Sunday, May 31, 2015

Europe, Where Two Rights Make a Wrong

The New York Times has an article this morning describing the turn towards anti-immigration populism in France, inspired by the renaming of the Gaullist opposition party as The Republicans.  This is seen as an attempt to attract voters who have gone over to Marine Le Pen’s National Front, an overtly chauvinist party with a semi-fascist past.  The article points to the rise of similar movements in other countries; most worrying is Finland, a country in which the extreme right has played a major political role at key times during the past century, and where a nativist party is now part of the governing coalition.

The irony is that the nativists themselves, in order to expand, have had to move to the left on economic issues.  This has been widely noticed with the National Front, whose base was once small entrepreneurs.  Nativistis now claim to be the staunchest defenders of the welfare state and the interests of the working class.  The steady erosion of social protections and living standards, they say, can be halted only by ending immigration, especially from the “incorrigible” populations of the Middle East and North Africa—i.e. Muslims.  The name change in France makes a subtle play for this attitude by claiming the anti-clerical mantle of the French Revolution, now seen as a weapon against the influence of Islam.  Yet it also implies a leftward orientation on social and economic matters, since Republicanism has historically meant identification with the goals of the Revolution, as against the conservative, clerical and aristocratic opposition.  It perfectly captures the current moment: embracing the nativist Right while pretending to be more Left on other matters.

Meanwhile, the real Right can be found in the halls of power in every major European country.  This Right is socially liberal but against exactly the things the populists are trying to preserve: equality, improvement in living standards and generous social protection.  The political isolation of Greece within the eurozone, for instance, demonstrates how rentier ideology has completely triumphed over Keynesian and social democratic perspectives throughout the continent.  The ostensible socialists are as much a part of this conservative coalition as the official conservatives.

Is it any surprise, under these circumstances, that nativism has taken wing?  A large part of the European working class has concluded that scarcity and stagnation are permanent, and that the promises of the Left can’t be trusted any more.  All that remains is the politics of exclusion, making sure you have yours by locking the others out.  So high unemployment is the new normal?  Then the jobs belong to us.  Can’t afford the welfare state any more?  Send immigrants from poor countries back home.  On a gut level it makes perfect sense.

If there is a future for cosmopolitanism in Europe, it needs a credible politics of growth and redistribution.


Sandwichman said...

A "credible" policy of growth and redistribution?

First, it would help to have a credible definition of what it is that is supposed to be growing. I know growth sounds good -- as long as you don't have to pin it down. Beauty and truth also sound good. Why not have a credible policy of truth and beauty? And we could all promise to be not only good and clever but beautiful, too!

It seems to me that historically "growth" has referred to three distinct things theoretically, politically and statistically. Unless you can credibly reconcile those three disparate senses, you can't have a credible policy.

Thornton Hall said...

It would be much, much easier to describe this process if we ditched the laughably absurd notion that policy preferences exist on a left/right spectrum. Under what sort of bizarre conception of human behavior does it make sense that a pro-welfare state preference is spatially closer to pro-Muslim immigration preference?

Is it like a chromosome, where the pro-spotted owl gene is for some reason linked to the pro-labor organizing gene?

Case in point: why did Al Gore loose Tennessee? You can talk left/right for years and never get the correct answer: white people in Tennessee decided they couldn't vote for the party of black people. said...

In France in particular the established Right has often had this weird element of playing to the Left on certain issues. This goes all the way back to Bonaparte, and Bonapartism was in some sense the model for this as well as, frankly, fascism, although Napoleon was not a racist.

So, de Gaulle was very much a model for this, just as he was a follower ultimately of Napoleon through Boulanger in the late 19th century, the "man on the horseback," who also was mostly of the Right but also made his nods to the Left, in that regard a bit like Bismarck in Germany.

So, de Gaulle blocked the Communists and was certainly a conservative French nationalist. But he also supported the introductino of central planning and was not at all opposed to quite a few other government "intrusions" into the economy.

Sandwichman said...

"In concluding this paper, I am acutely conscious of the meagerness of reliable information presented. The paper is perhaps 5 per cent empirical information and 95 per cent speculation, some of it possibly tainted by wishful thinking."

Is how Simon Kuznets concluded his 1954 presidential address to the American Economic Association, published as "Economic Growth and Income Inequality." Since that time the mix of empirical information, speculation and wishful thinking has probably worsened to the extent that economists skepticism toward the meagre reliable information has evaporated behind a Wizard of Oz curtain of... "mathiness."

Unlike Kuznets, economists today are no longer "acutely conscious" of the meagreness of the empirical information. They just assume. Much of what they assume is based on past conjecture and wishful thinking that has hardened into conventional wisdom. said...

Not sure what this comment has to do with Peter's post, although I guess it is an extension of the first, which raises a legitimate question about what is "economic growth?"
That said, I think this comment is not quite accurate. It looks to me like the real peak of pure theory in econ publishing was the 1980s, and there are studies and even recent blogposts (no, not going to link) out there supporting this. The wind has been shifting towards empirical work for some time, and this is both due to some disillusionment with theory (the poor pure theorists are really whining quite loudly). Some of this has been due to a veritable explosion of data out there, with a lot of the more recent expansion of it coming from experiments.
OK, now I shall grant that there remains the question of the theoretical frames or approaches that people take in these more empirically oriented papers, and the case can certainly be made that many are using ones that are misleading/unuseful/ideologically biased, and so on. This is hard to quantify or straighten out.
But the hard fact is that there is lots more data out there on many aspects of economics, including the precise issues that Kuznets was studying when he made his complaint about "speculation." Piketty's book and the related literature is a good sign of this. It is ironic that most people have praised Piketty and his associates for their data and analysis of it, with most of the arguments abuot his book involving the theoretical arguments he made in connection with the data, with some of those arguments made here.
There also certainly remain pockets of bad theorizing being justified by "mathiness," keeping in mind that Romer did not complain about math per se, but specifically about papers where the verbiage misreapresents the math. I note that his main targets were rather old papers by Luca and also especially one by McGrattan and Prescott, with these folks associated with a small group that is notorious for the games they play with macro modeling. Heck, these people do not even have good empirical results, mostly a lot of handwaving with variations on DSGE models that they verbally misrepresented and whose empirical content is pathatic. That these sorts of models continue to dominate much of macro modeling, particularly in policy making institutions, I think is what has Romer most upset, and with good reason. We are now hearing that it is all over and this sort of macro modeling will continue triumphant, after the addition of a few "financial friction" bells and whistles.

But I disagree with your mroe general claim about the balance of empty theorizing and data/empirics as compared with 1954.

Sandwichman said...

"OK, now I shall grant that there remains the question of the theoretical frames or approaches that people take in these more empirically oriented papers,"

Exactly. The frame's the thing.

I take it that Piketty (spell check want "piety") is more the exception than the rule. I wouldn't use his work as confirmation that economics is not stuck in a speculation + wishful thinking + conventional assumptions mode. Hey, the Financial Times published not one but two fraudulent fallacy flaps in a week and where is the outcry from all those empirical economists doing real work with data? Absent.

Peter's conclusion is a casual implementation of the growth mantra. Aside from ecological economics -- which is hardly acknowledged as economics by the mainstream -- the growth mantra reigns supreme. Where is the empirical support for the growth mantra? Specifics, please.

It seems to me that on one side is Marx, Kuznets and Piety. Sigh, this time I'll just let spellcheck have its way. said...

You meant Marks, Kooznuts, and Piety, did you not? :-)

Sandwichman said...

Whatever I meant spellcheck was having none of it!