South America tacks left – Europe tacks right
Two major continental ships-of-state appear to be moving in distinctly different partisan directions. South American countries are becoming more liberal, and European countries are becoming more conservative.
On Sunday, Peruvian voters elected liberal Ollanta Humala to be their president, replacing conservative President Alan Garcia. Greg Grandin, history professor at New York University, recently wrote:
“… Peru joins Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela in tilting to the left.
…Here's just some of what has happened since 2006: In Bolivia, Evo Morales presided over the ratification of a new social-democratic constitution and was re-elected as president in 2009 with 64 per cent of the vote. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa also easily won reelection and ratified a new constitution that guarantees social rights and puts tight limits on privatization. Recently, Ecuadorians likewise voted on ten progressive ballot initiatives, passing them all. They included the strict regulation of two blood sports: banks are now banned from speculation and bulls can no longer be killed in bull fights.
And last year in Brazil, the trade unionist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva left office the most popular politician on the planet, handing over the presidency of one of the world's largest economies to Dilma Rousseff, a former urban guerrilla and economist who vows to continue to try to make Brazil a more humane and equal nation.”
Grandin goes on to say that Hamala’s economic policies will probably be more closely aligned with Brazil’s than with Venezuela’s:
“Humala, in contrast, will tilt toward Brazilian economic interests. Indeed, the Peruvian historian Gerardo Rénique said that the election, while representing an important victory for democratic forces, could also be understood in part as a contest between Brazil and the US over Peruvian energy and mineral resources.”
Meanwhile, as The Economist noted on Tuesday, the European governments are moving sharply to the right:
“Ten years ago almost half of the 27 countries that now make up the European Union, including Germany, Britain and Italy, were ruled by left-wing governments. Today, following the defeat of the ruling Socialists in Portugal's general election on June 5th, the left is in charge of just five: Spain, Greece, Austria, Slovenia and Cyprus. In Spain, by far the largest of these, polls suggest the Socialists will be removed from office at an election that must be held by next March.”
The Economist article points out an apparent correlation between the partisan makeup of European governments and the strength (or weakness) of the Euro economies. The chart below shows that when the European economies are strong (measured in annual % change in GDP), more European Union members tend to have left-leaning governments. However, when European economies are weak (as they are today), the member governments tend to move to the right:
Image source – The Economist (click on chart for clearer image)
As The Economist article notes, “There are many theories for the left’s weakness in Europe.” And, as Greg Grandin alludes to in his article, there are many theories for the left’s strength in South America.
The question is, "Why would two modern socio-economic environments be heading in opposite directions in our current so-called 'global' economy?"
Much of this is due to the differences in the demographic makeup of developed vs. developing nations. Three important factors come to mind.
First, Europeans are getting older - while South Americans are not. The increased life expectancies and smaller family-sizes in Europe mean that the average European is much older than his/her South American counterpart. And, older age generally means more concern about conservative values. My econ professor once said that the elderly tend to suffer from “hardening of the categories,” meaning new progressive ideas are much less likely to be accepted by an aging population. This may be a cause of the rising xenophobic fears in Europe as a result of the increasing Muslim immigration from African nations. Most of these xenophobic voices are being heard in older, more-established European communities.
Second, the social structures and safety nets for the general populations in Europe are very well established. Most developing nations, on the other hand, are just beginning to create these structures. The general populations in developing countries, therefore, tend to rely on progressive leaders to look out for their own needs during the establishment of these programs.
And third, the global conservative movement, financed by the moneyed elite, has effectively honed its skills in “buying” government leadership in well-defined, established democracies. By dominating campaign financing, owning political think tanks and (most importantly) controlling the local media, the conservatives have become experts at taking charge of European governments, even though their minority views may not necessarilly represent the best interests of the populace.
In developing countries, however, the socio-economic rules and organizations have not yet been well enough defined to allow the conservatives to use their “buying power” to take control.