A mystery

One of the most puzzling features of the world in the aftermath of the financial crisis is that so far, populism has taken primarily a right-wing form, not a left-
wing one. In the United States, for example, although the Tea Party is anti-elitist in its rhetoric, its members vote for conservative politicians who serve the interests of
precisely those financiers and corporate elites they claim to despise. It has been several decades  since anyone  on  the left has been able  to  articulate, first, a  coherent analysis of what happens  to  the  structure  of advanced societies  as  they undergo  economic change  and, second, a  realistic  agenda that has  any hope of protecting a middle-class  society. The main trends in left-wing  thought in the  last two  generations  have  been, frankly, disastrous as either conceptual frameworks  or tools  for  mobilization.

Francis Fukuyama

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Sancho
Sancho
9 years ago

Overly simplistic, perhaps, but I think the major reason the Left has retreated from populist economic narratives because the Right has been very effective at associating regulation with communism.

The Tea Party is misguided and harming its own interests, but the participants are absolutely convinced that any government involvement in the finance system is a big step directly down the road to gulags and central planning. Articulating a case against the barrage of “socialists!” has become tiring and unrewarding, so the Left tinkers with social issues instead.

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

If you ignore for a second what politicians actually do (after all, surely only a minor percentage of the population votes for left-wing parties in the hope that they will entrench organised labor privileges and ‘government consultants’ at the expense of the social justice?) and focus on their rhetoric, it surely isn’t hard to see why the left-wing model isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders! Sure, there’s a substantial gap between rhetoric and reality, but that applies to both sides.

What the right-wing populists have done most successfully is associate the status quo with left-centrist politics. Partly, this is by association – they are for being soft on immigrants, hence being soft on immigrants is part of ‘what hasn’t worked’, we are for opposite (being tough on immigrants), hence the rest of our platform is part of the opposite to what hasn’t worked.

Sancho
Sancho
9 years ago
Reply to  Patrick

That’s pretty much the reverse of what I said above, and while I think that’s true on some issues, I don’t believe it describes the way the Right describes the Left’s economic beliefs.

The Right I’m thinking of portrays centre-Left economics as a radical departure from the norm. Think of the carbon price, which is condemned as being a socialist tax justified by a Marxist conspiracy to corrupt the global scientific institution, rather than a staid market-based solution to a problem that the majority of the electorate wants addressed.

The Right’s entire schtick is about claiming to represent stability and predictablility, so I would say that on immigration the Liberal Party is arguing that Labor is applying the aberrant and unnatural idea of multiculturalism to undermine traditional western values, and promising a return a white Australia where the only brown people you see are waiters.

dave
dave
9 years ago
Reply to  Sancho

That’s a bit harsh. Particularly as the largest migration increase in recent history occured under the Howard government. And they were mostly not white – the asian student market got legs in the lates 90’s and rapidly expanded from there.

I think the fundamental reason why there is no strong left wing economic ‘vision’ is that both sides are basically in agreement that democratic governance, coupled with property rights, reducing unnecessary regulation and allowing individuals to go and produce is the only system that works.

The only difference is the degree to which either side pushes on deregulation etc.

Sancho
Sancho
9 years ago
Reply to  dave

Oh, yes. Howard oversaw massive immigration and growth of government, but that’s not how conservatives remember it.

We’re seeing the same pattern in the US. The Republicans routinely refer to the last fifty years of Republican administrations as models of fiscal rectitude, which directly contradicts the plain facts.

If Australian politics ran on observable facts and rationality, the current government would be wildly popular and the only Liberal with any chance at the Lodge for the next decade would be Malcolm Turnbull.