There is a tradition in Puerto Rico of being policy-takers, not policy-makers. This fact became clear to Miranda-Marín early in his campaign for mayor. “We had study circles and forums with political leaders, community leaders, professionals, and private sector people,” he told interviewer Alfredo Carrasquillo-Ramírez. “We would ask people, ‘What are your problems?’ And we would get long lists and pages and pages of problems. Then we would ask, ‘What are your strengths?’ And we would get silence. Everybody would remain silent. Instead of sharing their strengths, they would share stories about what the government brought to the community. And I would think to myself, ‘How much dependency!’”
Miranda-Marín saw that the first step in breaking the cycle of dependency was to introduce a new language for discussing public issues. “The traditional political logic was blunt and simple: ‘I give you my vote in exchange for having you solve this or that, or in exchange for your giving me this or that.’ That discourse had to change.”
When citizens see themselves in this way as purely private actors – customers that some distant government agency is meant to serve – that is no democracy worthy of the name. Genuine democracy arguably requires active citizenship and participation in the public sphere, towards the ideal of collective self-government. Rather than waiting for someone else to fix everything, we should work together to address our common concerns. So claims a meta-political view – call it ‘populism’ – that emphasizes initiative and civic engagement.
Isn’t it then populism, rather than capitalism, that is the true opposite of communism’s “statist” aspect? This may be a variation on the old 'two kinds of liberty' debates (though I haven't framed it like that before). Totalitarianism deprives us of both private and civic agency. Capitalism restores our agency within the private sphere, whereas populism empowers us in the public/political sphere, i.e. in our role as citizens. (The core populist thesis, as I understand it, is that we ought to have a say over the structure of our society, rather than having it imposed on us from without.)
The two are at least logically independent, though in practice they may come into tension, e.g. if mass consumer culture undermines a community’s self-conception. This then raises the question: which has priority?