I have a lot of time for Eric Alterman, but this piece on THE TWILIGHT OF SOCIAL DEMOCRACY misses the point. Alterman’s been to some sort of intellectual shindig in Paris to discuss the nature and causes of said twilight. Perhaps it wasn’t quite the grinding arse-paralyser that sounds. There’s a reason someone called a band Future of the Left – it loves having meetings about its future. But this one included Thomas Piketty of Piketty-Saiz fame and Ronald Dworkin and various other impressive crania.
Unfortunately, I can’t get past this.
People, it turns out, do not generally appreciate the opportunity to be forced to subsidize, through tax and transfer policies, the lifestyles of those they deem to be different from themselves. The French historian Pierre Rosanvallon noted that â€œit is here that the anti-immigration argument gets its force. On the left the view is one of nostalgia. An extremely weak response to a strong attack and itâ€™s hard to see how it can survive the argument â€˜the immigrants are stealing the welfare state.â€™â€
Two things. For a start, perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the transfers seem to get less every time the matter is discussed. It is not in fact true that US or Western European workers have repeatedly turned down a big increase in the social wage because of the Muslims. Rather, it hasn’t been offered.
Secondly, surely the key to the problem is accepting the whole dogma of “welfare”. It may indeed be hard to persuade, yadda, yadda. But then it’s always hard to persuade someone of anything if there is nothing in it for them. New Labour ran its blood to water trying to come up with ever more cynical arguments to get people to be grateful for marginal improvements to the NHS, while never really noticing that UK workers experienced zero real wage growth from 2003-2010 at best.
Social democracy is more than just schools’n’hospitals politics. To be fair, Alterman nearly gets to this at the end of his piece but it doesn’t really add up to the sort of frontal, neo-brutalist self assertion that the advocates of wage-led growth set as a minimum standard.