The voters speak

A couple of weeks ago I briefly discussed the first important election of 2009, in which Indian voters ousted the communists from government and gave the Congress party an opportunity to accelerate the pace of market reforms.  Now the European voters have spoken:

BRUSSELS – Conservatives scored victories in some of Europe’s largest economies Sunday as voters punished left-leaning parties in European parliament elections in France, Germany and other nations.

Some right-leaning parties said the results vindicated their reluctance to spend more on company bailouts and fiscal stimulus to combat the global economic crisis.

The European Union said center-right parties were expected to take the most seats “” 267 “” in the 736-member parliament. Center-left parties were headed for 159 seats. The remainder were expected to go to smaller groupings.

Right-leaning governments were ahead of the opposition in Germany, France, Italy and Belgium, while conservative opposition parties were leading in Britain and Spain.

Spain, Britain, Germany, France and Italy, I’d say that’s more than “some of Europe’s largest economies.”  Notice that European voters didn’t simply punish the party in office, as one might expect, but singled out those with left-wing views on economic issues.

I guess the 1.15 billion people in India and the 500 million in the EU didn’t read the NYT editorials instructing them that the economic crisis represented a failure of laissez-faire, and that we needed another New Deal.

This voter reaction reminds me not so much of the 1930s, but rather the 1970s and 1980s, when voters around the world began demanding policy reforms to address economic stagnation.  At first that change wasn’t apparent to pundits in the US, as the 1976 election saw a rather inept Republican administration replaced with a new Democratic face.  However by the 1980s the neoliberal revolution was a worldwide phenomenon.

In the short run we’ll get a bit more statism in the US, but I am still optimistic about the medium and long term (regardless of which party wins the 2012 election.)



7 Responses to “The voters speak”

  1. Gravatar of Leigh Caldwell Leigh Caldwell
    8. June 2009 at 14:23

    I’ve been thinking about this a bit since reading it earlier today. My feeling here (in London) is that this election and its results are nothing to do with economic policy.

    European Parliament elections turn less on the issues that Europe might have a direct influence on and more on people’s attitudes towards Europe as a concept. It’s as if everyone in the US were primarily focused on their state legislature, and federal elections were dominated by the issue of state’s rights. Attitudes to Europe also get projected onto attitudes to “other countries” as a whole.

    My conclusion is, in this case, that the general support for right-wing parties is not about their economic but their social policies – and specifically their attitudes towards immigration and European integration. Of course it’s one of the abiding oddities of politics that there’s such a strong correlation among political parties between support for economic freedom, opposition to immigration and a more traditional approach to personal morals.

    Thus it’s easy to mistake an anti-immigration vote for a pro-free-market vote.

    I don’t know about the Indian case – but the considerations are probably different, not least because the European Parliament has no meaningful influence on economic policy whereas the Indian government most certainly does.

    Not that I disagree with your general optimism – in the long run, sensible policies will tend to win, and economic liberalism is broadly speaking a sensible policy.

  2. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    8. June 2009 at 15:09

    I also heard that the Tories did not do as well as expected while the UKIP (who are Euroskeptics) and BNP had their best showing yet.

  3. Gravatar of Leigh Caldwell Leigh Caldwell
    8. June 2009 at 15:53

    Yes, that’s true. Unfortunately the BNP (a fascist party) have achieved their first representation at this level – some other similar parties in other parts of Europe have had MEPs before, but the UK has never elected the BNP or their predecessor party the National Front except in occasional local seats.

    The BNP’s economic policy is certainly not free market – it appears to be heavily focused on protectionism and nationalism, with some bits and pieces of other things grafted on.

    UKIP’s website doesn’t seem to have an economic policy at all, except that they support a flat tax and the abolition of inheritance tax, and instead of trading with the EU, they’d rather trade with the British Commonwealth.

    However it is possible to read too much into this – the BNP’s vote was only about 6% and not necessarily representative of a wider trend. UKIP’s vote is clearly not about economics at all, and even the Tory vote was mainly about antipathy to the Labour government (Scott correctly points out that this is not the case in Germany, France or Italy so I think if there is a common European explanation, my best guess is a general anti-European integration or anti-immigration feeling).

  4. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    8. June 2009 at 18:08

    Tim Worstall of the Adam Smith Institute was a candidate for UKIP (he didn’t win). He talks about economics a lot at his blog and less often at TakiMag.

    I believe Nick Griffin had previously been jailed for something or other which isn’t illegal in the U.S. I don’t think it’s that common in the first world to have ex-cons in office, though according to Gideon Rachman “128 of the 543 members of the last Indian parliament had faced criminal charges or investigations, including 83 cases of murder”. Two of Griffin’s perhaps even more offensive countrymen are currently being detained in Santa Ana after fleeing Britain to avoid prosecution for hate-speech they had on their website. Perhaps they weren’t paying attention to the news about all the people we’ve locked up without trial in the War on Terra.

    I’ve heard before that E.U elections are basically protest votes. What I wonder is why the E.U always seems to be pressing for more of a “United States of Europe” (even when referendums to that effect always seem to fail) if its legislature is staffed with those whom David Brooks would term “nihilists”. Does the E.U just act independently of its legislature?

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. June 2009 at 05:10

    Leigh and TGGP, Those are good points, but I still think they apply more to the UK than the other 4 big economies. Yes the UK is skeptical of “Europe” and yes Gordon Brown is in trouble, but:

    1. TGGP’s point about “basically protest votes” doesn’t apply to Germany, France, and Italy. That’s why those votes kind of surprised me.

    2. The right wing parties in places like Germany are not anti-European, they favor close integration. Perhaps the Christian Democrats in Germany are more anti-immigrant than the Social Democrats. I don’t know.

    3. My hunch is that even in the US voters are really angry about the bailouts for banks, automakers, etc, so I could very easily see Angela Merkel’s rhetoric about deficit spending resonating with voters. On my vacation lots of people asked me about when the big inflation is coming—people don’t like the huge deficits.

    Having said all that, you guys might be closer to the truth. The vote might easily have been 60% anti-immigrant and 40% worry about big deficits.

  6. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    9. June 2009 at 19:24

    It was years ago that I heard it expressed that EU votes tend to be for the opposite of whoever they just voted in nationally and are dissatisfied with. You are correct that the votes for the incumbents in a number of countries with center-right governments don’t support that. I actually find that result surprising and thought the left (including the radical left, as Marx was said to be making a revival) would be helped by the recession. I’d like to add though that voters do irrationally punish incumbents for bad weather. If they wanted to stay in office they should learn to rain dance!

    It wasn’t just in the UK that anti-immigrantion parties did well. The same happened in your favorite, the Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Hungary. Many (all?) of those parties are also euro-skeptics.

    I googled for the position of the Christian Democrats on immigration and found this result. I believe in Italy anti-immigration politics are fairly mainstream. I have also heard that many West Germans (who tend to be more right-leaning than East Germans) don’t think re-unification with the East has gone well. I don’t know if that translates into euro-skepticism though.

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. June 2009 at 06:04

    TGGP, You provide some good evidence for the anti-immigrant angle. But this also raises a pragmatic question–suppose voters were both pro-statism and anti-immigrant. Would their votes achieve their goals? It seems to me that the right wing parties are not likely to push statist policies, but I admit that it is too soon to say. Certainly one can find examples throughout history where right wing parties did push statist policies. But for now I am optimistic that the neoliberal revolution will role on, even if for the wrong reasons.

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