In the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008, hopes were high on the left that a real crisis in capitalism would tip the political balance considerably in its favor. Isolated wins and movements aside,
In the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008, hopes were high on the left that a real crisis in capitalism would tip the political balance considerably in its favor. Isolated wins and movements aside, that didn’t really happen. Instead, in the early 2010s the bailout of bankers was followed by the imposition of austerity in Europe and America as governments sought to balance the books.
Premature predictions about the nature of post-Covid politics in the West are therefore to be avoided. But some themes seem to emerge. Outlining a largely communal territory, they agree with the experience of many people on how the pandemic unfolded and what it revealed; and there is evidence that in northern Europe they could inform a revival and revival of center-left parties and movements.
The true scale of the renaissance of the German Social Democrats will appear on Sunday evening, in an election that has become a suspense. But whether or not the party maintains its surprise lead and whether its candidate, Olaf Scholz, becomes chancellor, the campaign has already been marked by its defense of the work of Michael Sandel. Last year, the Harvard philosopher published The Tyranny of Merit, a scathing critique of how Western societies have distributed both wealth and social prestige over the past decades. The misconceptions about success and value, Sandel believes, have created a divided and individualistic society: a highly skilled set of “winners” reap excessive rewards in knowledge-based industries such as technology, while the contribution of those who work, for example, in the care industry is grotesquely undervalued.
In a recent interview with the Guardian, Mr Scholz echoed this argument almost literally, criticizing “a meritocratic exuberance that has led people to believe their success is completely self-taught.” As a result, he continued, “those who keep the show on the road don’t get the respect they deserve … Manual workers don’t deserve less respect than academics.” This type of judgment became common during the pandemic as low-paid key workers kept lockdown companies running. âRespectâ, which translates concretely into better pay and working conditions for inglorious but vital jobs, was therefore a central idea of ââMr Scholz’s campaign.
Similar signals come from Norway, where the Labor Party regained power after elections this month. For the first time since 2001, the three Scandinavian countries each have a Social Democratic Prime Minister. Here too, the social inequalities highlighted by the pandemic have played a role in a changing mood. The Norwegian Labor Party’s successful election slogan was: ‘It’s the ordinary people’s turn now’. His manifesto included pledges to strengthen labor rights and union membership, and to increase taxes on unearned wealth.
Again, caveats are needed. In a fragmented political landscape, the Scandinavian social democratic parties are far from being the hegemonic powers they once were. And in Denmark, the government has adopted draconian immigration policies that would further whitewash the liberal left. Nonetheless, in the words of a senior Norwegian Social Democratic official after the poll, Covid appears to have LED to a greater concern and emphasis on “common welfare”. A new vocabulary of respect and dignity, and a focus on âordinaryâ occupations and lives, indicate a post-pandemic leftist policy focused on the redistribution of status as well as income. Sometimes Sir Keir Starmer’s essay, released this week, hits some of the same notes.
Populist insurgencies and the pandemic – which have shown the value of the protective state – have dealt a heavy blow to the separatist and individualistic policies of high liberalism. In the United States, Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 billion stimulus package is part of a attempt place blue collar workers and âfly overâ communities at the center of economic recovery. The ethics of collective responsibility and mutual respect should also be fertile ground for the center-left in Europe. As the leaves begin to turn, there are signs this message is being received and understood.