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Why did the big centrist parties go down the drain?

by tyronen Wed May 25th, 2011 at 05:46:11 AM EST

An article in the Canadian Globe and Mail points out that large centre-left parties - recently the Canadian Liberals, but also the French Socialists, Irish Fianna Fail, Dutch Labour, German CDU and SPD, and Spanish Socialists - have all been suffering electoral setbacks.


Political scientists are placing the blame on the financial crisis.

The hemorrhage of centrist votes began in earnest with the financial crisis of 2008, when a surprising number of voters shifted away from the big all-in-one parties to "outsider" voices - single-issue parties such as the Greens and the anti-immigration parties of the Netherlands and Scandinavia, traditional parties of protest such as the NDP in Canada, anti-system parties such as the Scottish and Catalan separatists, or forces of indiscriminate anger, such as the right-wing National Front in France.

This is not so much a shift of voters to more extreme politics... but rather a surprising but predictable response to the way the crisis unfolded: While it began, in 2008, as a private-sector crisis of bad debt and unsupported credit in the financial and banking sectors, this was quickly followed by bailouts and rescues that shifted the burden to the state. Private-sector debt and potential insolvency turned into public-sector debt and higher taxes to pay for it, and the parties in power got blamed.Many voters' first personal experience of the crisis was an announcement of a tax hike, massive government debt, or slashed public service being used to pay for the crisis; this, combined with a job loss and a fuel-price spike, turned people against the parties that oversaw the crisis.

On top of this, the parties of the centre-left, like the Liberals in Canada and Labour in Britain, [had] attempted an experiment in the 1990s and 2000s that they hoped would bring both rising equality and rising prosperity: A largely free and unfettered market economy, combined with low government debt and big investments in social services. The idea was that the booming economy would finance a state-supported rise in equality. The experiment mostly failed: While life did improve for the poor in the West, it didn't change at all for the middle class, and often got worse, as they watched the wealthy become ultra-wealthy. The increasingly angry "squeezed middle" are the people who tend to vote in elections, and many were driven to distrust the big parties whose experiment failed them.

It's important to realize that the public's underlying ideological views have not shifted.  Rather, they are moving from larger parties to smaller ones:


The range of political views in most countries has not become more extreme; there are about as many left-wing people and as many right-wing people as before, and fringe views haven't increased much. But the parties of the fringe have expanded dramatically. Until recently, the big parties of the centre were able to absorb voters with a strong dislike of immigrants or of capitalism, offer them some token recognition, and reward them with the benefits of mainstream power. Now, in a tougher age, that power means little, and the big ideological supermarkets of the democratic world have given way to dusty alleys lined with colourful boutiques.

I would say this analysis is spot-on for the UK.  It is perhaps least accurate in Canada, where the financial crisis was best contained and no bank bailouts took place - and the mainstream centre-right party is now stronger than ever.  In an indirect way, it is true for the US; although actual minor parties cannot easily be formed in its FPTP system, fringe movements within a party, like the Tea Party movement, can assume a lot of power.

It would also seem to indicate there is an opening for new parties of the left to assume greater prominence.  The Green party has played this role in Germany; the NDP in Canada, and the Liberal Democrats in the UK (at least during the last election).  But in France, Netherlands, Sweden, and the US, I don't see a similar force - just the traditional centre-left party losing ground to mostly conservative parties, new and old.

Thoughts welcome.

Display:
It might be that the end result of liberal democracy and economic liberalism is a financial crisis which discredits economic liberalism, leaves the liberal democratic parties out in the cold and leads to an anti-liberal backlash.

That's what happened in the 1930 and it is on its way to happening again.

Only this time there isn't a socialist alternative waiting in the wings, only brownshirts.

Economics is politics by other means

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 06:15:12 AM EST
Well there are the greens. If they can develop the ecological perspective into a economic program towards those goals remains largely to be seen.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 04:44:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a new Spanish Green movement afoot, Equo. What I'm getting from them is too much Fukushima and too little full employment.

Economics is politics by other means
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 02:00:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or maybe Human history just works in cycles (Think, in economical terms, Kondatriev cycles - but eternally)?

The Fourth turning makes for a sobering read.

These guys suggested, in 1997 (The same year as the "End of History", that humour book by Fukuyama): financial meltdown, a terrorist attack in the US, Tea Party.

I do not have the book here, but I've found a few citations:


"Sometime around the year 2005, perhaps a few years before or after, America will enter the Four Turning."

"A spark will ignite a new mood. Today [c. 1996], the same spark would flame briefly but then extinguish, its last flicker merely confirming and deepening the Unraveliing-era mind-set. This time though it will catalyze a Crisis. In retrospect, the spark might seem as ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as trivial as a Tea Party. It could be a rapid succession of small events in which the ominous, the ordinary, and the trivial are commingled." (p. 272)

"A global terrorist group blows up an aircraft and announces it possesses portable nuclear weapons. The United States and its allies launch a preemptive strike. The terrorists threaten to retaliate against an American city. Congress declares war and authorizes unlimited house-to-house searches. Opponents charge that the president concocted the emergency for political purposes. A nationwide strike is declared. Foreign capital flees the U.S." (p. 273)

The book is obviously geared toward the US (the subtitle is "an American prophecy"). But the reasoning is generally applicable.

There is a positive in this view (actually more):

  1. It is not a structural problem with democracy, but a normal cycle in human societies.

  2. Yes, you can get Hitler, Lenin, Franco, Mussolini or Salazar. But you can also get Churchill or Roosevelt.

  3. The cycle can be tamed if understood

  4. The next 2 decades will mostly shape the next century. While, in our lives, most of our POLITICAL options were limited by the flow of things (I bet that during all your existence, Migeru, you probably felt that (macro) things just advanced in ways you could not really influence), NOW is the time the flow is changed, NOW we can make a difference.

  5. Or, if you think you cannot make a difference and things are fu.kced at least you can run away. ;)
by cagatacos on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 01:51:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A Spanish economist (Santiago Niño Becerra) has made a prediction that there will be a long crisis in 2010-20 and that the system that will emerge at the other end will be substantially different. He makes parallels with the Great Depression, starting a long cycle of 70-80 years, punctuated by an mid-cycle crisis which was the 1970s Stagflation.

In the end this might all have to do with the length of human life and generations, the 30-year cycle might be ingrained in the system just because of natural lifespans and the human tendency to have "formative years" and then live according to the same narratives for the rest of our lives. This leads naturally to strong, delayed feedbacks.

Economics is politics by other means

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 02:08:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A key thing we still don't have is an analysis that includes the reality that political and economic systems are joined at the hip.

Any accurate economic model must include the fact that political feedback loops are part of the cycle.

In fact I think they're the underlying reason for boom/bust. As money concentrates, power concentrates with it. Power enforces pro-cyclical policy. The inevitable result is an explosion.

The only effective way to avoid that is to include negative feedback in the constitution, and put it beyond the reach of bought and paid for lobbying and legislation.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 02:41:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We have it, it's called Political Economy. Both David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill included "political economy" in the title of their books.

Then came the marginalists and defined economics to the exclusion of politics so that Political Economy is now classified as sociology. David Ricardo is still considered an economist, not so John Stuart Mill or Thrstein Veblen.

Apparently even political scientists want nothing to do with political economy because it threatens their academic monopoly over their subject matter.

Economics is politics by other means

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 04:17:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Kind of. Political economy - even the modern versions - still seems to be narrative based, with a lot of the if... therefores... that are assumed to be correct or "obvious."

But there are many sub-branches and no consistent models.

And no one - except the ECB - suggesting that inferred policy goals should be made explicit to voters by becoming part of the formal constitution.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 06:01:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  "A key thing we still don't have is an analysis that includes the reality that political and economic systems are joined at the hip."

     In their analyses of power--which deliberately considered the interrelational working of social, economic and, in a party politics proper sense, "political" power--both Karl Popper (in his The Open Society and Its Enemies ) and Bertrand Russell, in a number of his essays on political and social philosophy, tried to address this intimate relationship directly noting, in particular, that unless these were considered together, their actual workings in society would not be rightly grasped.

   We are there.  Democratic institutions' real efficacies have, at length, been reduced to a cipher--mainly, though not exclusively, to the benefits of the more and more arbitrary exercise of executive power and, even more significantly, the wholesale shift of much real social and political power from public elective office to quasi-private and purely private entities.

   One of Popper's key points is that, absent healthy institutions, there is nothing but the vagaries of chance in this, that or another individual's propensity to give real meaning to formalities of law.  In other words, without resilient institutions which give effect over long periods to principles of liberal democracy, these will become degraded by lax habits of administration which aren't checked by adherence to formal procedure established in law and given effect institutionally.  People's liberties are then exercised only "at sufferance" of the powerful who, the moment suffering the public's liberties is no longer so convenient, can dispense with them more or less overtly.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 08:54:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I find the concept that we're living in a post-legal world quite apt.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!
by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 03:50:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The book "The Fourth Turning," was written by Strauss and Howe, who are both influenced by Kondratieff wave theory. Their model of a cycle of 4 generational types that repeat is matched directly to the Kondratieff theory of "winter, spring, summer, fall." Their theory, which seems plausible given the evidence, is that generational cohorts exhibit certain behaviors depending on which part of the 70-80 year economic cycle they're born and raised in.

The theory behind "The Fourth Turning" is that the end of an economic cycle was due in the 2000s (which is indeed when it arrived) and that "winter" periods, corresponding to a Depression, produce a "civic" generation that is focused on renewal. In their study of the US, the Millennial generation - born between about 1980 and 2000 - is the "Civic" generation that will produce the next political system that leads the way out of the Depression.

I subscribe to this theory, and had a contract to write a book basically showing how it was already beginning to play out. Sadly, the publisher went bankrupt a few months ago, and so I'm shopping the proposal around.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Sat May 28th, 2011 at 08:36:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
   "Their theory, which seems plausible given the evidence, is that generational cohorts exhibit certain behaviors depending on which part of the 70-80 year economic cycle they're born and raised in."

    I don't so much doubt the fact of this thing called a generational cohort as I do the utility of it as a predictive concept.  Every generation shares to some extent a set of experiences and, at a very basic level, certain conventions in the prevailing opinions of the time.  But, with all that, what can be reliably predicted except things that are so vague that they boil down to the sort of stuff that fills astrology columns in the newspaper?

    Too many factors--individual and societal--will intervene to "swamp" the supposed cohort's identity and character.  Perhaps at best, we could observe how ranges of phenomena narrow or broaden within generational stretches so that a great many more or fewer of various character types are evident in the general population.  Still, this doesn't help us very much in figuring out what, among a range of possible actions, the generation will do, how it will respond to any foreseeable set of circumstances.

   I think technological innovations are far more powerful in setting the table and arranging the menu and these innovations are often as unexpected as they are world-altering.  In any case, we are apparently at their mercy since there is simply no indication that people have any real opportunity to even curb, much less control the pace and direction of technological forces that so influence their lives.  Technology is a constant hurricane or flood--those in the path are subject to the forces which overwhelm them.  

   Technological innovation could be placed under some human constraints--other than market forces, that is--but that would go against the interests which today have most of the power and most of the money.  That power and money are entirely for a blind submission to technology's hurricane forces.  This trend, by the way, defies all generational 'turnings'--it has been a constant for centuries now.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Sun May 29th, 2011 at 09:30:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a very strong argument that the loss of "living memory" drives historical cycles. You would never have seen the sort of political gamesmanship coming out of Merkel's government from Adenauer. Not because Adenauer was a better person than Merkel (he may have been, but personally I doubt that), but because Adenauer and his contemporaries had a stark and living memory of a hundred thousand tons of high explosives being dropped on their cities as a result of such brinkmanship.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun May 29th, 2011 at 07:05:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  Again, I accept living memory as a general phenomena which, in an intuitive way, it seems must influence the reasoning and actions of individuals and groups.  But, for me it, suffers from the same problems as a predictive tool as the generational cohort---that is essentially true by definition since I can't help but see "living memory" as being anything other than another way to express the very same idea(s) as that (or those) behind the generational cohort, with its turnings.

   So, analyses of the "turnings" which living memory is found to demonstrate are generally retrospective or they're coincidences which aren't generally valid.

   If effective, why shouldn't living memory have been expected to have work decisively against the outbreak  of World War II?-- since everyone from Hitler down to his last brigadier general would have had the lesson(s) of World War I fresh in their minds.   Instead, other factors swamped the influence of those memories, reduced them in importance.  Some of these factors were quite probably other memories, but that merely points up the problem of both generational cohorts and living memory (as I see it, the same things): which memories, and interpreted in what ways?  produce what results which are even remotely predictable for any practical purposes?

    Colin Powell, the Vietnam veteran, had adopted as a firm guiding principle based on his bitter experience in the U.S.-Vietnam War that the government must never again commit itself to a armed conflict without 1) a clear, unequivocal definition of victory; 2) a well-considered plan to achieve it; 3) an application of more-than-adequate means to defeat the enemy; and 4) a coherent plan or idea for exit after military victory.

    But later, as secretary of state, all that got shelved under the pressing imperatives of Bush's determination to go to war against Saddam Hussein---a project to which, as we know, Powell lent his authority and prestige during the public-deception and rallying stage.

   Generational cohorts, like the collective consciousness, is a very interesting concept; but I don't think it tells us much of anything usefully predictive on a society-wide scope, and, when it seems to predict something accurately, I think that it's rather a case of a mistaken cause-effect relationship--i.e. based on (probably) a confluence of many other factors also at work.  Without those factors, we don't have a working concept--it seems to me.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 08:56:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If effective, why shouldn't living memory have been expected to have work decisively against the outbreak  of World War II?

It did. See the München conference, for example.

since everyone from Hitler down to his last brigadier general would have had the lesson(s) of World War I fresh in their minds.

They had. That's why France and Britain got their asses handed to them when war did break out.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 10:36:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  Hmmm.  I don't know.  It seems you can demonstrate everything and its contrary this way.

   There was Munich (no war, ergo, memory effective?); later, other people, other memories, (war, ergo, memory effective?).

   Both Chamberlain and Churchill, with supposedly the same cohort memories, came to diametrically opposed views of the right stance to take at the Munich conference.

   DeGaulle, an adamant proponent of the primacy of motorized armored forces, was side-lined  (pre-war) by superiors who it seems saw and remembered WWI differently than did DeGaulle.  The german command seemed to have shared DeGaulle's memory-view of it.  So that would make DeGaulle and the german generals "memory cohorts" and much of the german citizenry, who woke on September 1, 1939 astonished to find their nation at war with Poland, would be memory cohorts with the french command, or the parts of it which discounted germany's (Hitler's) determination to go to war.

    Or we could take any number of more recent historical examples.

     For some, recent history shows us that the contemporary economy's institutions are basically sound, since an exact repeat of the 1929 crash was avoided; for others, it's either too soon to say it was avoided or their memories are very different, leading them to conclude that, as in 1929, the essential institutions failed to avoid a major world-wide economic catastrophe.

    I don't see any way out of an infinite variety of competing memory cohorts, each its particular emphases on what's really important and what isn't.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 11:04:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Single-factor explanations of social phenomena are usually wrong. Film at 11.

This does not, however, mean that those explanatory factors are useless. Only that the world is a little more complicated. For instance, I don't think you can write a history of the rise and fall of the Nazis without discussing the fallout from the first world war, but I also don't think you can write any compelling history of the Nazis without discussing the fallout from the 1929 crash.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 12:50:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  I agree with you 99.99%.  Change "a little more complicated" to "much, much more complicated" and I'd agree 99.9999999999999999%

   RE  "but I also don't think you can write any compelling history of the Nazis without discussing the fallout from the 1929 crash"-- I'm certainly with you there.  And, myself aside, you're in very good company in that opinion.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 01:10:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think Churchill is a good person to namecheck as a role model.

Most of Churchill's political career was a series of utter disasters, including some obvious economic failures.

His leadership in WWII was the exception, not the rule. And even there, he made some very bad early mistakes in the war.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 02:51:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In comparison with Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco and Salazar?
by cagatacos on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 02:54:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I failed to get my point across: during his tenure liberal democracy survived in the UK. In a "fourth turning" that is probably the best you get.
by cagatacos on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 02:57:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Barely.

[Churchill's] return to the pre-war exchange rate and to the Gold Standard depressed industries. The most affected was the coal industry. Already suffering from declining output as shipping switched to oil, as basic British industries like cotton came under more competition in export markets, the return to the pre-war exchange was estimated to add up to 10% in costs to the industry. In July 1925, a Commission of Inquiry reported generally favouring the miners, rather than the mine owners' position.[90] Baldwin, with Churchill's support proposed a subsidy to the industry while a Royal Commission prepared a further report.

That Commission solved nothing and the miners' dispute led to the General Strike of 1926, Churchill was reported to have suggested that machine guns be used on the striking miners. Churchill edited the Government's newspaper, the British Gazette, and, during the dispute, he argued that "either the country will break the General Strike, or the General Strike will break the country" and claimed that the fascism of Benito Mussolini had "rendered a service to the whole world," showing, as it had, "a way to combat subversive forces"--that is, he considered the regime to be a bulwark against the perceived threat of Communist revolution. At one point, Churchill went as far as to call Mussolini the "Roman genius... the greatest lawgiver among men."[91]

So not quite as a bad as the others, but certainly vastly more sympathetic to fascism than the alternative. Unlike the other countries, the UK by then was an established democracy with nearly a century of socialist push-back.

It's difficult to know who or what Churchill would have supported in less liberal circumstances.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 05:49:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Winston Churchill - Tory War-dog, by C.L.R. James (1949)

Let us try to get clear exactly what Churchill's policy was not.

First of all Churchill was not and today is no enemy of either dictatorship or fascism. He is an enemy of all who threaten the British Empire and the "pleasant life" he leads and refers to so often. That is all. On January 30, 1939, this stern opponent of Chamberlain's policy of appeasing the dictators wrote as follows:

"Up till a few years ago many people in Britain admired the work which the extraordinary man Signor Mussolini had done for his country. He had brought it out of incipient anarchy into a position of dignity and order which was admired even by those who regretted the suspension of Italian freedom." (Step by Step, 1936-1939, by Winston Churchill, p. 285.)

On February 23, 1939 he wrote of Franco:

"He now has the opportunity of becoming a great Spaniard of whom it may be written a hundred years hence: `He united his country and rebuilt its greatness. Apart from that he reconciled the past with the present, and broadened the life of the working people while preserving the faith and structure of the Spanish nation.' Such an achievement would rank in history with the work of Ferdinand and Isabella and the glories of Charles V." (Ibid, p.285.)

I don't think it is that hard to see what he would have supported. Fascist dictators were only bad if they opposed the empire.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 07:36:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In Germany, the CDU/CSU is anything but center-left. and as Migs constantly points out, most so-called center-left parties are actually center-right, particularly in regards to economic policy.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 07:11:39 AM EST
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 08:16:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The CDU/CSU is anything but center-right.

Economics is politics by other means
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 08:18:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, the poster stated they were center-left.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 08:20:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
He also included Fianna Fail.

I think the poster meant "centre" or "centre-right and centre-left"...

Economics is politics by other means

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 09:41:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Why did the big centrist parties go down the drain?
It would also seem to indicate there is an opening for new parties of the left to assume greater prominence.  The Green party has played this role in Germany; the NDP in Canada, and the Liberal Democrats in the UK (at least during the last election).  But in France, Netherlands, Sweden, and the US, I don't see a similar force - just the traditional centre-left party losing ground to mostly conservative parties, new and old.

... is the question of electoral systems. Die Grünen broke through in Germany because they have
A) proportional representation at all levels, and
B) a federal system, where they have been able to participate in regional executives, thus proving that they're not really so scary.

Electoral support for Les Verts in France has often been at comparable levels; but not consistently, because electors on the left don't really see the point. There are currently about 5 Green members of parliament. This is because the two-round electoral system is only marginally better than the first-past-the-post system in terms of representativity. In the general case, it is impossible for a Green to beat a Socialist candidate in the first round.

The left, as a whole, has not lost ground in France, and is on track to win next year's elections. The general tendency is anti-incumbent, rather than anti-left.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 07:26:57 AM EST
Certainly in the US the green parties have been unwilling to invest time and energy in winning local elections and governing when they had the opportunity of providing symbolic or spoiler roles in federal elections.
by rootless2 on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 08:02:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 
   If an entire system is shot through and characterized by corruption, I wonder how useful such labels and distinctions are in figuring out who is who and what is what.  If everyone is going to play in the same corrupt system, does it matter if the party in "power" is centre, left or right, centre-left, or centre-right?

I wonder how one distinguishes meaningfully between centre-left and centre-right, or even the Democratic and Republican parties or the U.K. Labour and Conservative parties in Britain in the years from 1970 to the present, or between Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama or between John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron when it comes to core beliefs actually translated into policy programmes.

  That is, are the differences which can be pointed out greater or more significant than the similarities?

  Could and should we rather ask whether in many of the most important respects, a technological revolution manifested in high-speed digital networked mass-communication-and-entertainment-devices has rendered secondary much of the former distinctions between party leaders and produced a socio-politico-financial order whose most salient feature is its deeply defended conniving habits?--has given us a political landscape in which "up", "down", "left" and "right" are hardly distinguishable to an ordinary person, a landscape in which dizzying rates of change leave no opportunity for an ordinary person to orient himself or herself and to reflect on what is happening and how and why?

   Might it not be that the once-meaningful (to the extent that they were meaningful) choices between "left" and "right" have been made empty and meaningless in light of the people purporting to embody these choices?

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 07:38:07 AM EST
 further to my prior post, and taking a slightly different tack from it,

  RE "Why did the big centrist parties go down the drain?"

    I'd point out that the organizing idea or premise of these parties has collapsed just about everywhere.  According to this premise, certain of the most important political divisions were cashiered with the end of the Soviet Union & Bloc; all that remained were supposedly technical questions of governance which could be most efficiently (a key concept and 'value' with which economic theory invaded and dominated political thinking) be done from a so-called "centrist" approach.  Hence the "third way" of Blair and New Labour, argued that old ideological divisions no longer made sense.  

   That premise, always false and often not even sincerely held or defended, has now fallen apart or been exploded by a welter of events which demonstrate that the supposed consensus was and is illusory.  Helping in the process of this growing awareness have been not only the factor of multiple severe economic shocks coming in series, but, with those shocks, something else much more diffuse, broader in character and in the ways it has been manifested in diversely cultural respects.  What these manifestations share overall is their impressing on wide publics a sense of "three "D's"-- damage, drift and disarray.

    As ThatBritGuy has so aptly noted,

 

 "The core social ideals - the concept of a "job" as a means to empowerment, the belief that freedom comes from consumption, leisure and personal exploration, the assumption that individuals should live lives free of personal or collective violence, that some form of safety net is available ...  Part of the shock of the current crisis is the realisation that in fact these ideals are no longer givens.

It is now possible that you will not have a job, not have disposable income, not have a home, not have the opportunity to explore personal projects, and be subject to arbitrary physical violence on the whim of the authorities."

  (http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2011/5/18/10472/0027#1 )

   

   These centrist parties now glaringly lack what is lacking just about everywhere: an authority, an ability to command wide respect from a recognition of having a generally sound and appealing narrative that offers some semblance of sense and order to what otherwise looks like pointless chaos.

   The "Tea Party" phenomenon in the U.S. is no less illusory in its apparent appeal.  Just as centrists parties' appeal collapsed when its central premise of general consensus was seen to be illusory, so, too, will the Tea Party--and perhaps in shorter order--when its fan base discovers that their leaders' supposed organizing ideas are utterly old, reactionary and discredited stuff.  For the time being, the Tea Party rank and file backers (mainly right-wing fortunes indistinguishable from the main right-wing funders) lack the historical knowledge to grasp the emptiness of the basic assumptions being fed them.

    This is only partly their fault, since U.S. education hasn't for a very long time done anything respectably effective to transmit an actually true and coherent picture (or narrative) by which students come to a well-informed view of the functioning of their society.  Instead, everything appears unrelated and unrelatable, without any overall connecting context.

   Such an unstable sense of the world goes a long way to helping us understand how conspiratorial thinking can have such purchase on people's imaginations.  With no particular organizing view of things, it is easy to see major events as having no other possible rationale than that of an malevolent conspiracy at work in what is obviously (and correctly) as an opaque and intractable political system.

   So, in a narrow sense, the Tea Party rank and file are correct: they are the system's victims, a system which relegates them to the role of movie "extras".  That much is true.  What they haven't yet recognized is that their leadership is no less corrupt and self-interested than that of the other parties or groups they oppose.

   Now, more damaged, adrift and in disarray, the general public may at least notice that the centrist parties' thesis of a general working consensus needing only some technicians' tinkering around the edges is stuff and nonsense.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 11:21:36 AM EST
aka: thinking about things you don't know much about

From an outsider's POV the EU Center-Left parties, by and large, succeeded in their task.  They enacted social and economic policies that did move a goodly amount of the wealth produced by their countries into and for the benefit of the people who produced the wealth.  

Wasn't perfect ... but, then, what is?

Starting in the mid-80s (more-or-less) the socio-political situation changed sufficiently to render the basis of their success 'out-of-touch' with the reality of the situation.  The giant industrial plants of the early industrial revolution centered on mass-production of goods began to give-way to smaller production units centered on services.  The largest beneficiaries of this change, the ones who reaped the majority of the profit, ended-up being the Financial Sector.  (For reasons I won't go into.)

The Social-Democratic parties remained stuck in the previous era so they didn't cognize the shift.  Thus, they continued to operate, in all levels, in and under their mindset established during and responsive to non-Reality ... call it.

The one group on the Left who did criticize the increasing power of Financial Capitalism were the various Bolshevik inspired Marxist parties whose popular creditability, and appeal, was weak before the fall of the Soviet Union and whose support collapsed following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Plus, they were even more out of touch with socio-economic Reality than the various SDPs.

When it became obvious the economic policies  - based on a curious mixture of Social Democratic and Neo-Classical Economics - of the SDPs were starting to fail instead of re-thinking the Social Democratic part the SDPs effectively tossed 'em and accepted NCE and adjusted their policies accordingly;  NuLabour being the poster-child.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 01:37:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that's largely correct and one of the strange symptoms we see in the USA is a nostalgic left that yearns for the good old days of FDR. The very concept of a nostalgic left I think reveals the extent of the failure.

Somewhat related - Gintis review of "Shock Doctrine"

http://www.amazon.com/review/R2NEWPETGH4KPV/ref=cm_aya_cmt?_encoding=UTF8&ASIN=0312427999#wasThi sHelpful

and the discussion that follows.

by rootless2 on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 02:35:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 

From an outsider's POV the EU Center-Left parties, by and large, succeeded in their task.  They enacted social and economic policies that did move a goodly amount of the wealth produced by their countries into and for the benefit of the people who produced the wealth.  

Wasn't perfect ... but, then, what is?

  ...

  "When it became obvious the economic policies...of the SDPs were starting to fail instead of re-thinking the Social Democratic part the SDPs effectively tossed 'em and accepted NCE and adjusted their policies accordingly;  NuLabour being the poster-child."

 

   It seems to me (as someone who is very much an outsider) that the second bit, above, shows up some of the trouble with the first bit's assumptions.

  Imagine that you go into one of those big palatial Belle Epoque theatres, converted to a cinema, and you take seats in one of the best boxes and settle in to watch the film (never mind for a moment that the box seats may not be the best vantage point from which to watch a film).   Now, suppose that as the movie progresses, all around you, the theatre is literally falling apart--portions of the ceiling fall into the main auditorium, etc. but, somehow, none of that directly affects you (and those in the box seats with you).  You go on watching the film and when it concludes, you exit the theatre and discuss only the merits of the film just viewed, making no mention of the dilapidating theatre.

   That's the way I see an analysis which focuses so narrowly on the fact that, yes, a bit of wealth redistribution went on during these years of so-called centrist rule.  I think it's far more important to notice how the foundations of an open civil society have been systematically demolished while people were dazzled by falling prices of notebook computers, low-cost airline travel, express train service and more recently, high speed wireless internet and "smart" phones.  There is little left of FDR's New Deal view of open, publicly-accountable, government in the interest of a large middle class and that is why so many people can, with complete good reason, look back with nostalgia on the period.  There remain some vestiges of however, and so the all-out attack continues because the work of utter destruction remains unfinished.  But it would be a mistake, I think, to miss the real stakes, the real longer-term objectives: the utter gutting of any effective publicly-accountable elective government in favor of an ersatz form which covers for private power operating "without let or hindrance."  And that is what I believe we're inviting doing by giving our main attention to things such as that "the EU Center-Left parties, by and large, succeeded in their task.  They enacted social and economic policies that did move a goodly amount of the wealth produced by their countries into and for the benefit of the people who produced the wealth."

    They may have done that; at the same time, while some income redistribution was done, something inestimably greater in importance was allowed to be laid waste.  From the point of view of powerful  insiders (as I imagine them) they got an incredible "bargain".  They gave up a game or two and took the set, the match and the grand trophy.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 09:31:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
for a mainstream party of the right. There are (small minority) those who see themselves as natural leaders because they are better than the rest. There are those (large group) who aspire to be part of that group. And the largest group are those who instinctively defer to the first two groups, as they would to any constituted authority. In the past, many of these would have deferred to a constituted left-wing authoritarian movement.

But there is no longer a constituted left-wing authoritarian movement. This, in and of itself, a good thing. The difficulty is that it is exceedingly difficult to elicit mass adhesion to an individualised, humanist, libertarian discourse.

Even without the authoritarian component, class identification works as a mechanism of delegation of political thought. I'm working class, I vote Labour. This no longer exists in developed societies.

The movement with the appealing narrative, these days, is the Greens. But the effort required to adhere to the discourse is individual, and too intellectual for most electors. I live in hope that we are not far from a tipping point where the legitimacy of the Green discourse will be accessible to all, even colletive, thus radically lowering the threshold of adhesion.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 03:30:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a good thing morally. It's a less good thing politically because instead of accepting some of the authoritarian opportunists in the left, where they were an ugly but useful evil, they're now exiled exclusively to the right.

The difficulty is that it is exceedingly difficult to elicit mass adhesion to an individualised, humanist, libertarian discourse.

I think the old Left-ish discourse of angry self-interest is still useful for some constituencies. It was effective when solidarity was local.

Now solidarity has to be electronic and international.

One thing that hasn't happened yet, but probably will, is that the various national street-level opposition movements will begin to organise internationally.

I wouldn't be surprised if all that's needed is is one good website.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 05:54:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the old Left-ish discourse of angry self-interest is still useful for some constituencies. It was effective when solidarity was local.

Now solidarity has to be electronic and international.

One thing that hasn't happened yet, but probably will, is that the various national street-level opposition movements will begin to organise internationally.

Contrarywise, the Spanish 15-May movement has started devolving to the "neighbourhoods". Yesterday evening I had a short chat with people who were beginning to set up for Saturday's meeting in my neighbourhood and they were arguing as if all problems are local.

The "movement" appears to reject even the idea of rotating spokespersons drawn by lot. "We don't need no leaders".

Economics is politics by other means

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 06:19:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Organisation means coordination. It doesn't have to imply high-profile leaders.

Even so - it's likely they'll find it's going to be difficult to make changes without at least having spokespeople.

You can't set national economic policy at the neighbourhood level - not unless you want to stop living in a nation state. (Which is one option, but possibly not the best one.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 06:32:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think this movement should select (by lot, if they like) slates of people to run in every constituency in the upcoming general elections. Spain's electoral law allows "associations of electors" to run candidates.

But it's going to be an uphill battle if they believe all politics is local and people who want to communicat with them need to come to their assemblies where everyone can speak.

This is not about someone coming from outside and asking "take me to your leader". But if a leaderless movement has anything coherent to say it should be possible for it to appoint spokespeople, even on a very temporary rotating basis and by lot.

But, at the moment, the most vocal people in the assemplies appear to have a completely assembly-based mental model.

It's going to be interesting this coming Saturday, because supposedly the neighbourhood assemblies are supposed to "meet at Sol" on Sunday. Are they going to send a representative, and if so, how is this representative going to be selected?

Economics is politics by other means

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 06:43:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But, at the moment, the most vocal people in the assemplies appear to have a completely assembly-based mental model.

A bigger problem is that if they go up against experienced pols - the smooth, oily ones with a solid grasp of rhetoric, innuendo and crowd control - they may get to ribbons or simply lied to until they go home.

I went to a local council arts cuts debate a while back, and the Tory silverback running it completely outclassed everyone in basic debate and point-scoring.

This is a provincial council mostly run by (for) local small business types, with none of the professional pols that make up the lower levels of the main party Cons and Labourites.

It's outstanding that people are doing something, and if they keep doing it sheer force of numbers will have an effect. But turning that into policy is going to be difficult unless they can focus on clear demands and a simple message - which is going to need messengers and negotiators.

I'd be all for electing them on a temporary or random basis and seeing what happens, because if there's enough of a crowd backing them up, they'll be able to keep the issues simple and clear.

But if it turns into a public debate with talking points, it may become more difficult to keep that focus.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 08:44:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding Sweden, the last election was a continuation of trends unrelated to the financial crisis.

Soc-dems are trending downwards since about 1975.

Greens are trending upwards since 1994.

Sweden democrats (the ugly party) are trending upwards since the late 90ies (when they change nazi uniforms to suits and stopped screaming sieg heil). They have made a long slog through the various political institutions.

Moderaterna (the conservative party) is trending upwards since about 1980, largely on the expense of the liberal party and the centre party (former peasants party).

So reasons has to be sought in longer trends.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed May 25th, 2011 at 04:44:49 PM EST
Not to be glib, but perhaps to be repetitive, they go down the drain when the no longer offer a credible and discernable alternative to the big rightist parties.

It's like putting lipstick on a costume pig. Eventually, your pork fans will go for a real pig, whether it bothers with the makeover or not.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Thu May 26th, 2011 at 08:29:17 AM EST
I read this article earlier in the week and have been thinking about it a lot since then. Some thoughts:

  1. Centrist parties are enabled by prosperity. Prosperity lessens the stakes of the conflict between capital and labor, and makes it possible for there to be an actual "middle ground" on questions of political economy. Since 1990 or so that "middle ground" was neoliberal. As long as financial capitalism, deregulation, and debt was producing a semblance of prosperity and jobs, there was a constituency that would support parties backing those policies.

  2. Centrist parties are destroyed by the absence of prosperity. Without prosperity, questions of political economy become more nakedly ones of capital versus labor, rich versus poor. The wealthy folks are determined to suck as much money as they can out of the system and become deeply hostile to efforts to stop that and help people in need. And as everyone else suffers and watches the robbery continue, centrist parties find that there's no more support for their "middle ground" because the ground is gone. A side has to be chosen - either you're with working people or you're with the robbers.

  3. As others have pointed out, the problem is that the right has a clear alternative (and it wears a brown shirt), but the left has nothing. So that opens the door to smaller parties that do come off as offering something new, especially if it's an alternative to discredited centrism and to the right. That also suggests there is a real opportunity for a genuinely left party, if it's able to both organize and articulate a compelling vision of a 21st century democratic future.

  4. In Canada, for example, this explains the enormous, historic breakthrough of the NDP. While Canada hasn't been hit by the crisis yet, the economy has been becoming more of a two-tier economy for some time. The Liberals fully embraced neoliberalism under Chretien in 1993, and Canadians did not see Michael Ignatieff (a neolib AND a neocon) as an alternative, for the reasons given in the article. Jack Layton had spent 8 years building credibility with the electorate, and was proposing progressive things. It helped not only siphon off Liberal voters across Canada, but also attracted Bloc Quebecois voters in Quebec who had begun to feel that sovereignty politics were not getting them anywhere useful.

There really is an opening for something new, something left. It needs to be rooted in 21st century values and frames and be seen as populist - I am not all that familiar with some of the European left parties (die Linke, IU, etc) so I don't know if they're suited to this or not. But all those people out in the streets in Greece and Spain are the tip of an iceberg, and it can and should be a left-wing iceberg.

And the world will live as one
by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Sat May 28th, 2011 at 08:30:47 PM EST
   "Centrist parties are enabled by prosperity.
  ...
   "Centrist parties are destroyed by the absence of prosperity.  Without prosperity, questions of political economy become more nakedly ones of capital versus labor, rich versus poor. The wealthy folks are determined to suck as much money as they can out of the system and become deeply hostile to efforts to stop that and help people in need. And as everyone else suffers and watches the robbery continue, centrist parties find that there's no more support for their "middle ground" because the ground is gone. A side has to be chosen - either you're with working people or you're with the robbers."

     Which points up the fact that it's the distribution of wealth that makes all the difference.  "Prosperity" is always present for some; the question is, "For how many?"  And then, we should observe that when financial crises are needed, they can be manufactured--though they seem to happen often enough without any deliberate "help" simply by the influence of ordinary greed and other animal spirits.

   In short, war and financial chaos are reliable ways to brutalize a population and drive it away from any potentially threatening broad consensus (or clear conception of interests and their operation in political affairs) and into narrow, desperate, fear-driven extremes, whether left or right, and this always serves the interests of those wealthy and well-organized who profit from damage, drift and disarray in the rest of the public.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Sun May 29th, 2011 at 09:43:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think a little Marxist dialectic can help us in understanding this issue, at least in the example of Sweden. Basically, the very reasonable social democratic program was wholly implemented within a generation of the end of WW2. This is the thesis. After that, things became far more radical, theoretic, economically unsustainable and distanced from what ordinary people actually wanted from their government. You got the backlash during the 80's, and the collapse of the economy in the early 90's. This is the antithesis. What resulted was a fiscally responsible social democracy of the 90's and early 00's, followed by the fiscally responsible semi-social democratic and tax-cutting centre right government currently in power. These two last governments are the synthesis.

Well, at least this makes a neat narrative.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Jun 11th, 2011 at 06:29:05 PM EST
"Fiscally conservative" (i.e., Austrian) is not the same thing as fiscally responsible.

As Keynes put it:

Thus we are so sensible, have schooled ourselves to so close a semblance of prudent financiers, taking careful thought before we add to the "financial" burdens of posterity by building them houses to live in, that we have no such easy, escape from the sufferings of unemployment.
And Keynes wasn't even a Social Democrat, he was an English Liberal.

Economics is politics by other means
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 11th, 2011 at 06:48:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nor was I refering to "fiscally conservative", and certainly not Austrian...

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sat Jun 11th, 2011 at 07:24:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Fiscally responsible" means, in any reality-based analysis, "spending enough to ensure full employment, but no more than that."

There is simply no other sensible measure.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jun 11th, 2011 at 07:30:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By that measure, this is patently false, though possibly not in Sweden.
What resulted was a fiscally responsible social democracy of the 90's and early 00's, followed by the fiscally responsible semi-social democratic and tax-cutting centre right government currently in power.
When was the last time a European government had a full employment fiscal policy?

Economics is politics by other means
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 12th, 2011 at 04:20:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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