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Characteristics of a banana republic

Summary:
People have asked me how I define “banana republic”. So I’ll do that in this post. Before doing so, I have to explain a really basic point that should be obvious. But it’s 2020, and the internet has turned us into a nation of morons. So I have to spell it out. This post is my definition of banana republics, not a description of Trump. So don’t say “But Trump doesn’t do that” Or, “but that’s what the Democrats do”. Heck, some of the items on my list, such as government data manipulation, don’t apply to either party in the US.I have to say this because in 2020 I can do something as innocuous as complain about how the US responded to Covid-19 and Trumpistas will immediately assume I’ve attacked their Dear Leader. By the way, this sort of misreading is itself evidence of

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People have asked me how I define “banana republic”. So I’ll do that in this post. Before doing so, I have to explain a really basic point that should be obvious. But it’s 2020, and the internet has turned us into a nation of morons. So I have to spell it out. This post is my definition of banana republics, not a description of Trump. So don’t say “But Trump doesn’t do that” Or, “but that’s what the Democrats do”. Heck, some of the items on my list, such as government data manipulation, don’t apply to either party in the US.

I have to say this because in 2020 I can do something as innocuous as complain about how the US responded to Covid-19 and Trumpistas will immediately assume I’ve attacked their Dear Leader.

By the way, this sort of misreading is itself evidence of being a banana republic. I doubt whether when some Swiss guy complains about some problem in Switzerland that the listener automatically assumes it’s a direct attack on the Prime Minister. But they probably do in Venezuela.

This is obviously just a partial list:

1. Actual fake news in the media, and false accusations of fake news by politicians. Weird conspiracy theories.

2. The cult of the “man on horseback”, who rides into the capital to rid it of corruption.

3. Highly corrupt governments, especially governments elected on anti-corruption platforms.

4. Packing the Supreme Court with loyalists.

5. Attempts to end term limits for the current president, or to replace the president with his spouse to evade term limits. (Not having term limits at all is not evidence of being a banana republic.)

6. Corrupt police and violent vigilantes.

7. A strong president and subservient Congress.

8. No trust in election fairness. (This is perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of BRism)

9. Presidents blame foreigners for domestic economic problems.

10. Frequent impeachment attempts.

11. Opponents are demonized, electorate is highly polarized.

12. Schools teach propaganda.

13. President’s family members become important policymakers.

14. Governments spend money like there’s no tomorrow. The national debt soars. High inflation.

15. New governments routinely prosecute members of the previous administration.

16. Unwritten rules and norms of civic culture erode away; politics becomes the law of the jungle.

17. Presidents demand loyalty from other government officials, including law enforcement.

18. Statist economic policies that favor cronies of the president.

19. Voters focus on personalities, not policies.

20. The government manipulates economic data to look good.


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Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment".

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