Coronavirus Updates

September 23, 2017
Harvard Law School

About the Conference

This one-day conference, co-sponsored by Harvard Law School and the Stigler Center, will focus on an important and dangerous political phenomenon: the “populist plutocrat.” The populist plutocrat is a leader who exploits the cultural and economic grievances of poorer, less-educated voters against traditional elites in order to achieve and retain power, but who, once in office, seem substantially or primarily interested in enriching him- or herself, along with a relatively small circle of family members, cronies, and allies.

Many Americans worry that this description accurately captures President Trump, and are working to both understand and respond to the distinctive challenges posed by the Trump Administration. Yet while populist plutocracy may be a new experience for Americans, it is a sadly familiar style of leadership elsewhere in the world. Populist plutocrats have taken power in many democracies, often with devastating results. Although every country is different, Americans have much to learn about populist plutocracy—both about how it functions, and how to fight it—from those who have confronted this phenomenon elsewhere.

This conference will contribute to that more general understanding by bringing together a group of distinguished experts—academics, journalists, politicians, and civil society activists—to analyze populist plutocrats (or leaders who exhibit some similar characteristics, even if they don’t perfectly correspond to the archetype) from several different countries, including Italy, Thailand, Russia, the Philippines, Peru, Argentina, and South Africa. These participants will address four key questions: First, how can we understand the political and social conditions that contribute to the electoral success of populist plutocrats? Second, once in power, how do populist plutocrats govern, and how does their governance style differ from other types of leaders? Third, what strategies and approaches are most effective in resisting and combating populist plutocracy? Fourth, what are the long term economic and political consequences of a period of populist plutocracy?

The conference is free and open to the public.

The conference will be live-streamed.


The conference will begin at 9 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m. Eastern Time.

8:30 a.m. - 9 a.m. Coffee
9 a.m. - 9:15 a.m. Welcome and Opening Remarks
John Manning (Dean, Harvard Law School)

Watch Video »
9:15 a.m. - 11 a.m. Understanding Populist Plutocracy 1: Berlusconi in Italy

Giovanni Orsina (Professor of History, Luiss-Carli University)
Beppe Severgnini (journalist and columnist, Corriere della Sera)
Luigi Zingales (Professor, University of Chicago Booth School of Business)

Watch Video »
11 a.m. - 11:15 a.m. Coffee Break
11:15 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Understanding Populist Plutocracy 2: Thaksin in Thailand

Abhisit Vejjajiva (Prime Minister of Thailand 2008-2011; Leader of the Democrat Party)
Duncan McCargo (Professor of Political Science, University of Leeds)

Moderator: Alan Wirzbicki (senior editorial writer, Boston Globe)

Watch Video »
12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. Lunch Break
1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Resisting Populist Plutocracy 1: Investigative Journalism in Estrada’s Philippines

Panelist: Sheila Coronel (Professor, Columbia Journalism School)

Moderator: David Sanger (national security correspondent, New York Times)

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2:30 p.m. - 2:45 p.m. Coffee Break
2:45 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. Resisting Populist Plutocracy 2: Legal Checks in Fujimori’s Peru and Zuma’s South Africa

Paul Holden (Director of Investigations, Corruption Watch UK)
Jose Ugaz (Chair of the Board, Transparency International)

Moderator: Matthew Stephenson (Professor, Harvard Law School)

Watch Video »
4:30 p.m. - 5 p.m. Concluding Remarks
Matthew Stephenson and Luigi Zingales

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5 p.m. - 6 p.m. Reception (coffee and light snacks)

Speaker List

  • Sheila Coronel, Toni Stabile Professor of Professional Practice in Investigative Journalism, Director of the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, and Dean of Academic Affairs, Columbia Journalism School
    Founder of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

  • Paul Holden, Director of Investigations at Corruption Watch UK
    Co-author of Who Rules South Africa (Jonathan Ball, 2012)

  • Duncan McCargo, Professor of Political Science, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds
    Author of The Thaksinization of Thailand (NIAS, 2004)

  • Giovanni Orsina, Professor of History, Deputy Director of the School of Government, Director of the Master in European Studies, Luiss-Guido Carli University
    Author of Berlusconism and Italy (Palgrave, 2014)

  • Beppe Severgnini, Journalist and Columnist, Corriere della Sera

  • David E. Sanger, National Security Correspondent, New York Times

  • Matthew Stephenson, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

  • Jose Ugaz, Chair of the Board, Transparency International
    Former Ad Hoc State Attorney of Peru, prosecuted Alberto Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos

  • Abhisit Vejjajiva, Leader of the Democrat Party, Former Prime Minister of Thailand

  • Alan Wirzbicki, Senior editorial writer, Boston Globe

  • Luigi Zingales, Robert C. McCormack Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Conference Venue

Wasserstein Hall, Milstein West AB (2019)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA 02138


Register online here.

Contact Information

For more information, contact:
Jennifer Minnich
Faculty Assistant, Harvard Law School