Raymond Richman - Jesse Richman - Howard Richman
Richmans' Trade and Taxes Blog
Cracks in the Left-Right Political Alignment
The current political division is (roughly) between those who favor socially conservative and small government policies, and those who favor socially liberal and large government policies. An alternative alignment would pit those who see globalization as a threat to be confronted through national solidarity, and those who see globalization as an opportunity for inter-cultural and inter-economic collaboration.
We often talk comfortably of politics as dividing liberals and conservatives. Or perhaps free market types versus big government types... or other such single dimensional simplifications. But political ideology is a variegated thing. And the policy space ideology simplifies is even more complex. Over time political parties navigate this space. Evolving coalitions. Swapping positions. Take trade for instance. Through the 1930s the Republican Party was the party of the tariff. More recently it has been the party of free trade.
In both the U.S. and Europe the contours of the political space are flexing in important ways. A series of issues are rising in importance which cut across existing party alignments. If these tensions persist, unexpected things may happen. These issues have to do with the insecurity and impoverishment of important sectors of the working class, the rise of migration and immigration as an issue, the rise of the environment as an issue, the rise of trade and globalization as issues, and the increasing strains (particularly in Europe) facing efforts at supranational governance and coordination.
Parties on the left traditionally drew strength from the working class. But these rising issues make it harder for the left to hold this working class constituency. Many left parties are relatively pro immigration. The Democratic Party in the United States, for instance. They are also pro environmental protection. These positions risk putting the parties at odds with working class voters who prioritize getting a decent job over a crusade to save the climate. They risk alienating working class voters who do not want to see their already tenuous economic status undermined by inexpensive imported labor.
Parties on the right have their own challenges appealing to voters discomfited by continuing economic malaise. These parties are often pro-free-trade in a world where free trade is increasingly distrusted. They are associated with economic elites (e.g. Wall Street banks) deeply unpopular among such voters.
This creates opportunities in Europe, and in the United States, for candidates to emerge with distinctive mixes of economic policy positions.
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