Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Turkey And The Trend To Authoritarianism

The big surprise in the Turkish referendum to make Turkey a presidential system was not that Erdogan's side won, but that it was close enough that opponents are charging fraud based on ballots not being counted properly.  It may in fact be that it really did lose by a narrow margin, as some I know said it would.  But, officially it won by a bit more than Hillary beat Trump by and a bit less than Brexit won by. What strikes me is how the voting patterns in all of these three resemble each other, even as they differ in many ways on economic, nationalistic, and religious grounds, not to mention broader historical issues.

So the big similarity is that they all seem to have exhibited a pattern of the winning side (not in pop votes in the US) being rural traditional voters in the heartlands of these countries, this not holding in UK where all counties supported the losing Remain side, against urban and higher educated and more secular or minority laden areas.  Southwestern Wisconsin switched from Obama to Trump, Northern England came in strong for Brexit, and central Turkey aside from Ankara came in for Erdogan's referendum.  Is there a commonality here, global populism?

It may be, but the differences between the countries on the categories of economics, nationalism, and religion are notable. One should not forecast too far into  the future about future elections based on this, just to  note a more political issue, in the UK the Brexit vote was not obviously authoritarian, with many Brexiteers supporting freedom from supposedly oppressive and undemocratic EU regulators, even if they may have been misled to some degree.  In the US, many see Trump as authoritarianb, but some voting for him think he is bringing freedom of some sort, maybe as the Sons of Liberty in Texas fought for the freedom to own slaves.  In Turkey this matter is pretty unequivocal, with Erdogan declaring a third round of martial law after imprisoning thousands of innocent people on trumped up charges after the failed Gulenist coup attempt last summer.  He is full bore authoritarian, but then he is seeking to replace Ataturk, who was also very authoritarian.

On economics the US and UK look more  similar and less like Turkey, although all three have experienced economic problems.  In the US and UK, they superficially look good, growing more than many other OECD nations, but they also have very high inequality compared to those other nations, with the outcome that the majority in both nations are not doing better economically. Both have old industrial areas suffering from import competition where an anti-foreigner appeal has a lot of appeal, and did so in crucial states in the US, and portions of England, although not Scotland, where every county voted for Remain.  Turkey does not have the extreme inequality or the problem of old industrial areas facing import competition, but after a decade of substantial growth under Erdogan's rule prior to 2012, it has slowed down since and actually had negative per capita income growth in 2015 (have not seen 2016 numbers yet).  It is different in Turkey, but the economy is not doing all that well, although this may have fed into the low support for Erdogan's referendum.

I see convergence on nationalism.  In all three there has been an appeal to an ethnic core based nationalism, WASPs or whites more generally in the US, English in UK, and traditional Sunni Turks in Turkey.  For whatever reason, in all three nations those core groups have responded strongly.,

The matter of religion is more subtle and complicated, but has been dragged into the other two.  So in both the US and UK anti-Muslim sentiment has been key, with this easily coinciding with anti-immigrant and foreigner appeals that feed into both the economic and nationalistic arguments. In Turkey it is pro-traditional Sunni Islam that is the key, with the large religious minority Alevis viewed as enemies, along with the ethnic Kurds.  The central long term game of Erdogan is to undo the secular Turkish state of Ataturk and replace it with a neo-Ottoman Empire approach, although in the vein of the Young Turks of 1905, with a religious Sultan in charge, even if he does not claim to be Caliph.

Indeed the contradictions on all this for Turkey show up in the matter of Daesh/ISIL where Turkey has gone back and forth, long letting arms and people flow to their areas in Syria to keep the Kurds at bay and dump on Assad. Now they have been cut off from that, and have flipped on their relations with fellow authoritarian Putin in Russia.  They seem completely confused, with Trump congratulating Erdogan on his referendum and mostly praising him, even as Trump has sent US troops to back the leftist Kurds fighting Daesh/ISIL in Syria because, hey, they are  the only ones willing to go  to Raqqa and beat those creeps, just as Obama had figured out some time ago.

Barkley Rosser


Anonymous said...

Frankly, I feel the core takeaway from these three disasters of democracy is that democratic societies made a horrible, and likely fatal, mistake by extending full voting privileges to rural, undereducated, and elderly populations.

The elderly have no business voting in society-changing referenda because they will not live long enough see the consequences of their decisions. No taxation without representation ought to imply no representation without taxation: people who have no skin in the game, so to speak, have no right to dictate their preferences to others. Brexit is very much about destroying the future of the young to assuage the neuroses of the nearly dead; had the voting franchise been restricted to those who have to *live* with the outcome of the referendum, the outcome would have been very different.

The risks of allowing full voting privileges to the rural and undereducated (two sets which share a great degree of overlap) are nearly self-evident and stem from the vulnerability of these groups to demagogic leadership, be it from Trump, UKIP, or Erdogan.

One of the great tragedies of the ending of the US civil war was that the voting weight of persons in the ex-confederate, rural, states was not reduced to its rightful value of 3/5ths of a person. This lack of foresight cost the world Trump and, due to his inaction on climate change, may well result in the end of human civilization as we know it.

Democracy only works with an informed electorate. It doesn't work when every hick is given a pen/pencil/voting machine and told to decide the future.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

I continue to support democracy. The election of Trump may be leading to a major blowback where those who passively did not vote and said he did not matter have been shocked into action. We shall see.

Another aspect of these three elections is a major blow to the EU, UK leaving, US supporting EU falling apart, and now Turkey will turn away from the EU seriously.

Also, it looks like there may have been serious fraud in the Turkish ref election, but it will be overlooked and ignored there.

Peter T said...

It's less who about who does vote and more about who does not vote.

The Australian (and classical Athenian) practice of compulsory voting - you have to turn up, even if you leave the form blank - has a good deal to recommend it.

Bill H aka run75441 said...


Did we screw up today? I kind of thought it was a lack of turnout by the youth. Up to 24 only 36% turned out in Brexit. 24-34 it was 58%. The Guardian. From that point on the percentage kept growing and nothing under 70%.

In the US, the Millennial group out numbers baby-boomers and are now the largest generation. Yet the turnout does not equal older groups. So much for skin in the game.

Speaking of which, my 40 years of paying my taxes, giving back to the community, and serving in the military does stand for something. Yes, no? It did pay for the infrastructure which now exists even if the Repubs stole from it. I understand the argument and their time will come if they ever decide to turnout for an election. We are slowly dying off.

AXEC / E.K-H said...

Economics and encephalomalacia
Comment on Barkley Rosser on ‘Turkey And The Trend To Authoritarianism’

Simon Wren-Lewis correctly observed:#1 “Narratives are a way people can try to understand things they know little about, and most people know little about economics or politics.”

This is an accurate observation ― and it is by no means new. The media have always been in the business of storytelling and it is well-known that this sooner or later leads to general encephalomalacia (softening of the brain).

What Simon Wren-Lewis tried to suggest in his post is that the media are the bad storytelling guys and that economists are the facts-only-truth-telling good guys.

Reality is quite different. It is NOT only the media that is in the business of storytelling but economics, too. But economists’ encephalomalacia is more reprehensible because economics claims to be a science and this means: “In order to tell the politicians and practitioners something about causes and best means, the economist needs the true theory or else he has not much more to offer than educated common sense or his personal opinion.” (Stigum)

And here is the snag: economists do not have the true theory. Economics claims to be a science, yet has never satisfied scientific standards. The four main approaches ― Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism ― are mutually contradictory, axiomatically false, and materially/formally inconsistent.

Because of his lack of the true theory what the representative economist has to offer is educated common sense, his personal opinion, second-guessing the FED, and interpreting the President’s tweets.

Some economists have given up economics altogether and have regressed to psychological, sociological, political, and historical storytelling. Barkley Rosser has now set new standards with his completely beside-the-point narrative of voting patters, the Sons of Liberty in Texas who fought for the freedom to own slaves, the convergence on an ethnic core based nationalism, Erdogan’s attempt to undo the secular Turkish state of Ataturk and replace it with a neo-Ottoman Empire, and of the confusion that was caused by Trump congratulating Erdogan on his referendum.

Whatever this is, it is NOT economics.

The storytelling of scientifically failed economists like Barkley Rosser has become virtually indistinguishable from the blather of half-witted journalists.#2 This proves that economics has never gotten above the proto-scientific level since Adam Smith: “… he disliked whatever went beyond plain common sense. He never moved above the heads of even the dullest readers. He led them on gently, encouraging them by trivialities and homely observations, making them feel comfortable all along.” (Schumpeter)

Since 200+ years economists are lousy scientists but good at brain softening.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 See ‘Media-fake-farce-fraud-storytelling-macro’
#2 See also ‘Politics, storytelling, and science’
and ‘Economics ― from attention and reputation management to science’