Philosophical Conversations Public Opinion Junk for code
parliament house.gif
Think Tanks
Oz Blogs
Economic Blogs
Foreign Policy Blogs
International Blogs
Media Blogs
South Australian Weblogs
Economic Resources
Environment Links
Political Resources
South Australian Links
"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

social democrat woes? « Previous | |Next »
November 3, 2012

Rob Manwaring argues that social democracy is not traveling well these days. He refers to the increasing numbers of the public turning to the right rather than to the left to govern them; the fragmentation of support for the left with the rise of the Greens; a suspicion of state power, and the issue of immigration being a real Achilles heel in centre-left politics.

PopeDpoliticla museum.jpg David Pope

However, he adds, the under-pinning structural problem facing centre-left parties since the 1980 is the dominance of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism has a powerful internal logic with popular appeal: economic growth takes place when tackling inflation is prioritised over securing full employment; taxes are low, the welfare state is minimal, and privatisation and marketisation are rife.

The centre-left, he says, has struggled to adopt a sufficiently distinct and electorally appealing alternative to this agenda. Labor today stands for being a competent manager of the economy and incremental change that modify the edges of a neoliberal mode of governance.

John Gray digs deeper into this relationship between neo-liberalism and social democracy by pointing out the contradictions of neo-liberalism. For example:

Neoliberals wanted to limit government, but the upshot of their policies has been a huge expansion in the power of the state. Deregulating the financial system left banks free to speculate, and they did so with reckless enthusiasm. The result was a build-up of toxic assets that threatened the entire banking system. The government was forced to step in to save the system from self-destruction, but only at the cost of becoming itself hugely indebted. As a result, the state has a greater stake in the financial system than it did in the time of Clement Attlee.

Gray adds that although the deregulated banking system may have imploded, capital remains highly mobile. Bailing out the banks has shifted the burden of toxic debt to the state, and there is a mounting risk of a sovereign debt crisis as a result. In these conditions, maintaining the high levels of public spending that social democracy requires will be next to impossible.

Hence the Gillard Government's education reforms are designed to prepare people for the labour market, rather than developing any substantive form of social justice.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:16 PM | | Comments (10)


If the ALP were a party of the left the argument might hold. In many ways they seem to the right of most Coalition governments before Howard as far as my experience goes. The Overton window has moved substantially rightward.

yes. The ALP has increasingly moved to the right. They've been outflanked by The Greens.

If the ALP has shifted to the right, as Paul claims (and I agree), then social democracy is not traveling well.

"social democracy is not traveling well these days."

isn't social democracy meant to be a counterweight to market fundamentalism?

while a certain suspicion of capitalism is inherent to social democracy, it is the suspicion of an unrestrained capitalism not forced by government. Capitalism is to be civilised, through policies such as higher taxes on the wealthy, generous welfare provision, public ownership, and legal protections for employees –so as to meet certain standards of social justice.

In practice, however, social democrats have frequently failed to implement such policies in government, and have instead ended up enacting policies beneficial to Big Business and the wealthy.

Alex Callinicos in ‘Where Does Political Power Lie?’(Socialist Review, March 2007) highlights why social democracy is not traveling well:

They are confronted with the following dilemma. Reforming capitalism necessarily means interfering either directly or indirectly with the economy. Even limited improvements in social welfare imply increases in public expenditure and taxation. Such interference may well produce adverse reactions from big business –for example, the flight of capital from the country –which will weaken and may even destroy the government. But if the social democratic ministers therefore avoid reforms for fear of annoying the bosses, then parliamentary democracy turns out after all to be incapable of even moderating the inequities of capitalism

What is novel with Gillard Labor is the refusal to even try to reform capitalism, and their support instead for ‘neo-liberal’ or free- market policies.

"Neoliberals wanted to limit government, but the upshot of their policies has been a huge expansion in the power of the state."

While a reduced role for government is the outcome of nearly all neo-liberal policies, in practice neo-liberals may support free market policies at one time, but at a different time embrace policies that conflict with market principles so long as they meet the needs of big business.

"If the ALP were a party of the left the argument might hold. In many ways they seem to the right of most Coalition governments before Howard as far as my experience goes. "

The ALP's social democrats no longer stand for policies such as higher taxes on the wealthy, public ownership, strong labour market regulations, a generous welfare state, and significant spending on areas such as health and education, and have instead embraced free market policies, then they can be social democrats only in name.

I with Paul on this, "...they seem to the right of most Coalition governments before Howard as far as my experience goes." Funny that old Malcolm Fraser sounds so much like a a "bleeding-heart" these days.

Based on what I see down my end of the swamp, right-wing ideology snares the masses (to a large extent) through fear and ignorance. Or, is it just a coincidence that the left-leaning people I know are all well informed and avoid the mass media for their news?

That's a reasonable summary of naked capitalism and the specific example of the GFC by Gray.
I would nitpick about the phrase "huge expansion in the POWER of the state" where, IMO, it should be noted that the state's ROLE has been entrenched as the protector of capitalism at the expense of the people and that the POWER of the state has been diminished in that it can only respond to the demands of capitalism, made public through academics and the media, and has shown itself, in the US, Europe and here in OZ, to be submissive and obedient [as George points out above].
The 'austerity' measures and the obssession with balanced budgets illustrate that the state is not powerful as the voice of the people but primarily as the tool of corporatism.