Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Left Must Address Regional Inequality If It Hopes to Beat Right Wing Populism

This article from Foreign Policy by Roberto Stefan Foa and Jonathan Wilmot is a very good article indeed! In an admirably clear and concise manner it makes a cross-national case for the central political role or regional inequality and why the left must address this issue or resign itself to the continuing upsurge of right wing populism. Foa and Wilmot argue as follows:
"Changes in the global economy have spatially sorted voters into progressive urbanites with a large stake in a new technological future, globalization, and liberal values, and the left-behind who see their own identity and economic prospects threatened as never before. Rural areas and small towns may have always been more culturally conservative, but this divide, combined with the resentment generated by economic and wealth inequality, has triggered the most prominent recent political explosions across the West.
While much attention has focused on differences in values between progressive cosmopolitanism and provincial conservativism, the fact remains that conservative values, at least on matters of lifestyle and religion (if not on matters of national identity), are either stable or in decline. This makes the populist insurgency an anomaly, for a constant cannot explain a change.
What has changed in the last generation, however, is the level of economic and wealth inequality between regions of Western countries. As Joan Ros├ęs and Nikolaus Wolf have shown, regional divergence began in the 1980s with globalization and deindustrialization, and it has deepened in recent years.
If we are to understand the depth of populist anger, we must look to the economics of regional resentment.... [B]ehind the bluster and rhetoric of populist discourse there lies a deeper emotion: resentment. Resentment is difficult to measure, for it always expresses itself indirectly. It is easier to target the objects of resentment for perceived or imagined moral failings than because they are wealthier or more fortunate in life. Resentment is a conflict in search of a cause—a cause that populists readily provide.
Thinking in terms of the new regional class divide also solves one of the perennial mysteries of the populist wave in Europe and the U.S.: Why is the disruption happening now, rather than a decade ago, at the height of the global financial crisis? The answer emerges very quickly when looking at how different regions have recovered—or not recovered—in the decade since.
While the crisis proved only a temporary setback for cosmopolitan cities such as London, Amsterdam, and New York—whose financial sectors were bailed out by government largesse—blighted ex-industrial regions continue to struggle under the burden of austerity. In the decade from 2008 to 2016, while GDP per capita rose over 13 percent for California and New York, it rose on average less than 3 percent across other U.S. states. While GDP per capita rose over 6 percent in Greater London, they rose by only half that in the rest of the U.K., and while per capita GDP recovered in Greater Paris by 3 percent, in the rest of France incomes did not grow at all. It is a pattern found across Europe, from the Netherlands to Sweden to Denmark, Italy, Ireland, and Greece. Wealthy, cosmopolitan cities surge ahead, and the periphery gets left further and further behind.....
Viewing contemporary politics as a clash between the cosmopolitan center and the regional periphery also solves another of the mysteries of the populist wave: Why did populists sweep to power across Central and Eastern Europe, despite two decades of robust economic growth?
The answer is that there’s been growth for some—but not for others. In the Czech Republic, for example, GDP per capita in Prague grew by over $20,000 from 2001 to 2016—almost as much as the total GDP per capita for the country overall....
As long as regional inequality persists, the populist pressure is very unlikely to abate. As soon as one threat recedes—the possibility of a Le Pen presidency, for example—another one comes to replace it, such as the yellow vest protests. No sooner had the UK Independence Party (UKIP) collapsed following its success in the 2016 referendum, that a revived Brexit Party gained the most seats in the European elections....."
And here's their solution:
"That means coming to terms with populism—and coming to terms with the causes of populism.
Alas, many progressives in the United States seem to have opted instead for denial, either blaming Russian intervention or concluding that populism is due simply to a “basket of deplorables,” to borrow Hillary Clinton’s infamous phraseology. With current democratic politics deemed unworkable, some commentators suggest tilting the system through court-packing, abolition of the electoral college, or encouraging “bureaucratic” politics (alternatively stated: unelected officials disobeying elected ones)....
A proposal for a bold new round of public investment to reconnect forgotten Americans—whether packaged as infrastructure for growth or as a Green New Deal—presents the most optimistic prospect for bringing America’s cosmopolitan cities together with its struggling inland regions. While the Green New Deal is still dismissed by many as a progressive pipe dream—free money for “bullet trains to nowhere,” as California’s high-speed rail project has been dubbed—it could become a genuinely bipartisan project to rebuild roads, railway lines, and cities, and to reintegrate America’s forgotten economic hinterland with its prosperous, progressive coasts.
In short, to face the populist challenge, progressives need to build bridges, both real and metaphorical. Otherwise, as the electoral map shows, they will continue to find themselves living adrift on small islands of prosperity, while the tide of populist anger continues to rise."
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Across the West, the main trigger of populism has been the growing inequality—and hostility—between urban and rural regions.

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