The Social Democrats and the self-evident welfare state

Social Democrats & Welfare State

Social-democratic parties seem to be on the direct path to political insignificance. Since the beginning of the millennium, they have sometimes suffered dramatic losses. First and foremost in Greece (-37,5 percent), Italy (-24,5 percent) and the Czech Republic (-22,9 percent). But even in Germany, France or Hungary, their election losses are in the double-digit range.

"The educational elites are voting left today, and the wealth elites are still voting right. In other words, both major parties have developed into elite parties, leaving the less educated and the non-party workers. "

Thomas Picketty

Imbalance in income & taxes

In view of the sufficiently wide existing imbalances that characterize our "highly developed" industrialized countries today, this massive political decline is difficult to comprehend. There is more than enough to do. In the entire euro area, the richest five percent still own a total of 38 percent of total assets, ie all shares, real estate and equity investments. By comparison, the richest percent of households in Austria already own 41 of total assets. Recently, economists from the Johannes Kepler University in Linz came to this conclusion, who have made an attempt to estimate the barely comprehensible wealth of the richest and to consider it in their calculations.

INFO: Socialist ideals
A global survey by market researcher Ipsos has asked 20.793 people in 28 countries their views on socialist values: half the world's people agree that today socialist ideals are of great value to the social process. It is not surprising that the strongest approval comes from China but also in India (72 percent) and Malaysia (68 percent), majorities agree with this opinion. The US (39 percent), France (31 percent) and Hungary (28 percent) are much less inclined to socialist ideals. In Japan, even just one in five respondents (20 percent) believes that socialist ideas are of value to the social process.

Although this financial woes throw a particularly long shadow on a "social democratic country", today it marks the entire western world. The much respected French economist Thomas Picketty noted that "possession of assets in the post-war era has never been as concentrated as it is today, and taxation of assets by international standards still accounts for a very small part of total tax revenue." A look at tax revenue is indeed instructive in this regard : While the working population made a total of 26 percent of total tax revenue last year (payroll tax), the contribution of corporations (income and profit tax) was a paltry nine percent. In relation to this property taxes contributed zero euros to the state budget because they simply do not exist in this country.
Precisely for this reason, it is difficult to understand that precisely those political forces for which distribution and economic policy are a primeval theme, and social inequality marks their historical birth, are thus going down. Or is the prevailing inequality even the reason why the Social Democrats in the eyes of their constituents had to lose their "economic competence"? For a long time they had supported this economic policy here and there.

Welfare state vs. Social Democrats

Or has the welfare state itself killed the social democracy? Much of their traditional demands - such as worker protection, progressive income tax, suffrage, etc. - are today simply social and legal reality. And the number and variety of available social benefits - not to be confused with their accuracy - seems almost endless. Finally, social spending such as the social rate has steadily increased for decades and despite cost savings, so that we spend a third of our total value added on social benefits. At any rate, we are a long way from dismantling the welfare state.

The voter potential

And yet it does not look too rosy in this country. Nearly a fifth of the population is at risk of poverty, two-fifths earn so little that they fall below the income tax threshold and over a third of the workforce is trapped in precarious employment relationships. All in all, that would be a considerable electoral reservoir for the Social Democrats. Error.

It was this clientele that most recently elected a government that seems to work consistently to worsen their social situation. At the same time, it shows itself to be particularly imaginative towards workers, unemployed persons, minimum security recipients, foreigners and asylum seekers (including those in need of subsidiary protection). As far as their tax-reduction plans are concerned, the lower 40 percent of the working population simply do not seem to exist. The economist Stephan Schulmeister stated in an interview with the standard: "It would not be the first time that the victims choose their own butcher".
However, it would be too easy to attribute the demise of the Social Democrats merely to the simple minds of voters. This would give millions of people blanket mental impoverishment and ultimately deter the comrades from reflecting on their work self-critically.

The mind of the voter

More insightful is a look at the creeping changes in the electorate. The last National Council election showed very clearly that the FPÖ has meanwhile developed into a "labor party", while the SPÖ scored above all among academics and pensioners. The SORAElection analysis also showed clearly that the mind was sometimes more decisive for the voting behavior than educational attainment and employment status. Thus, about half of those Austrians, who consider the development in the country in principle as positive, decided for the SPÖ (FPÖ: four percent). Of those who regard the development in Austria rather negatively, around half chose the FPÖ again (SPÖ: nine percent). The same was the case with subjectively perceived (in) justice in the country.

Politics of the elites

This trend can also be observed in France, Great Britain or the USA. Thomas Picketty recently examined the electorate there, noting that their left-wing parties are increasingly being captured by educated elites. In his view, this is also the reason why Westerners are democracies to do so badly against inequality, because "the educational elites are voting left today, and the wealth elites are still right." In other words, both major parties have become elite parties, leaving the less educated and the non-party workers behind. His recommendation for a social democratic survival strategy is clearly a clear left-wing economic policy, especially wealth taxes.

More left and right

Political scientists in Germany as well as in Austria also observe that more and more voters are positioning themselves economically on the left, but socio-politically on the right or conservatively. In view of this, the German political scientist Andreas Nöpke sees the strategy for recovering a majority perspective as "not only socio-economically a consistent policy for the lower 50 to 60 percent of the population, but also to accommodate those people who have reservations about an unchecked globalization" and " concerned about the long-term weakening of the welfare state through migration and a supranational-liberalizing EU ".

He also notes in this regard that "political positions that address these concerns are often perceived as" right ". That is a fallacy. " On the one hand, his "left-wing option" clearly pursues social-democratic values, but at the same time accepts that transnational solidarity is only possible within limits. She is explicitly neither xenophobic nor racist, but she is skeptical about the idea of ​​open borders and a further strengthening of the EU. This concept of a left-wing, communitarian (as opposed to cosmopolitan) policy would respond to the creeping change in the electorate.

Well-intended advice for the Social Democrats is currently lacking. They range from "more left and green" (Elmar Altvater) to a "strong European alliance of left-wing parties, including the post-communists of the South and East and civil society" (Werner A. Perger). The way out of the crisis currently employ many political scientists, observers and not least the social democratic parties themselves. It remains exciting at least exciting what Christian Kerns SPÖ reform, as well as the "Laboratory" of the European Social Democrats in the coming weeks will produce.

Photo / Video: Shutterstock.

Written by Veronika Janyrova

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