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It's not about 'hasten slowly': we just disagree
The rate of social change does not destabilise centre-right politics. Social change that bypasses the electorate does
As I’ve written previously, Australian politics pays greater heed to democracy and majorities than it does to liberty and rights. This is why the country’s immigration policies are as they are, and also why they work. The country is geared to ensure that what the electorate votes for, it gets.
This has consequences both in Australia and elsewhere, which discusses in this short piece. Once again, a reminder that he’s @LorenzoFrom on Twitter if you wish to give him a follow.
Political parties are, for voters, mechanisms that folk vote for for a range of reasons. Political parties get de-stabilised when they are no longer seen as useful mechanisms to effect those reasons.
There were vast social changes in the period 1965 to 1985 and conventional centre-right political parties coped just fine. Those changes were all argued out in the open and actuated via explicit political mechanisms operating through conventional electoral politics. Centre-right parties were not undermined as political mechanisms by the processes of social change.
In contrast to 1965-1985, during the inter-war period (1918-1939), the size of the authoritarian right in a polity was a direct function of the size of the totalitarian left. The more threatening the far left was, the less useful voting for centre-right parties was (typically quite rationally) seen to be.
Hence a Bela Kun generated a Horthy; mass Leninism generated mass Fascism; mass Stalinism generated mass Nazism; revolutionary violence and assassination generated a Franco. Conversely, the tiny Communist Parties in the Anglosphere generated tiny authoritarian-right movements. This holds even in contemporary politics: the authoritarian-right/far right is so small in Ukraine in large part because the totalitarian-left/far left is so small. Given their history, Ukrainians have become good at seeing through both extremes.
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Revolutionary movements in the explicit Marxian mode are a thing of the past in contemporary Western politics. Instead, the de-stabilising of conventional centre-right politics increases the more thoroughly the politics of “non-electoral institutional capture” (to use writer Wesley Yang’s phrasing) has proceeded. Put simply, institutional capture makes traditional electoral bargaining less effective.
Post-1991, the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ have become less and less useful, obscuring at least as much as they reveal. This is particularly so given the rising importance of divisions between Somewheres (those who are born, live, marry, raise children and die in a particular locality and whose connections are locality-based) and Anywheres (more mobile and educated people whose connections are not locality-based).
In many developed democracies — until recently — the most destabilising politics of institutional capture has been immigration. If Somewhere voters are deprived of the ability to use their ballot to shape migration policy (typically through some form of Anywhere political cartel), then they will begin to break for non-conventional political figures and parties.
Mass migration suppresses wages by suppressing the Baumol effect*, breaks up working-class communities, and degrades working-class social capital. Somewheres have reasons for their concerns. Anywheres overwhelmingly benefit from migration, Somewheres overwhelmingly don’t.
One reason that Brexit is failing (apart from the decay in state capacity due to a civil service that is simply less capable thanks to 40 years in the EU) is that the Anywhere institutional and political establishment continues to fail to deliver border control. It is in the interests of Anywheres to suppress working-class wages, break up their communities (thereby breaking up social capital, ie their ability to organise in their own interests) and to de-legitimise any dissent from Anywhere convenience.
More recently, we have seen the rewriting of basic understandings of sex and gender through a trans agenda where dissent is widely treated as morally illegitimate, as well as a re-racialising of policy discourse. These patterns continue no matter which side of politics is in office. In the US, it pre-dated Donald J. Trump becoming the Republican Presidential nominee by some years.
The “rate of change” guff is just another version of the fable of progressive innocence: nothing is ever the fault of progressives. Those other folk are all to blame. With a fair dash of arrogant, even self-righteous, condescension directed at those genuinely disadvantaged by various changes. As is all the easier to do when such costs are denied, missed, or lied about.
*The Baumol Effect
The Baumol effect (sometimes known as the Baumol cost disease) is why a haircut in 2022 costs far more than a haircut in 1960, despite being the same service.
The huge increase in productivity at the most productive end of the economy generates a high-wage, high-productivity sector.
At the margin, less productive sectors compete with the high-wage, high-productivity sector for workers. That pulls up wages in productivity-“adjacent” sectors. They then also compete for workers, having the same effect, and so on all the way down the economy. So wages go up in sectors without any productivity increases.
If wages for hairdressers had stayed the same as they were in 1960, no-one would be a hairdresser and everyone would look like they did during Lockdown 1.
If low-human-capital labour is continually added to an economy via mass migration, one suppresses the Baumol effect. Thus, one ends up with nannies and other household service workers continuing to be a feature of the labour-market; they would otherwise be priced out by the Baumol effect.
If, however, one imports folk whose education (i.e. human capital) is the same as, or higher, than the resident average, one does not suppress the Baumol effect. That is why Australia, with its famous “points system” and very high rates of migration, does not have nannies and other household servants on the scale that the US and UK do, with their much lower rates of migration. Australian carwashes are still mechanised. Australia looks and feels more egalitarian because it is.
It is also why the pandemic pause in migration saw low-end money wages start to shoot up in the UK and US, and not in Australia, as the Baumol effect was no longer being suppressed.
David Goodhart, The Road to Somewhere: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics, Penguin, 2017.
Zach Goldberg, ‘How the Media Led the Great Racial Awakening,’ Tablet, August 05, 2020.
Mark Granovetter, ‘The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited,’ Sociological Theory, Vol.1, 1983, 201-233.
Stella O’Malley & Sasha Ayad, ‘A Takedown of Gender Politics with Wesley Yang,’ Gender: A Wider Lens, Ep.93, October 28, 2022.
D. Rozado, ‘Themes in Academic Literature: Prejudice and Social Justice,’ Academic Questions, 35.2, 2022, 16-29.
D. Rozado, R. Hughes, J. Halberstadt, ‘Longitudinal analysis of sentiment and emotion in news media headlines using automated labelling with Transformer language models,’ PLoS ONE, 2022 17(10): e0276367.