See under: European Social Democracy, Sorry State of

by Henry on June 9, 2009

The Financial Times isn’t the leftiest of newspapers, but it is hard to argue with their verdict on the European Parliament elections:

The centre-right held its ground or advanced, both where it is in power and where it is in opposition. The mainstream left was decimated. This election shows that the social democratic parties have lost the will to govern. At a time when “the end of capitalism” is raised as a serious prospect, the parties whose historical mission was to replace capitalism with socialism offer no governing philosophy. Their anti-crisis policies are barely distinguishable from those of their rivals. The leadership crisis in several European socialist parties suggests their outdated ideas are matched by oversized egos.

Greens triumphed where the traditional left failed. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who knows a thing or two about critiques of capitalism, appealed to voters willing to consider fundamental social change. As one of few groups to fight on pan-European issues, the Greens also proved that not all voters are deaf to Europe-wide politics. But the crisis has most benefited the strand of the European right that was never against regulating the market economy. By arguing that the crisis is a result of excessive “Anglo-Saxon” policies, centre-right parties have presented themselves as the most trustworthy stewards of a safer, European-style capitalism. Voters agreed.

My own take on the failures of European social democracy a few months ago was more or less identical. I’d love to be convinced that I was wrong though. Or, in the absence of a compelling counter-claim, at least get a better sense of why European social democratic parties have become empty shells. One first-approximation guess is that this had to do with the largely successful efforts by social democrat ‘reformers’ to replace the old anti-capitalist ideas and language with more market-friendly stuff, which succeeded just in time to leave these parties completely unprepared to deal with the demise of actually existing capitalism. A second is that current day social democrats are much less able than their 1930s-1950s predecessors to meld nationalism and market constraints. Other possible explanations?

{ 62 comments }

1

StevenAttewell 06.09.09 at 7:24 pm

I subscribe to a combination of “One first-approximation guess is that this had to do with the largely successful efforts by social democrat ‘reformers’ to replace the old anti-capitalist ideas and language with more market-friendly stuff, which succeeded just in time to leave these parties completely unprepared to deal with the demise of actually existing capitalism,” and “all the good activists, leaders, and intellectuals who could have helped decamped to fringe parties and social movements.”

2

Steve LaBonne 06.09.09 at 7:36 pm

Must be nice to have one’s choice of parties that don’t profess market fundamentalism. In the US we get to choose between center-right market fundamentalists (AKA mainstream Democerats), and batshit crazy fascist market fundamentalists.

3

Stephen Downes 06.09.09 at 7:41 pm

It is worth noting that ‘right’ in the rest of the world does not resemble what counts as ‘right’ in the United States. So it is probably too extreme to suggests that the election of right-wing parties in Europe represents an end to social democracy in Europe, only a shift in how those social democracies are managed. After all, France and Germany have both had conservative Presidents (Chancellors) for a number of years now, but nobody was saying that European social democracy was over, say, yesterday.

4

magistra 06.09.09 at 7:51 pm

One issue is that (at least in the UK) politicians now tend to come from more socially homogeneous backgrounds and have had less of a career (if any) outside politics. So they tend to spend all their time in the prosperous upper middle-classes, in which certain assumptions ( e.g. £50,000 doesn’t count as ‘well-off’) seem obvious and certain political views ( e.g. management routinely exploit workers) are beyond the pale.

5

Nick 06.09.09 at 8:03 pm

If this is the end of capitalism, I still think a lot of people still prefer it to what socialists were selling in Europe for quite some time.

6

Dan Kärreman 06.09.09 at 8:08 pm

I agree that social democratic parties are comatose these days. Social democracy, however, is alive and kicking, at least in Scandinavia, where it simply has become part of the meta-assumption of how society works (like democracy more generally in Western societies). The story is slightly different in continental Europe, where Christian democracy always have been a viable alternative (but there is also quite a lot of overlap between SD and CD in practical policy (social insurance, worker protection, etc), if not in ideology).

I suspect that the Greens are most likely to rearticulate social democracy in a more vibrant form. As for “wasting a good crisis” we are barely one year into this particular crisis, and I can’t see neo-liberalism staging a come-back in my lifetime – if social democratic parties are comatose, the neoliberal movement is brain-dead. We have yet to see alternatives emerging due to this crisis, rather than to crises in the thirties.

7

Jed Harris 06.09.09 at 8:12 pm

Raising my head out of the ruck and mire of current US politics, I find myself wondering what should succeed “actually existing capitalism” now that it is trying to commit suicide.

More specifically, has anyone written up a description of compelling alternatives? Piecemeal options that don’t lead toward a larger synthesis probably won’t succeed, given the strengths of the zombie interests that will continue to animate the corpse — as visible today in the outcome of the financial crisis.

It seems to me that there are plenty of institutions (in the broad sense) that aren’t committed to the myths of the market, and that are getting stronger, suggesting they’ll be part of whatever new order emerges. But I don’t know of any vision that puts them together and indicates where we’re headed.

8

Jacob Christensen 06.09.09 at 9:01 pm

@Dan Kärremann: I wonder if Denmark counts as “Scandinavian” on that account. In Denmark, the Socialist Party has made the gains in the 2007 national and 2009 EP election. It is still not as big as the SocDems but these days you wouldn’t qualify as a nutcase for saying that SF could come very close to SD in the next election.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Danish People’s Party have been very successful in presenting a sort of “if only we could have the 1950s back” brand. (When I’m in a evil mood I call the party the National Social Democrats).

I haven’t seen the data from the 2007 election yet, but it is said that we now have a clear white/blue-collar divide with the white collar voters being split between left and right and the blue collar voters leaning to the right. In a strange, warped way, you have the US Republican model of politics (the one US Republicans would like us the believe, not the real world of US politics) with the right wing representing the working class in Denmark.

9

dsquared 06.09.09 at 9:26 pm

In my guts, I feel like something has gone really wrong with European social democracy, and I have a little gland at the top of my spinal column which keeps telling me that it’s probably Anthony Giddens’ fault. But the better natures of my cerebellum keep telling me that I should keep plugging away with the coin toss model and say that maybe it’s just the case that things zigged rather than zagged this time.

10

StevenAttewell 06.09.09 at 9:54 pm

Dan Kärreman – the thing that worries me about the Greens becoming the dominant vehicle for the left and center-left is that, at least in the U.S, the Green Party tends to swing very heavily white, male, and middle-class, and thus tends to not have a good understanding of class, let alone race or gender. Maybe in Europe, this is different (your statement that “he Greens are most likely to rearticulate social democracy in a more vibrant form” suggests that) but I actually don’t know of any good resources on the modern Green political movement in Europe. Any suggestions?

dsquared – why Anthony Giddens, particularly?

11

sg 06.09.09 at 9:56 pm

But this model is multinomial, isn’t it? And some of the probabilities changed quite a bit from last time because of those pesky extreme rightists. How does a multinomial line zig? It’d be fun and contrarian and stuff to argue it’s just a coin toss, but I think this time around there is a story to tell, particularly the increase of the probability of the 5th group from 0 to [insert arbitrary value]. In some of these states presumably your model in the 2004 elections was a k-level multinomial, with the k-th level (fascist) constrained to p=0, and in this election the constraint was removed.

I think that model is more interesting than a coin toss…

12

dsquared 06.09.09 at 10:01 pm

why Anthony Giddens, particularly?

architect of the “Third Way”, the consumerist model of public services, the compromise between social democracy and neoliberalism, and many other policies adopted by PES members over the last ten years and which turned out to be instrumental in their decline (if it did – cf coin toss model link above).

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dsquared 06.09.09 at 10:03 pm

How does a multinomial line zig?

It zigs in n-dimensional space of course, same way as a statistician’s “generalised coin” has an arbitrary number of sides.

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sg 06.09.09 at 10:12 pm

well then how does it zag? We only have enough vowels for a 6-dimensional line.

15

sg 06.09.09 at 10:13 pm

[i mean, for a line in 6-dimensional space, obviously]

16

MDHinton 06.09.09 at 10:20 pm

There are two points: the first is that the averaged European voter doesn’t read the FT or indeed CT and doesn’t believe that ‘the end of capitalism’ is a serious prospect. He hasn’t yet seen the end-of-the-world depression widely predicted and may well, rightly or wrongly, believe the current situation is a cyclical decline made worse by foolish bankers and overly-indebted governments. This last makes him more likely to lean towards parties with a reputation, deserved or not, for fiscal restraint.

Secondly, even if he does reject the orthodoxies of right-wing market economics, that is not, in itself a reason to take on left-wing orthodoxies and vote for parties which espouse them, if he can find any. In his frustration he may vote green, he may vote far-right or, more likely, he may stay at home and ignore the whole thing – the end of captialism does not necessarily mean the re-birth of socialism.

17

belle le triste 06.09.09 at 10:30 pm

remember D^2 is Welsh: zwg makes the cut

18

John Quiggin 06.09.09 at 10:31 pm

Some support for the coin toss theory is that the Australian Labor Party, promoter of the Third Way avant le lettre in the 1980s is enjoying near-complete electoral dominance and pushing, at least in rhetorical terms, a strongly social democratic line.

19

sg 06.09.09 at 10:35 pm

that’s just because the opposition are a bunch of tossers…

20

omega Centauri 06.09.09 at 10:42 pm

Isn’t part of what happened the simple pendulum effect? Whomever is in power when things shift in an unhappy direction gets the blame for it. That and the death of capitalism (when no-one has a convincing alternative) seems a bit scary. Doesn’t that translate into a precautionary better vote center right meme? Since most electoral shifts only involve a few percent of voters actually changing the way they vote, these effects may be hard to discern on the individual level, but can be important in aggregate.

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dsquared 06.09.09 at 11:05 pm

Isn’t part of what happened the simple pendulum effect?

As a fully paid-up member of the Tosser’s League, I’ll subsume the “pendulum effect” to the coin-toss model, simply as an example of regression to the mean.

22

Tim Wilkinson 06.09.09 at 11:39 pm

Surely not Giddens…John Nott?

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StevenAttewell 06.10.09 at 12:42 am

dsquared – gotcha. Of course, I take him as merely a representative of a type, but looking at his stuff, I already feel an instinctive dislike.

Regarding the pendulum theory, what makes this not work is that center-right governments were in power across most of Europe when the crisis happened – if the pendulum swings, it should have swung against them. It didn’t, and that’s the weird thing.

So, any advice about good books on the modern European Greens?

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mart 06.10.09 at 1:38 am

I would question the basic premise here that there is much sense in aggregating the national votes and claiming some kind of continent-wide political shift. It certainly looks like a trend, but that doesn’t mean it is one.

As has been pointed out ad nauseum, the British Labour party is very far from being trully social-democratic, and it looks like a lot of those voters stayed at home rather than shifted en mass to the Tories (their share of the vote was actually pretty pathetic in the end). The Socialists in France have been hopelessly divided for the last few years and have no credible leader; the German left split between the SDP and the Left party a few years back, and the dominance of manufacturing/exports in the economy there has been no advantage at all given the worldwide economic crisis. Social Democrats did pretty well in Scandinavia, where they are mostly in opposition. The continuing popularity of Berlusconi and his friends continues to baffle all of us non-Italians. I can’t explain the results in Spain and Portugal so I won’t. Eastern Europe countries were hardly likely to put socialist parties back in power now, were they?

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mart 06.10.09 at 1:39 am

“awaiting moderation”
shit. I used the s-word.

26

Tim Wilkinson 06.10.09 at 2:46 am

@23 that’s GOTCHA! according to the Sun…

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astrongmaybe 06.10.09 at 2:47 am

@StevenAttewell, “all the good activists, leaders, and intellectuals who could have helped decamped to fringe parties and social movements.”

I think there’s something to be said for that. I only know Britain and Germany, but in both, today’s crop of social democratic leadership is hardly impressive: Brown’s cabinet of mediocrities, Muentefering and Steinmeier in Germany…

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StevenAttewell 06.10.09 at 4:54 am

Astrongmaybe:
Yep. Like I always say, when men and women of ability and conviction abandon the field of politics, they leave it open to the incompetent, the mediocre, and the corrupt.

Democracies are ruled by those who show up.

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Zamfir 06.10.09 at 6:52 am

The theory here in the Netherlands is thatthe voting wass divided along education lines. Higher educated people are pro-Europe, pro-economic liberalization (relatively, at least), and pro-immigration. Lower educated people feel, with good reason, that they carry the loads of those things without clear benefits .

The winners of the election here were either smaller pro-Europe parties aimed at the educated classes, or more populist, anti-Europe parties, like the far right and the hard-core soc1alists.

The social democrats are always vulnerable to divides between their leadership and their much more worker’s class base, who are never completely aligned in their opinions. In this case, that hurt them a lot. The Christian Democrats have always been much more resilient to this, their leadership is less progressive-in-front-of-the-troops, and their base is (relatively) more willing to follow the leadership.

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Tracy W 06.10.09 at 7:46 am

A second is that current day social democrats are much less able than their 1930s-1950s predecessors to meld nationalism and market constraints

I’m trying to make sense of this, as I don’t know much about 1950s European politics. What are those market constraints that they melded with nationalism?

31

JoB 06.10.09 at 7:53 am

I think it is important to at least note that:

- however much the Greens went forward, the socialists lost more so the balance on the side is not something to be comfortable with, even if you’re Cohn-Bendit

- the christian-democratic win is not a neoliberal win (explicitly liberal parties lost over-all), it rather is a win for the socially corrected free market (which, despite rhetoric, is maybe closest to Obama content), it’s the ‘steady she goes’ ideology

This being said if social democrats particularly have something to say, they have to start saying it or be content to play second fiddle just controlling the continued existence of what successes were achieved in the 20th century.

I think there is something to be said, on independence of citizens to choose their own choices, & I think that that is fundamentally different from the Greens and can only be said pan-European.

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alex 06.10.09 at 8:01 am

Umm… exchange controls for one; fairly significant levels of nationalised industry for another; wage agreements for a third…. All at the level of the nation-state, and in the name of national collective benefit…

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JoB 06.10.09 at 8:41 am

Whilst my other comment clears moderation (after suffering mutilation by the server): no, it’s not just coin toss; yes, it is truely pan-European; and; yes, social democracy in Europe has been embedded in the systems and the Christian Democrat winners are not neoliberals calling for the abolishing of these great social institutions (liberals lost the vote). They call for the status quo – steady she goes was their basic message in Flanders (note: probably the UK is different as is also clear from them choosing not to be in the EPP with the Christian Democrats).

In fact the no-change message that won (well, lost less to the extreme right) is quite the same as the change message of Obama, in content at least.

Social democrats need to say something new if they are to continue to be relevant. Freedom for people to make their own choices (ah yes, that was the original message).

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Dan Kärreman 06.10.09 at 12:15 pm

Jacob,

I do think that social democracy is integral to Danish society – nobody here (disclosure: I’m Swedish but work in Denmark) wants to pull a New Zealand and eliminate the welfare state. Real right wingers are so out of whack with Scandinavian sensibilities that I think most people here would have a hard time to understand what they want to do. DFP is a strange beast, but your characterization is basically correct, although Xenophobic Social Democrats is less inflammatory and probably more precise.

StevenAttewell:

The Greens in Europe may be middle class and white, but definitely not male. They do have a problem to reach out to minorities and the poor, who are inclined to see climate problems as luxury problems. However, in the medium to long term, I think that the climate question is going to be perceived less as a luxury problem, and also that the Greens will find ways to reach out to minorities and the poor, since they are such obvious constituencies.

35

Ben Alpers 06.10.09 at 12:46 pm

@Jed Harrris,

At least in the U.S., the single most important shift leftward in the last 100 years, the New Deal, was precisely a series of piecemeal reforms. A greater synthesis–New Deal liberalism–emerged out of them, but they were not the result of a clear, coherent larger vision (beyond a desire to throw a bunch of things at the wall and see what sticks).

Certainly the 1930s U.S. left had coherent larger visions. And a good case can be made that those coherent visions led to organizational strength which in turn led to an ability to effectively move the Overton window (and the policies of the Roosevelt administration) leftward.

But I sometimes wonder whether we overvalue the power of a coherent larger vision (not that the left couldn’t use one) when thinking about election results. Do voters actually care about such a thing?

36

Tracy W 06.10.09 at 2:12 pm

Thanks Alex for explaining. When it comes to exchange controls, I understand that what caused the Bretton Woods collapse was that the USA started inflating to pay for the Vietnam war. I don’t see how European social democrats, or any variety of European politician, could get around that problem. Wage agreements are still occurring I understand in most of continental Europe. As for nationalisation – I don’t know enough about continental Europe to venture an opinion on why, or even if, it’s lost its attraction.
As for doing things in the name of national collective benefit, that’s normally what policies are said to be in the name of, regardless of the political philosophy of the proposer. The only exception I can think of is charitable efforts such as aid for another country after a natural disaster there.

Dan Karreman – as a NZer, I think I missed the elimination of the welfare state. If you look at the government’s fiscal accounts, http://www.treasury.govt.nz/government/data, in 1980 the NZ goverment spent 10.9% of GDP on social security and welfare, 5.7% on health, and 5.1% on education. In 1993, after 2 years of Ruth Richardson as Finance Minister, the government spent 14.2% on social security and welfare, 5.1% on health, and 6.0% on education. The economy then picked up and social welfare spending fell as a percentage of GDP as debt was paid back and people got jobs and thus left the unemployment rolls, and education spending fell as student fees were introduced for university (and also the government switched from cash to revenue accounting), but at its lowest social welfare spending was 12.3% of GDP in 1997, health 4.9% in 1996 and education 4.7% in 1996, with social welfare spending well above its levels in the 1970s. Since then spending on all of those has risen as a percentage of GDP (with social welfare and health spending at least partly driven by an aging population).

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StevenAttewell 06.10.09 at 2:31 pm

Dan Kärreman – interesting, because that’s very different from here in the U.S, where the Greens don’t even run much on the environment. However, I do wonder what the Green stance on social and economic justice is. BTW, any books to recommend?

Ben Alpers – I would say that the New Deal was a coalition of progressive and liberal ideologies that eventually synthesized; a lot of recent historical research has well established that the New Deal’s experimental programs had an intellectual and political backstory that was ideological in nature. The farm program was very much an outgrowth of Bryanite prairie populism, the relief and jobs program came out of the world of progressive social workers in New York, Social Security basically came out of the John Commons school of progressive economics and the Wisconsin LaFollette tradition, and so on.

That being said, at least what I’m calling for is less a new ideology (although that will be needed eventually) as a new program that really addresses the key issues of economic insecurity and globalization. If they can get a winning platform/argument, the ideological work follows along with it.

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Tracy W 06.10.09 at 3:30 pm

However, I do wonder what the Green stance on social and economic justice is.

They’re in favour of it. As far as I can tell if you stick the word “justice” at the end of any word you like the Greens are in favour of it. They also appear awfully fond of the word “equity”. They do not however appear to even recognise the phrase “knowledge problem”.

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Ben Alpers 06.10.09 at 3:51 pm

StevenAttewell — You’re entirely correct that individual New Deal programs had rich ideological backstories. But no single coherent ideology guided them all–or even accounted for a majority of them. And FDR’s own approach to reform was not particularly ideological.

All of which is not to say that ideological coherence is bad, merely that it is not a necessary precondition for building a successful, reform-minded electoral coalition. I think we’re substantially in agreement about what is necessary: “a program that really addresses the key issues of economic insecurity and globalization.”

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StevenAttewell 06.10.09 at 5:52 pm

Tracy – how do they deal with words like working class? And can someone recommend some books on Greens in Europe?

Ben – my point is that New Dealers had coherent ideology, and the New Deal represented a coalition of every strand in Progressivism, from laborites to public power advocates to Veblenite planners to Brandeisian anti-trusters.

So my caution is that ideological heterodoxy is not non-ideological.

And we are indeed in agreement over what is needed. So the next step would be to develop the political forces needed to get the program adopted.

41

Phil 06.10.09 at 8:50 pm

The continuing popularity of Berlusconi and his friends continues to baffle all of us non-Italians.

An awful lot of it’s simple populism – a lot of Italians just don’t want to be bothered with those greedy bastard politicians with their elaborate arguments and their stupid social consciences, who the hell do they think they are anyway, let’s have someone talking a bit of common sense and speaking out for ordinary people… And cue Silvio, and don’t bother changing the channel because he’s on the other ones too.

But the Italian Left is actually rejoicing over the Euro results and claiming to have resisted the general drift to the Right – and with a bit of justification. Berlusconi announced beforehand that the results were going to be a massive vote of confidence in his party, which would get at least 40% or maybe 45% (as opposed to 37% at last year’s election), & the death-knell for the Partito Democratico, which would get 20% at most (as against 33% in 2008). In the event Berlusconi slipped back to 35% and the PD got 26% – a lousy result for the Left by most standards, but a resounding victory from the point of view of undermining Berlusconi’s personal credibility.

Incidentally, the far Left also improved on 2008 – last year they ran as a single coalition and lost half their voters to the PD, finishing up with less than 4% of the vote and hence no seats in Parliament. This time they ran as two separate coalitions totalling nearly 7% between them; the bad news is that each of the two finished up with less than 4% of the vote and hence no seats in the European Parliament. It reminds me of Peter Cook’s answer when he was asked if he’d learnt from his mistakes – “Yes, and I’m confident I could repeat them perfectly.”

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mart 06.10.09 at 9:47 pm

meant to mention earlier that although the social dems didn’t do so well everywhere, the overall picture for the left (including greens) isn’t so bad.
To go back to Henry’s original question, i think that both global warming and globalisation have meant that old answers are not longer relevant, but adopting the right’s ideas is very much not the answer; and the decline of the traditional working class – at least here in the UK – means that there’s less of a coherent ‘movement’ strongly behind soc1alist policies.

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Tracy W 06.11.09 at 7:36 am

StevenAttewell – I don’t know how the Greens deal with words like “working class”. There may be some conflict there between coal mining and other such traditional working class occupations and their environmental stance, they plan apparently to get around this by getting everyone green jobs. They are in favour of unions, and anti-discrimination laws, and so forth. As far as I can tell their political philosophy is that if the government just passes enough laws everything will work out fine. Except when it comes to marijuna.

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alex 06.11.09 at 7:47 am

Green politics has the misfortune to be right in the abstract and the long term – of course permanent growth is unsustainable, of course mass extinctions are inexcusable, of course people ought to live in harmony with their environment – but to have precisely no clue about how to get there from here in distinctive political terms beyond “why can’t everyone just be nice?”

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Jock Bowden 06.11.09 at 8:25 am

In Europe, the problem appears to be total existential angst among the left and social democrats, with nothing to identify themselves, apart from some vague panic about “fascists”. Two English BNP members of the EU, a Kristallnacht does not make.

But even in Australia, the Labor government has shifted even further to the right than the Howard government with shameless union bashing and promising of more.

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Jock Bowden 06.11.09 at 8:33 am

StevenAttewell

Don’t you think perhaps the left/social democrat emphasis on race and gender over the past decade might be part of the problem? I’d argue that one thing the GFC has made everybody revert back to, and that is CLASS.

While many progressives, leftists, and social democrats were fiddling with Foucault, Derrida, and Judith Butler over the past decade, the basic economic structures were slowing combusting. We are all now burning.

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Tim Wilkinson 06.11.09 at 11:34 am

Tracy W: I don’t know how the Greens deal with words like “working class”. There may be some conflict there between coal mining and other such traditional working class occupations and their environmental stance, they plan apparently to get around this by getting everyone green jobs. They are in favour of unions, and anti-discrimination laws, and so forth. As far as I can tell their political philosophy is that if the government just passes enough laws everything will work out fine

But working class is arguably becoming an unuseful term anyway. Tons of arguably working class people are white collar, management, yeah even unto board level. Plenty of blue collars are petty-bourgeois. There are ‘self-employed’ wage/commission slaves. The poorest are in many cases long-term unemployed or imprisoned. And in any case certainly ‘working class’ is not a great headline as far as electoral appeal goes.

If useful industries are to be got rid of because ungreen, it seems entirely reasonable and natural that those involved in them can and should be employed in the green alternative that replaces them. There’s nothing fishy or ad hoc or unachievable about that. And on political/economic philosophy, the Green manifesto includes, for just one example, not just a basic income guarantee, but a (non-means-tested) universal basic income. You think they haven’t got some (proper, welfare) economists on board?

I think the left – and possibly radical (utopian) Libertarians – should be getting behind (and in) the Green Party, as it is without doubt the best extant vehicle for radical and left ideas, with a broad and general appeal. Have a look at their manifesto documents. I’ve only just started to do so recently and I am quite impressed. It might take a generation or two to get anywhere (and those ideas may well be compromised/sabotaged), but still…

An ecological society will be made up of self-governing communities of a variety of sizes which will regulate their own social and economic activities. Nothing should be decided at a higher level if it can be decided at a lower one. But the Green Party accepts that regional and national governments will continue to have an important role…

The Green Party does not believe there is an automatic moral obligation on all people to obey their governments. It seeks to maximise the extent to which obedience to laws is based on consent and minimise the need for conformity through deterrence. We believe there are occasions when individuals and groups in society may openly, and peacefully, protest at an unjust law or practice through civil disobedience…

We reject the view that wealth can be measured solely in monetary units, a view which allows its adherents to think it consists primarily of the results of human labour. This error has caused successive governments to pursue objectives which appear to increase the nation’s wealth while in fact they reduce it. Symbols of wealth, like money, reinforce the error and dominate political decision making. Economic growth is a poor guide to human welfare.

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Tim Wilkinson 06.11.09 at 11:36 am

The last two paras are also quotes but the server helpfully mullered them for me.

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Tracy W 06.11.09 at 1:47 pm

If useful industries are to be got rid of because ungreen, it seems entirely reasonable and natural that those involved in them can and should be employed in the green alternative that replaces them.

On the one hand, yes, obviously, the lump of labour fallacy is a fallacy. On the other hand, I’ve seen massive protests by working class men over the shutting-down of mines, car factories, old fossil-fuelled power stations so I don’t think that it’s an entirely reasonable and natural argument to those people involved in the sector. And the skills involved can be quite different – there’s a reason that you can specialise in mine engineering. So I see possible political conflict there.

You think they haven’t got some (proper, welfare) economists on board? …An ecological society will be made up of self-governing communities of a variety of sizes which will regulate their own social and economic activities. (I know I’m mingling Tim’s own words with quoted material).

No mention in here of how these communities will regulate their own social and economic activities. For example, what happens if a member of a community decides to change their religious affiliation? Does the community have a right to demand that every member attend church? Or does a community have a right to stop members from attending church even if those members want to?

And how would economic activities be regulated, given the interlinked nature of economies? For example, say that my community decides that it wants to build a sewage treatment plant. I don’t actually know anything about how sewage treatment plants are built, but lets say they require metal components of a quality not found locally for that community. So how does the community get those materials? Or say a self-governing community wants to build employment by opening a large-scale mass-production solar cell manufactury and selling the product to other communities. What happens if the other communities don’t want to buy the solar cells? I don’t see how a community can regulate its own economic activities when economic activities are so interconnected.

If I invest in some project within a community can I withdraw my money and put it into another community? If so, under what circumstances?

How will tax laws apply across communities?

If a community pays for the education of its young people, does it have any rights to control what they do as adults? (Eg complaints by poor countries about their nurses being lured away by richer countries).

I haven’t run across a political party that does address such detail in their proposals, but I’ve never seen any sign that the Greens have thought seriously about what their principles here mean. Which makes me skeptical as to the quality of the economic advice the Greens are getting.

Nothing should be decided at a higher level if it can be decided at a lower one.

A lot of things can be decided at a lower level, without it necessarily being a good thing that they be decided at a lower level. Take the case of water rights – is it not possible that a local community would seek to use all the water in a big river basin and leave downstream communities dry?

And of course even in less extreme situations often there are arguments on the one hand for deciding at a local level, and on the other hand for deciding at a national level. Take publicly-funded healthcare – now local communities can make decisions about how to spend tax money on healthcare, but this means that you typically get discreprencies between areas as different areas make different decisions, and often have administrators of differing quality, which in the UK has drawn criticism as a “postcode lottery”. I don’t know of any knock-out argument as to whether public health-care spending should be local or national, the Green principle here implies that in the absence of such a knock-out argument it should be local, but have they really thought that through?

We reject the view that wealth can be measured solely in monetary units, a view which allows its adherents to think it consists primarily of the results of human labour.

And a view shared by no one I have ever met. And I have met people who are so free-market as to make me look like a card-carrying member of the Communist Party. (Admittedly attacking strawmen has appeal all over the political spectrum).

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StevenAttewell 06.11.09 at 4:46 pm

Tracy W – ah. This is starting to remind me of “New Liberals” at the turn of the century, except with the enviro stuff.

Jock Bowden – could be. In part, it may be a reaction to the kind of larger problem (globalization has screwed over our standard economic/class toolbox) of perceived incapacity on class. It’s not something that’s easily finessed, because ignoring race and gender isn’t the solution either.

The trick is to emphasize “intersectionality” solidarity. Interestingly, this is something that the American left went through much earlier in terms of race, just given the difference in our racial makeup . Unions and African-Americans especially have been struggling with this for a long time – “black and white unite and fight,” as the old slogan went – sometimes quite successfully in the case of the CIO, and sometimes disastrously as in the building trades unions. Of course, these days, the irony is that the labor movement, although at its weakest level numerically, is actually much better at dealing with these issues, in no small part because the union movement is now heavily black and brown and much more female than it used to be, which pushes union politics into getting this right.

Tim Wilkinson – maybe we can borrow some old-school American labor republican terms – how about the producing classes vs. the parasites? “All who labor by hand or brain in one big union,” and all that.

Regarding Greens and industry, I think one thing that’s missing is a commitment to full employment as well as GMI – if we’re going to be getting rid of industry, we need enough new jobs to make up the difference. Related question, as I continue to triangulate in on this, what is the Green position regarding the distribution of economic resources?

And I’m never impressed by all of this localist stuff. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a major city and am more comfortable with mass groups of people, but I like central government. Local communities can be some of the most oppressive – the larger you get, the more cosmopolitan you get.

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Tracy W 06.11.09 at 6:01 pm

StevenAttewell – who were the “New Liberals” and were they around at the beginning of the 20th century or at the end of the 20th century?

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StevenAttewell 06.11.09 at 6:27 pm

Tracy W – a wonderful, funderful question! The New Liberals were a group of Anglo-American (and some French and German as well) politicians and intellectuals who started out as liberals in the late 19th century who were growing increasingly uncomfortable with the implications of corporate capitalism for classical liberal ideology, politics, and policy. They gradually moved to the belief that the government would have to intervene in and regulate the economy for the public good if democracy and capitalism was to survive, especially as we get into the first 30 years of the 20th century.

The best example of this process is the British Liberal Party, as it shifted from the party of Gladstone to the party of Asquith and Lloyd George (and Beveridge and Keynes on the intellectual front). Arguably, you can see the same process in the American Democratic Party as it transitioned from the party of Grover Cleveland to the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and John Kenneth Galbraith, Leon Keyserling, and Paul Douglas on the intellectual front).

My point is that I see an intellectual similarity between the modern Green movement in Europe, at least as it’s being described here, and the New Liberals, in the sense that both are reform oriented, largely middle-class, interested in social justice and economic redistribution, but not emerging out of the class-centered world of social democracy, socialism, or communism (although in some cases, willing to converse, learn, and borrow from it).

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Tim Wilkinson 06.11.09 at 8:55 pm

In general, just saying I think there are possibilities in the Greens and they aren’t quite as hand-wavy or single-issue as some (inlcuding for quite a while me) thought. Reading theor manfesto docs, I find it quite interesting to see how familiar issues can look when expressed from a standpoint of environmentalism (admittedly it sometimes looks a bit strained!)

Tracy/Steve: I quite agree about the oppressiveness of small communities, esp isolated ones, and I’ve often argued in favour of the freedom of anonymity. But the human rights stuff + the fact that they say national ad regional govts still have a role suggest that needn’t be a problem. And ‘don’t decide centrally where you can decide locally’ depends on the word ‘can’ which will always be implicitly qualified and thus will bear a wide range of sensible interpretations.

In any case, one has to assume that all this stuff would end up being substantially watered down well before it got near implementation…

Also, Tracy: “We reject the view that wealth can be measured solely in monetary units, a view which allows its adherents to think it consists primarily of the results of human labour.”

Regarding the first half, the whole of the economic side of the governement basically works on that basis, and most of economics treats it as the default view (with welfare economics a specialist area). Maybe an exaggeration – I dunno?

I’m not sure about the second bit admittedly, but replace ‘labour’ with ‘human activity’ (to include the “enterpreneurial” role), and maybe it’s a bit more plausible as a description of a widespread tendency to disregard the dubious origins and the long-term value of raw materials, as well as ignoring intangibles in assessing wealth.

Mostly, it’s a focus that differs from the class/redistribution approach (which I’m basically happy with really), and thus to some extent fends off the usual ‘politics of envy’, ‘why level down’ canards that look like beig effective against the latter for the foreseeable future. I dunno, but I think it’s a possibility. How much it will appeal to the less educated, rich and well-informed sector is as suggested a signifcant issue, but I don;t think an alliance with what’s left of the Old left would necessarily be that difficult to achieve, and as for those not of the Old Left, what are they voting for at the moment? Also think it’s a long game, and we should be looking at how the under 25s are thinking at thet moment.

Very civilised thread you have going here.

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Tim Wilkinson 06.11.09 at 9:03 pm

When oh when will the spam filter be changed to allow Social1s… and special1s… to get through? It would save everyone including the moderators a fair bit of annoyance. I’d happily do it if the tech/admins would send me the code to amend.

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StevenAttewell 06.12.09 at 12:19 am

Tim:

A very informative post. I have to remind myself from time to time not to reflexively counter-attack against decentralizers when the states rights rubbish isn’t present.

Re: the poor/working class, I think a commitment to full employment is an important part of making the transition, as is perhaps playing up the anti-corporate, pro-people side. One of the successes of the environmental movement in the U.S – not the Green Party, and it’s still only to a limited extent – is coining the term “environmental racism” as a way to bridge the racial gap and talk to communities of color about the way that environmental hazards keep getting dumped in poor communities of color, and actually talk about distribution of wealth and power in society that way. Something like that, but for class, might be a good idea.

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Jock Bowden 06.12.09 at 2:45 am

Steven

I wonder to what extent we – intellectuals, scholars, and so – need to explicitly re-debate whether society does in fact contain objectively-identifiable structures that are far more ‘real’ than mere narratives and discourses constructed to fight other ideological battles. Perhaps the British were not so wrong after all, and the French are a little too over-excitable. ;)

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StevenAttewell 06.12.09 at 5:37 am

Jock Bowden – Guh? You’ve blown my mind here. I think I need some more explanation, but are you saying that class isn’t real? Or that class is structure or narrative/discrouse?

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Tracy W 06.12.09 at 8:19 am

Tim Wilkinson:
Regarding the first half, the whole of the economic side of the governement basically works on that basis, and most of economics treats it as the default view (with welfare economics a specialist area). Maybe an exaggeration – I dunno?

It’s not merely an exaggeration, it’s flat-out wrong. Every Econ 101 class and Econ 101 textbook I know of covers labour supply with the situation where a person gets a rise in their hourly wage and the professor/textbook then demonstrates that we don’t know whether they will increase the number of hours worked or decrease it, in more technical langauge whether the income or substitution effect dominates.

Also I observe that government statistics departments collect statistics that are not simply a measure of monetary value, eg infant mortality, life expectancy. Why would they get funding to do that if the whole of the economic side of the government worked on the basis that monetary wealth is all?

maybe it’s a bit more plausible as a description of a widespread tendency to disregard the dubious origins and the long-term value of raw materials

A more simpler explanation of this is the limitations of the human brain. I did my first degree in electrical engineering and there we ignored the dubious origins and long-term value of raw materials because all our brain power was going into one of two things: understanding how to manipulate the laws of physics as it acts on those materials once processed, and drinking beer. I bet you that people who spend a lot of time thinking about the dubious origins and long-term value of raw materials are spending less time thinking about something else that is also important.

But the human rights stuff + the fact that they say national ad regional govts still have a role suggest that needn’t be a problem.

On the other hand all of human history suggests that there will be problems, even if there “needn’t” be a problem. For example take the history of racial segregation in the southern US states, with the federal government winding up sending in the Federal Guard and northern people travelling down to participate in the civil disobedience campaign against segregation. Now yes, there was no need for the white Southerners to continue with racial segregation, they could have stopped doing it any time they liked. But even though they didn’t need to do so, they still did. How do the Greens plan to deal with those conflicts if they occur, even though they don’t need to occur?

I also note that you haven’t pointed out any source that addresses my questions about how economic activity between communities is worked out, how tax rules are applied across communities, whether people can withdraw money invested in a community, whether communities have some control over people whose education they have paid for, etc.

And ‘don’t decide centrally where you can decide locally’ depends on the word ‘can’ which will always be implicitly qualified and thus will bear a wide range of sensible interpretations.

Tim, earlier you said that you thought this sort of stuff was “without doubt the best extant vehicle for radical and left ideas”. Now you’re saying that you don’t even know what it means, as the word “can” is implicitly qualified, and could mean anything within a wide and I note undefined, range of sensible interpretations. So the Greens are proposing a plan which even their supporters don’t know what it means. Why would you want to vote for a programme if you don’t even know what it is? Also, according to you, the way that the Greens plan to deal with any conflict between their goals is to note that conflicts ‘needn’t’ occur, ignoring the detail that they could occur. If this is “without doubt the best extant vehicle for radical and left ideas” then the mind boggles at how bad the other extant vehicles must be.

StevenAttewell – thanks for answering my question. I’ll look into them some time.

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Jock Bowden 06.12.09 at 11:10 am

Steven

Oh god no. I am definitely a materialist, and quasi-structuralist. I definitely think economic class is real and an extremely active agent of history, and always have. That is my point. Over the past generation that perspective has been sidelined to the privilege of “post/anti” structuralist perspectives – discourse theory, the linguistic turn and so on.

Marxism can never be redeemed, but the idea that a lot of people’s lives are restricted by the top of job they have, and how much money they can thus earn, is not a bad analytical starting point in social ‘scientific’ analysis.

I’m merely wondering if it is now time to relax the race/gender petal and once more push ‘class’ to the metal.

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StevenAttewell 06.13.09 at 4:15 pm

Jock:

Now I understand your point at 56. Ok, we’re broadly in agreement, although I think that we can still accomplish pushing class to the metal without letting up on race or gender – I’m a big believer in inter-group solidarity for political purposes, and I think that while intersectionality is a horribly academic phrase, there’s a real point behind it. After all, there’s a reason why social democrats in Europe started out with women’s suffrage and equal pay as one of their core political demands, or why interracial unionism has always been such a critical element of the American labour movement, whether present or absent.

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Tim Wilkinson 06.14.09 at 12:32 pm

Tracy W
I didn’t make it clear that the quotes in my first post were really meant as an answer to the suggestion that the Greens thought everything could be solved by making more laws, which I took to mean that they would be excessively interfering (since legislation is, really, all that parties committed to the rule of law can do, and there isn’t a good way of counting laws)

Every Econ 101 class and Econ 101 textbook I know of covers labour supply..and… whether the income or substitution effect dominates.
It also covers the long list of untrue assumptions on which (neoclassical) microeconomics is based and lots of other stuff that is largely sidelined later (except for drawing the odd ideological pictogram like the Laffer curve). But none of that has much relation to how wealth is assessed. Leisure isn’t included in GDP these days is it?

government statistics departments collect statistics that are not simply a measure of monetary value, eg infant mortality, life expectancy. Why would they get funding to do that if the whole of the economic side of the government worked on the basis that monetary wealth is all?

Not ‘monetary wealth is all’; ‘all wealth is monetary’. But actually the former is kind-of not far off I’d say, so even in that case, I’d suggest the answer in a given case is going to be one of this complementary pair of alternatives:
1. Because not on the economic side, or
2. Because relevant to monetary wealth – e.g. life expectancy is of course important for planning pensions and some of the other economic accounting problems (worked out in terms of marketised commodities with their numeraire) which are causally related to matters of wealth.

all of human history suggests that there will be problems, even if there “needn’t” be a problem
Yes, but that’s an objection to anything you care to mention.
I was saying that the commitment to constitution-like overarching human rights + the existence of national institutions to enforce them means that the Greens have the resources to avoid any given form of oppression from occuring at the level of local government. I’m thinking from a UK perspective where the national legislature is supreme (regardless of treaties btw – until the judges take a new oath). In the US, well, I suppose voting Green at both State and Federal level would be one recommendation, but yes, as Stephen reminds me , the ‘States’ rights’ stuff is a problem (and one which renders your problems about coordination between locales particularly pressing.) Maybe constitutional amendments are called for?(!)

So the Greens are proposing a plan which even their supporters don’t know what it means.
I wouldn’t call myself a supporter, exactly. I just think that…well, what I said. The bit I quoted was vague, certainly, but given that, I know what it means. And that it doesn’t mean, say, ‘never decide anything nationally unless compelled to do so by logic and the laws nature’

If this is “without doubt the best extant vehicle for radical and left ideas” then the mind boggles at how bad the other extant vehicles must be.
Yes, mine is boggling away like a wrong ‘un.

I’m not recommending the Greens’ current manifesto as though it were a detailed and comprehensive legislative programme, still less one that could be carried out abruptly. I’m talking about the party itself as a vehicle for radical left ideas. (Forget Libertarians, that was an ill-advised afterthought based on my own theorising about where a consistent – and acceptable! – Libertarianism ought to end up…)

I suppose one way of looking at it is that environmental concerns draw attention to matters around the area of the ‘initial acquisition’ fudge in the Lockean property-rights model, and thus undermine the materialism that (in practice) depends largely on taking the material substrate as unproblematic. By taking a less materialistic viewpoint, we bring into focus proper human-centric concerns, rather than concentrating only on econometrically convenient pig-iron production figures. (Economist: ‘If economics is to be very widely and simply applied, we must make the following assumptions:(…). But economics is widely and simply applied. So the assumptions are well-made.’)

I’d say that helps with a project I’m interested in myself, which is severing (behavioural) Liberalism/Libertarianism from the conception of property-rights that has historically accompanied it. I guess that’s something that’s informally been done to some extent in US mainstream politics, where Liberal has a rather specialised use. OK that’s enough rambling for now…

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Tim Wilkinson 06.16.09 at 11:49 am

Excuse the bump, and the ad hominem (feminam? personam?), but on the relevance of Econ 101, may I refer Tracy W to her own remark here
Now the models taught in Econ 101 are generally untouched by empirical observation. But the early learning stages of a profession don’t tell us much about what the top professionals are doing.

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