The political landscape has changed. The new communists are called “democratic socialists”, and the new socialists are called “social democrats”, or “liberals” in the English speaking hemisphere. I will now explain why:
The politics of the 20th century were dominated by the struggle between communism and capitalism. This struggle emerged as a result of the social tensions caused by early industrialization in the Western countries in late 19th century. When industries developed, many workers were dissatisfied with long working hours, demanding work under constant supervision, and few significant improvements in their living standards. Meanwhile, Karl Marx founded his theory of socialism/communism on false grounds concerning the value of labor and he also didn’t realize that a planned economy was not able to guide the actors in an economy to the best allocation of capital and labor, because, due to the absence of price signals, it lacks the necessary information about demand.
The second half of the 20th century proved socialism wrong. The former communists/socialists have become social democrats or “democratic socialists”, whatever that means. They reluctantly accept that capitalism is the only functioning economic system for human beings. So they focus on the question of the distribution of income instead. Mind you, there are no communists in the classic meaning anymore, i.e. who propose a planned economy with state ownership of the means of production, but that doesn’t mean that we are safer from the dangers of leftist policies today. Due to the acceptance of capitalism as a basis for modern society, the social democrats, democratic socialists, or liberals, whatever you want to call them, who were once the moderate left have become the new extreme left of politics.
However, the extreme left is not revolutionary anymore, because an alternative theory about economics and society to the mainstream neoliberalism doesn’t exist nowadays, and will probably not exist in the next decades. So what we basically have is a society that debates about different types of capitalism. The political left campaigns for massive income redistribution, which, ironically we already have in most Western countries. The norm is that the net contribution to government finances for almost 50% of the population is zero, once you include the transfers from higher to lower income households). Practically all taxes are paid by the upper 50% of society. Consider this: a democratic majority can vote for more taxes without having to pay for them! How is that going to end?
So, if we already have societies with huge income redistributions, what does the political left want to achieve in the future? You see, it’s a dead end, except for those countries, who still lag behind in redistribution and expenditures, e.g. Singapur and Hong Kong. In every other developed country, the goals of the political left have already been achieved during the last 50 years.
This brings me to the most important point: The political left is going to be the new conservatism. After it has reached the point where more redistribution is economically not feasible, they will defend their model, just like neoliberals defended capitalism against the leftists in the 20th century. I know, Milton Friedman said this already 40 years ago, but now it’s becoming true (Friedman was a little bit too early with his remark, because there was still much leeway for more income redistribution and rises in government expenditure). The important question now is: will the libertarian minded people get their act together and organize a large opposition to this new conservatism?
If we combine the two findings that I described above, we come to an astonishing conclusion: the left end of our current political spectrum can be called extreme conservatism. Let me show you that this is indeed a fitting term. The leftist politicians try to defend the established social economy/society against every possible attack. What are these attacks? For instance, as I wrote in one of my recent posts, socialized health care also has problems with overconsumption, and therefore exploding costs. In these systems the governments rule that all citizens have to eat healthier, do more exercise, and stop drinking and smoking, in order to keep health care costs low.
However, since citizens of a free society tend to show low compliance to unpopular rules, governments will have to actually observe, control, and punish people. And this is already happening. Just take a look at Japan, New Zealand, Australia, or Britain. The term “food police” will be familiar with citizens of those countries.
It isn’t really different with economic policies of the left. The biggest risk for their social economy/society is globalization. Globalization puts pressure on unproductive parts of the economy. The lack of productivity mostly stems from overregulation of labor markets and financial markets, or from high taxes and large social expenditures. That is why they try to prohibit international tax competition, free trade, and deregulation of economies, by proposing some bullsh*t like Fair Trade, or common social standards (which include a mandatory minimum level of taxation and social expenditure) across the European Union, for instance.
So, as you can see, leftist politicians try to preserve their social policies with authoritarian rules. That is why extreme conservatism is indeed such a perfectly fitting term for them. You could even go so far to say that their extreme conservatism is not unlike the fascism of old days, which also tried to “preserve” society by isolating itself from international competition and by introducing authoritarian rules over their citizens. However, high living standards have led to indifference about politics in our societies, which is why politics are not as radical as they were.
What about the political right? As already mentioned above, they were once the conservatives who defended the achievements of the 19th century (capitalist economy, libertarian society) against socialism during most of the 20th century. Today, they are very much erratic, because the political spectrum has turned 180 degrees and they don’t know what to do now. Once again, the growing indifference about politics in society helps to reduce radicalism, but thereby it also becomes harder to fight for libertarian reforms, which the political right should do right now. As can be observed throughout the world, most right-wing parties are rather centrist, and thereby also part of the new authoritarian conservatism. In some countries like the USA they mix it with religious conservatism in order to distuingish themselves from the leftist parties.
The logical consequence of the current situation in the political spectrum is that society will have to become more radical once again before we can expect some reforms. Radicalism is created by social and economic unrest, which will indeed become reality, if the current economic problems are not solved in the near future.