Tuesday, November 1, 2016
A simple message to those willing to defend a "social" nationalism: don't
Branko Milanovic is right that social democracy will not survive or return unless it addresses a number of structural challenges, namely multiculturalism, the end of fordism, demographic changes and globalization. All these together make both the politics and the policies of the social democratic movement problematic, unless there is a huge effort of experimentation and thinking to address these quite objective challenges. However, social democracy remains the egalitarian ideology and movement that has provided more welfare, to more people, during a longer time, than any other ideology or movement. The alternatives in the left, for example communism or currently bolivarianism in Latin America (with sympathizers among the Corbynists and Podemos), do not stand a comparison (no butter in Moscow in the 1970s, no toilet paper in Caracas today). It is true that the difficulties of social democracy may be taken advantage of by nationalists and opportunists that try and often manage to convince working class people that a return to identity and ethnic politics may be better for their interests. Milanovic himself has addressed the social determinants for the demand of sovereignty in his past research. John Roemer already said before that the mobilization of identities may be one reason why the poor do not expropriate the rich in democracies. Motivated believes and other forms of bounded rationality (like the role of stories, narratives and ideas emphasized by Rodrik) also help explain why many today may find it more comfortable to believe that they can improve their welfare more quickly if they support nationalists and demagogues like the Brexiteers or Donald Trump. The leaders of the national populist parties know this and that is why they have made a "social" turn, emphasizing that they want to build inclusive societies, as Theresa May said in the recent Conservative convention. The same is being done by the Catalan secessionists and by Marine Le Pen. We should not let them win this argument. If a world separated by walls and identities succeeds, it will be much more difficult to fight global inequalities, even national ones; it will be more difficult to fight fiscal havens; to stop climate change; to reduce international financial instability that hurts especially the most vulnerable. Let's better work on making the survival of social democracy (or something similar) feasible, by responding to the challenge of adapting it to a changing world.