Lesetja Kganyago: Lessons from the economics of populism

Address by Mr Lesetja Kganyago, Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, at the ABSIP (The Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals) National Conference, Johannesburg, 19 October 2018.

The views expressed in this speech are those of the speaker and not the view of the BIS.

Central bank speech  | 
19 October 2018

At the end of the road one cannot avoid wondering whether the mistakes of past populist regimes can be internalized by policymakers, politicians, and the population at large and, thus, be avoided in the future. Quite clearly, [history] suggest[s] that, in general, there is very little capacity (or willingness) of learning from other countries’ experiences. Indeed, one of the most striking regularities of these episodes is the insistence with which the engineers of the populist programs argue that their circumstances are unique and thus immune from historical lessons from other nations.

- Rudiger Dornbusch & Sebastian Edwards

My speech today is about populism, about its appeal and its weaknesses. Populism wins supporters in part because it speaks to ordinary people about real problems – problems other leaders can be too embarrassed or nervous to confront. For instance, when Hugo Chávez attacked corruption and inequality in Venezuela, he wasn’t just making trouble. He was confronting some longstanding problems of Venezuelan society.