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Populism

1) Populism is the single biggest threat to established political parties, because it attacks the political system from within. Populism is a vote for non-participation, a reaction to the misuse of power, a result of loss of trust in political parties in general, and especially in any form of centralism, whether national or supranational (such as the EU), in the inefficiency of bureaucracy, and in institutions that flourish under it.

2) Italy, one of the most corrupt society in Europe, was the home of Fascism, but is also the home of populism, the new ideology for the 21st century. Alain Minc (1993: 113) sees populism as a sign that we are returning to a mediaeval world order. Others see it as a reaction against the failures of centralism.

The Welfare State and social protection

"... prisonnière de son immense classe moyenne, la société réagit et s'évade..."

Alain Minc (1987: 11)

1) The nation state is no longer capable of funding social protection. Health care has become synonymous with widespread inefficiency. Protectionism, not innovations, not problems solving, has become the answer in times of crisis.

2) The welfare state has started to show its perverse side effects; it has become an "egalitarianism machine". It worked well enough in the years after the Second World War, when people did not think to exploit it, but not nowadays. Man quickly becomes spoiled in times of plenty.

3) The egalitarianism machine part 2: education. As more and more students are pushed through university we are experiencing what we might call knowledge inflation: ever lower levels of knowledge among students, and indeed among their teachers. In consequence we are getting less, more expensive, and less skilled craftsmen.

4) Over the last two decades, those who could afford it have been moving towards a leisure-based lifestyle (cf. Dumazedier 1962). A "place in the sun" is an escape from society, thus from responsibility.

5) All this contradicts the direction in which many people had expected modern democracy to develop, into a true meritocracy. This was clear already two generations ago (Young 1961).

6) The priority should not be to raise our standard of living, but to invest in the future on behalf of the young. At present we are helping the old. We have built a society which protects the elderly while systematically sacrificing the interests of our youth. This is a suicidal policy. Help for families must be prioritized. We must increase birth rates. Savings are in the hands of the old. We need to tax the elderly and give to the young. The difficulty is that it is the old who are in power. This form of social discrimination is much more serious than the under-representation of women in positions of power. And the young are too few. In the end we shall have to accept young men coming from Turkey to work for us. Do we want that? Will we have a choice, in five or ten years' time?

7) The influence of certain philosophical figures, beginning with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, has caused us to lose our sense of responsibility and duty.

The public sector and the problem of efficiency

1) There are none so conservative as a civil servant, which is understandable: he is secure, he controls the present, and he waits. For him life is repetition, and everything is laid down in advance. This is not the portrait of a man of action: he is there to apply the rules and regulations and to conform to its routines. His salary does not depend on his performance. Outside the office, on his way home, he may be aware of increasing pressures on his organization, but it is not for him to do anything about them.

2) An elected representative does not dare tell the public what he knows the public do not want to hear. He does not dare tell the public something that would lose him the next election. For the businessman the aim is net profit; for the politician it is re-election.

3) A good manager will always find a new job, but a professional politician risks returning to a low-paid job at some high school (If you sit in the Swedish national assembly for three terms you are then guaranteed a salary for the next fifteen years, without working.)

4) Non-confidence has become the rule in political life. Most governments in the Western world have less than twenty-five per cent support among the electorate. The largest political party is the abstention party.

5) The decline of local community life is creating the greatest danger for democracy in the future, not the threat from globalization.

6) No-one in his right mind wants to become a politician these days. Parliament is full of "idiots", in the opposite sense of the original word: from Latin idiota, meaning "man who is not involved in public affairs", instead we have created a system of experts and advisers.

7) The process of globalization is diminishing the power of the nation state. That process began with the decline of local communities. It is the morale of the local community, individuals' feelings of responsibility and care, that nourishes the nation state. Democracy works best when people can rely on one another rather than using the state as an intermediary (Lash 1993: 12). For more than twenty years now people have been trying to outsmart the Welfare State and take advantage of the benefits it provides (unemployment benefits, social insurance, sickness benefits, etc.). The State has longed ceased to be the sum of its citizens.

It has become a mechanism, impersonal and decaying. The less privileged members of society see it as a mechanism whose workings they can study in order to outsmart it. It has turned into a sort of game.

8) We are losing respect for honest manual labour. We bring people in from Thailand and China to harvest soft fruit in Sweden, though they have never picked berries before.

9) When the State permits privatization of institutions (schools, hospitals, and so forth) it is not doing this voluntarily, it is yielding to necessity. For the State it is a defeat. It is also the result of a new class struggle in the rich parts of the world, between private- and public-sector interests.

10) During the second half of the twentieth century the working class in the Western world slowly merged into a new, growing middle class, which gradually acquired a higher standard of living. The old jobs were moved out to less-developed countries. The working class did not so much disappear as get exported. As the saying goes, "out of sight, out of mind".

11) A new class has emerged from the growing numbers of public servants: a class of bureaucrats and State employees whose claim to legitimacy was once founded on the principle of meritocracy (Young 1961). Today merit has been replaced by political obedience; the contract has been broken. Companies continue shifting production to other countries, reducing the tax revenues that kept the bureaucrats in control.

12) For decades society has consisted of two professional tracks, one private and one public. It was accepted that private-sector employees received rather higher salaries in exchange for rather more demanding workloads and less security. As the new class has increased in size and as the efficiency and wealth of the private sector has grown, more attention has been paid to value for taxpayers' money. The discrepancies in efficiency and productivity between the two sectors have become obvious.

13) Political parties in most Western societies use a "jobs for votes" strategy. If you took away all short-term political initiatives (which are particularly rife when an election is due), the unemployment rate in many countries would double or even triple. The currently-acceptable rate of unemployment in Western Europe, before we get riots, is about fifteen per cent. Above that and people take to the streets, sooner in some countries than others. In Eastern Europe the threshold is more like thirty-five or forty per cent. In Paris people automatically take to the streets at fifteen per cent, while some suburbs in the vicinity of Paris have sixty or eighty per cent unemployment. These thresholds are culture-dependent, but none the less real.

14) Many countries on the road to becoming democracies are creating masses of meaningless jobs to keep unemployment down. Thus, there will be a handful of people guarding an empty parking lot, an excess of janitors in every public building, people taking fees for use of public toilets that are hardly ever cleaned. This problem is familiar in China, too, not only in Hungary.

15) At a certain point it became clear that the State was not going to be able in the future to fulfill its economic obligations. The example of pensions is well-known. This problem is far from solved. In hopes of finding a solution, governments are being forced to agree to demands for greater efficiency in public organizations. One could see this as being in the interest of the senior bureaucrats, since they have not long to go before retirement. The next generation to retire will need to use even tougher measures to make their pensions secure. . Of course, for the 2.8 billion people on this planet who earn less than a dollar a day, who have never seen welfare benefits and can hardly understand what they might be, this discussion would sound like something from a fairy tale.

16) The privileged class is slowly making itself independent of the nation state, by seeking out private alternatives to public provision of schools, insurance, health care, security, and so forth. They even build their own societies within society, so-called gated communities. This is a "two-state solution" within a single

 
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