An old flat-bed truck, packed with silent men in work clothes, travels through my leafy suburb very early every morning. It is an uncomfortable and dangerous way to get to work. Still, they are the lucky ones, with jobs and an employer who provides transport, presumably from Alex. The idea that they should be grateful: that is what breeds populism. In the public discourse, the concept of populism has three characteristics. First, it blames social ills on groups of individuals, rather than social systems, which encourages mobilisation against people defined by ethnicity or nationality (and, in some parts of Africa, sexuality), with the attendant oppression and violence. Second, it is rooted in magical thinking, promising fabulous outcomes with no road map for getting there. On the right, calls to expel immigrants ignore research showing that immigration and diversity are key to economic growth; on the left, demands for nationalisation and expropriation don’t delve into who will ultim...

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