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Friday, October 1, 2010

ABSURD COMMENTS AT ECONOMIST'S VIEW --- THE TEA PARTY LINKED BY IMPLICATION TO THE NAZI PARTY IN THE GREAT DEPRESSION --- AND PROF BUG'S HARD-HITTING, EVIDENCE-DRIVEN REPLY

                                     INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS

Or Why Prof Bug Was Swatted and Then Dumped Into an Internet Netherworld of Fire-and-Brimstone

It all started about 14 days or so ago at Economist's View,when Professor Mark Thoma, the blog owner, launched a thread there with commentary written by an Irish economist, the fellow worried about the big electoral breakthroughs in recent years --- especially since the Great Recession erupted in 2008 and 2009 --- of right-wing populist parties in both Western and Eastern Europe.  Note in passing --- a point we'll return to --- that he said nothing about the USA, let alone the Tea-Party.

These European parties, observe quickly, vary in extremism; and if actively supporting a coalition government of the center-right over the years (as with the Danish People's Party in Denmark), they aren't extreme in any meaningful sense of the term, just conservative and at odds with traditional mainstream political parties. Plus some other things, namely . . .

Namely This: What All the European Populist Parties Advocate

First off, what they don't advocate, contrary to what all the other Economist's View posters seemed to assume, is free-market libertarian policies --- a mainstay of the Tea-Party. Such a policy would gather few votes anywhere in the EU with one exception so far (to which we'll return momentarily): Holland.

 Instead, in economic and welfare-policies, the rest of these right-wing parties differ little from mainstream parties on the need for a large welfare-state system to maintain social peace and modify market-economies' income-distribution. And they generally support the policies now being pursued all over the EU, whether by moderate Social Democratic governments or --- mainly the case --- centrist-conservative coalitions, to find ways to reign in government costs and budget-deficits . . . especially as all the European countries will soon face the problems of financing state-pensions for more and more longer-living retirees with ever fewer active workers.

So What Else Do The Right-Wing Populist Parties Share Ideologically?

Well, they . . .

   * Espouse a hard-line on the problems of integrating their increasingly large Muslim minorities into their traditional cultures and social mores --- whose members, it's argued, refuse to assimilate to their resident-countries' cultures, social mores, and shared secular values and rights.

    * Oppose, moreover, non-Western immigration of almost any sort --- and, in some West European countries, even oppose migrants from the East-European member-states of the EU.  More and more, governments everywhere in Europe are themselves imposing such limits in response to clear voter sentiments here.

   * Endorse a tough law-and-order position that is especially popular with more and more European voters, weary of mainstream governments of the left or right that have been unable to stop the surging growth of crime, violent or otherwise.

And generally, with some variations across them, they also:

    * Tend to be ultra-nationalist and show skepticism about the European Union's growing influence in domestic affairs --- especially social, cultural, and immigration-policies.  (A few parties, like the National Front in France, favor outright exodus from the EU.  Most them, though, are Euroskeptics and strongly oppose Turkish membership in the EU, while advocating far fewer intrusions by the EU's institutions into national policymaking.)

Needless to add, the high levels of crime are linked by these populist right-wing parties to the rapidly growing immigrant communities in their midst --- and especially young Muslims or other non-European residents, plus the Roma (gypsies) who have Romanian citizenship that gives them a legal right to reside throughout the EU.  And statistically speaking, there is little doubt on this score.  A large percentage of the surging violent crime in Europe --- far worse than in the USA --- is disproportionately caused by members of these immigrant communities . . . the exact percentage hard to pin down, what with the unwillingness of EU countries to break down crime rates and levels, violent or otherwise, by race or ethnicity as in the USA.

The Dutch Exception 

The one right-wing party whose policies collide with a existing large welfare state is Geert Wilders' Party of Freedom in Holland, which recently tripled its vote in parliamentary elections by winning 17% of the total.  That's large enough to give it a dominant position to influence the policies of the center-right government, which depends on its support in the Dutch parliament.  ( In that respect, it's like the Danish People's Party that gets about 13% of the vote in that country and has been a parliamentary mainstay of the center-right government in Denmark that's been in power for a decade or so there.) 

Outspoken in its anti-Muslim views, the Party of Freedom adds to its electoral appeal a strong libertarian platform of smaller government, lower welfare spending, and pro-market policies, plus a powerful stance in favor of free-speech however offensive it may be to the Muslim Dutch community, and a no less powerful opposition to any more immigration from non-Western countries.  That libertarianism has few echoes elsewhere in Europe.

What's hard to know right now is how much of its electoral support draws on this libertarian platform as opposed to its unalloyed anti-Islamic rhetoric and policies.  So far, there have been no Dutch studies prof bug knows of that have used opinion surveys to distinguish between the Party of Freedom's Freedom allures to voters of the strenghts of each of its two major campaigning themes. Observe something though.  The deals being worked out in October 2010 between the Conservative-Center government and the Party of Freedom --- whose support the governing parties need in parliament to stay in power --- reflect a combination of both policies, not least, you understand, because so much of the welfare spending goes to support out-of-work Muslim households.

And not only in Holland.  All over Europe where right-wing populism increasingly flourishes, more and more political rhetoric even in mainstream conservative-center parties blames high unemployment rates, high levels of welfare-spending, poor educational performance, and virtually all social ills on the non-European immigrant communities, and especially Muslim ones.

Some Sidebar Clarifying Remarks:

On comparisons between the strikingly higher crime-rates in Europe compared to the USA, click here. Note that these are officially reported crimes to the police. Another big information-source of crime-rates is opinion surveys of crime-victims; these usually show higher rates and levels of crime. Since 1989, there have been five such surveys administered internationally, and beginning in the mid-1990s, they also showed increasingly lower crime rates in the USA, where officially reported violent crime is now (2010) at an all-time low since the emergence of modern statistical collections by the Department of Justice in 1960. The same is true of property crime. (For a good long-term historical survey, click here.

For those who want more information on the new European right-wing populism, see the lengthy analysis set out last week at Der Spiegel in English: "Continent of Fear". Unfortunately its analysis is fairly superficial and doesn't really explain why so many European voters are "fearful" (if that's the right word) these days and why they are increasingly unhappy with mainstream centrist parties of the left (Social Democrats) or center-right . . . the latter governing virtually everywhere in both West and East Europe these days.

Enter the Parallel between the Nazis and the Tea-Party Played Upon by Professor Thoma, Which Led to Buggy's Lengthy Commentary

The Irish writer, please recall, said nothing about the USA, let alone the Tea Party.  He was strictly concerned with the European political scene, which, he said, reminded him these days in the wake of the Great Recession of the huge breakthrough in electoral fortunes of the Nazi Party in the final three years of the Weimar Republic (1930-1933) amid the turbulence and high levels of unemployment caused by the Great Depression.

To repeat, the Irish commentary said nothing about the USA. Did that matter? Did Professor Thoma express alarm at the big electoral breakthroughs of right-wing populist parties in Europe --- or, come to that, did any of the posts that follow deal with that worrying trend?  Ha!  Good luck if you could find more than two in the 35 posts that followed . . . one of which dealt with the rise of Nazism in the early 1930s.

Otherwise, Professor Thoma's add-on comments dealt with his own marked worries about the growth of the Tea Party on the American political right. To make sure you caught the hinted link between the Irish writers' fears and his own agitated concerns, Professor Thoma then quoted at length a conservative investment tout, something of a TV guru apparently (Larry Kudlow) whose libertarian comments had nothing in common with the right-wing populist parties in the Europe --- whether on Muslim immigrants, immigrants in general, law-and-order, or what have you. At most, there's an overlap between Kudlow's strict pro-market and small-government policies and those endorsed by Geert Wilder, the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party --- himself, unlike Kudlow, a clear Islamophobe.

Evidently, Professor Thoma can't or won't distinguish, say, between what Milton Friedman, other libertarian free-market economists, and Tea Party activists on one side advocate,, and on the other side, say, the French National Front. For him, apparently, they're all extremist.

And It Got Worse

Professor Thoma's implied link lingered in the background of all his comments. Nor was that all. Somehow, in his world-view, the Tea Party's growing fortunes in Republican Party circles were likened by further implication to the Nazi Party's eruptive electoral breakthroughs to power between 1930 and 1933 in Germany.  Did buggy overreact here? Did he exaggerate Professor Thoma's implied analogy?  In fact, many of the regular left-wing posters themselves referred to the analogy in the comments that followed in the thread, with only a couple playing down the absurd comparison.

And absurd it surely was.  To that point that showing it was what prof bug then wrote about in his own comments that followed . . . that commentary, observe swiftly, not only left non-posted, but the cause of buggy's being given the jackboot heave-ho into cyberspace black-hole exile.

And now posted here, with a few changes for readability.

     HUH? THE TEA PARTY AND THE NAZIS LINKED IN ALARMIST FANTASY-LAND?

May prof bug say that comparisons between the Tea Party and the Nazi movement are breathtakingly bizarre, full of loony, scaredy-cat paranoia that feeds on self-induced anxiety and fear, and whether voiced by posters or Professor Thoma?

A bugged-out exaggeration?  Well, consider the historical evidence that follows, along with a an analysis at the end that sets out the big differences between the Tea-Party's ideology and that of the genocidal totalitarianism and aggressive militarism of the Nazi Party. All the rest of the Professor Thoma-inspired stuff --- including any comparisons (explicit or left dangling in the background implicitly) between the USA in 2010 and the declining days of the unstable Weimar Republic between 1930 and early 1933, at the height of the Great Depression; or between the Tea Party today and Nazi Party, which came to power in January 1933, as an explicitly racist, mass-murdering, ultra-militarized totalitarian party --- seem far-fetched to the point of comic-opera extravaganza, and wrong on almost every historical or contemporary detail.

START WITH DEMOCRACY

The Nazi movement emerged in early 1919, two or so months after Germany's defeat in WWI --- a totally unexpected event for the German public, courtesy of the strict censorship that the high military-command, the real rulers of the country after 1915, imposed on the media. In 1921, the movement was taken over by Hitler. His and the other Nazis' electoral fortunes unfolded over the next 12 years of the ill-fated Weimar Republic, Germany's first experiment with democracy.

The Republic's first four years --- late 1918 until mid-1923 --- were consumed in ideological conflict, political extremism, assassinations, and hyper-inflation. Its last three years, late 1929 to early 1933, were dislocated by the Great Depression and high unemployment, compounded by the ineffectual policies of various Weimar govfernments in dealing with these economic and social challenges. To make matters worse, the Cabinets after early 1930 ruled by Presidential emergency-decrees and without any majority in the Reichstag (Parliament).

Enter the USA, , the oldest democracy in the world whose constitution and institutionalized system of government has withstood one crisis after another for 221 years --- whether in wars with other great powers, or over slavery and a bloody civil war, or two Great Depressions and several recessions, and the effective integration of tens of millions of non-English speaking immigrants of various ethnicities and races ---were all handled with large degrees of success.

And even today, despite the large expansion of American territory, wealth, power, and slowly if steadily growing Federal government --- its tax powers and its regulatory, distributive, and redistributive policies (now expanded in the Obama era the last 20 months): not to forget the large defense and intelligence organizations developed in superpower status since 1945--- the country's Constitutional system and political institutions remain recognizably intact at their core.

 THEN TURN YOUR ATTENTION WAR AND DEFEAT

The Weimar Republic, remember, emerged out of the totally unexpected defeat of the German military in November 1918. The defeat and collapse of the Imperial system that immediately followed led quickly to a widely shared conspiratorial theory --- Dolckstoss, the Stab-in-the-Back by powerful treacherous domestic groups: Bolsheviks, Socialists, and many Liberals, all controlled by the Jews in insidious league with their brethren in Communist Moscow and in capitalist Paris, London, and New York.

The result? A large percentage of the German public never accepted the Treaty of Versailles or gave up hope for a return not just to great power status, but to eventual dominance in Europe and beyond. The Hitlerian movement turned out to exploit this combined malaise with Versailles and ultra-nationalist hopes more successfully than its rivals in Conservative militarist circles . . . including the general-staff of the Germany army and navy.

The USA, by contrast, has won all its major wars with other great powers. And the stalemates or defeat in Vietnam by 1974 produced nothing remotely like the disruptive Stab-in-the-Back backlash that worked against the legitimacy of the new Weimar Republic in a good half of the population. At most, it divided mainstream Democrats from its left-wing intelligentsia and activists . . . found, in a Gallup poll, to amount still to 14% of Democratic voters in June 2010 when asked whether the Obama administration was "too conservative" (14%), or "too liberal" (6%) or "just about right in its policies" (71%).

CONSIDER THE DIVERGENT IMPACT OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION

The Nazi party never got more than 6.5% of the vote in the Weimar period before 1929.  As late as 1928, a year of prosperity for the Weimar Republic, it got only 2.6% of the vote (as Kevin O'Rourke, the Irish economist, rightly said). The enormous dislocations of the German economy --- compounded by the ineffectuality of the Weimar Republic in dealing with the bursting rate of unemployment, around 30% of the work-force by the time Hitler came to power in early 1933 --- won over more and more of the peasantry, the middle classes, and unemployed workers, plus the growing support of parts of big business and finance by 1932 that until then had aligned their interests with those of Conservative parties.

By contrast, American unemployment was almost as large as in Germany in late 1932 --- 25% vs. 30% in Germany (though some historical statistics reduce German unemployment to below 25%). And what happened? Not the election in November 1932 that led Conservative elites to bring Hitler to power in January 1933,  followed by an election in 1932 that reinforced Nazi party rule. Nor the institutionalization of a genocidal racist, totalitarian, and thoroughly militarized system of rule; rather, the election of FDR and a Democratic majority in the Senate and House of Representatives, followed by the New Deal policies . . . not to forget, eight years later, their leadership in WWII against Nazis, the Italian Fascists, and the Japanese militarists.

CAPITALISM: HATED OR ADMIRED?

In Germany,

  • Free-market capitalism was never popular among the masses of laborers or peasants or the big business and agrarian elites in Germany --- (or in the rest of Central, Eastern, or Southern Europe for that matter --- before WWII. There was a vigorous Communist Party on the left in the Weimar Republic. On the right, there were all sorts of political parties and mass-movements that opposed the Republic and free-market capitalism from the start, with only a small liberal party --- attracting new businesses, the small Jewish population, and some non-cartelized big companies --- left for the free-market enthusiasts.

  • In the political center, along with the small Liberals parties --- several of them, please note --- there was the Social Democratic Party (SDP) as the mainstay of the Republic.

It usually got about 25-30% of the vote in the first five elections of the Weimar Republic until the Great Depression took its toll, and in the 1932 fall election that saw the Nazis as a clear winner with over 33% of the vote, the Social Democrats' vote fell to under 21% (with the Communists, by then full of antagonism to the SDP, getting 17%). In principle, the SDP program called for full-fledged socialism in Germany; in practice, its program throughout the Weimar era --- remember 1919-early 1933 --- was moderate and became the basis after WWII of a centrist democratic welfare-state.

  • That left the Centre Party as the other pillar of the Weimar Republic. It attracted Catholic voters and got usually around 13-14% of the vote in the elections. Like other European Catholic parties, it was suspicious of free-market capitalism, emphasized social stability and family solidarity, and would eventually fall in line with the Nazi extension of top-down authoritarian welfarism in the 1930s.

  • As for the Nazi Party, it appealed to anti-capitalism from its start in early 1919 (Hitler taking control in 1920-1921) --- witness the party's official name, the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Amid the Great Depression --- with German unemployment somewhere between 25-30% by 1932 --- the Nazi movement easily outpolled the Socialists and the Communists in attracting unemployed workers; and its attraction for non-ideological workers in the left-wing parties and among Centrist working people and those on the far-right elsewhere showed up clearly in the huge growth of Nazi voters at the end of the Weimar Republic. In the last election of the Republic, amid growing dictatorship imposed by the new Hitler-led government, it got 44% of the German vote that ended the Republic's ill-fated life in March 1933.

Among the attractions of the Nazi movement and party by 1932 was its promise, later fulfilled, to extend the already existing welfare-state system that Bismarck had instituted in the 1880s as a way to torpedo the mushrooming support for the Marxist Social Democratic Party among the ever expanding working-class. This, mind you, even as Hitler began in 1931 to reassure big business and the Junker military elites that his National-Socialism entailed no restrictions on their profits, power, and influence.

As for the USA, where the contrasts are marked and numerous.

START WITH THE AMERICAN POLITICAL LEFT

The USA has never had much of any Marxist influence on the political left, and for a variety of reasons set out and analyzed with lots of data by prof bug in 2004 and 2005. In particular:

  • Property in the new United States was far more evenly distributed in the early 19th century than anywhere else in the world.

  • Then, too, low-wage labor in the USA was over 2.5 times higher in 1914, at the start of WWI, than in Great Britain --- the second richest country in the world in per capita income then. All this, mind you, despite the arrival of over 35 million poor immigrants in the 19th century. No less strikingly, the same gap existed in 1939, just before WWII occurred, and for that matter low-wage labor remained much higher in the USA than in West Europe or Japan as late as the early 1970s.

  • A good 69% of American white males had the right to vote in all elections in the early 1840s, just after the Jacksonian period. In Britain at the time, the equivalent was 11% of the male population.

  • Trade Unions were legally recognized in the 1820s. On the Continent of Europe, hardly any country recognized legal rights for unions before the end of the 19th century.

  • The American working-classes --- farmers, industrial workers, service-sector workers --- were divided by ethnic and racial divisions in the 19th and throughout most of the 20th century.

The outcome?

These internal social cleavages worked further against the development of a shared collective socialist mentality that pervaded the working classes in Europe down to the 1950s and 1960s. There, on the Continent and in Britain, workers --- mobilized by early militant trade unions and Marxist political parties (Socialist or, outside Scandinavia, Holland, and Britain, Communist as well) --- adhered to the same rife belief that only collective advancement through political action could improve their economic and social positions.

In the USA, by contrast, the ordinary working man irrespective of ethnicity or race shared in the larger American dream that upward mobility was always available for hard-working men and women, and the high levels of low wages and prosperity --- not least for poor immigrants compared to their backgrounds --- underpinned that individualist outlook.

ENTER THE USA POLITICAL RIGHT

Since at least the defeat of the slave-owning plantation owners and their supporters by 1865, there has never been much opposition in its circles to market-capitalism.

As for the political right, it moved to the center after WWII to embrace the New Deal. . . at any rate, those policies and laws in the FDR era that the Supreme Court didn't rule unconstitutional in 1935 or afterwards: social security, unemployment insurance, trade union rights to organize, and housing supports.  Even Ronald Reagan said, in the electoral campaign of 1980, that he supported the FDR reforms here. He did oppose the Great Society reforms, but it was Bill Clinton and not Reagan who signed a welfare-reform in 1996 that ended that Great Society program . . . just as it was Jimmy Carter's administration, not Reagan's, that started de-regulation of American industry (financial de-regulation an exception) And, come to that, just as it was Bill Clinton and not Reagan who signed the most important of the financial deregulation acts --- the Glass-Steagall bill in 1999 that allowed banks to own other financial institutions.

One more point: social security, which George W. Bush tried to privatize, or at least to begin that transformation, after his 2004 re-election. It turned out to be so unpopular, this scheme, that the administration soon dropped all talk of tinkering with the system. Meanwhile, recall, it was George W. Bush who expanded Medicare health.

SOME CONTEMPORARY CLARIFYING REMARKS ABOUT THE POLITICAL LEFT AND RIGHT

What Else Suggests the Flexibility of American Capitalism and Politics?

LBJ's Great Society innovations in 1965 responded to the publicized discovery of American poverty and the civil rights movement. Nixon expanded the affirmative action policies and failed like Truman to get major healthcare reform.Carter started deregulation and Reagan, Clinton, and Bush Jr. expanded on it. Reagan cut taxes, and that's about all; he even claimed he supported the New Deal reforms and didn't try to privatize social security or Medicare or try to undermine affirmative action, just as he didn't flirt openly with the Moral Majority. It was Clinton, to repeat, not Reagan, who signed the welfare reform act of 1996, . . . just as he signed the Glass-Steagall act of 1999, remember.

And when President Bush-W tried to privatize social security, he and his efforts backfired and they amounted to nothing. In the meantime, he expanded Medicare coverage.

The Reagan and Clinton Eras: Tax-Cuts or Tax-Rises, Welfare Reform, Deregulation of the Banking System?

Remember here: it was not Ronald Reagan who signed legislation reforming the Great Society's welfare system, it was Bill Clinton doing so in 1996. As for President George Bush Jr., his efforts to go beyond Reagan and privatize social security backfired to the point that he had to drop the scheme in his second term. Similarly, it was the Carter administration that began to deregulate American industry in the late 1970s. And it was Bill Clinton again who signed legislation in 1999 --- the Glass-Steagall Act --- that freed banks from the New Deal restrictions on their owning other financial companies.

Whether the latter Clinton action was wise and contributed to the housing boom of the last decade, and then the subsequent financial meltdown in 2008, is another matter. Never mind. The key point lies elsewhere.

ALL OF WHICH BRING US TO THE TEA PARTY.

(i.)  No need to elaborate on its simpleminded fatuities or its anti-tax rebellion --- such rebellions part and parcel of American life ever since the Whiskey Rebellion of 1792, and the reliance by government on income-taxes and property taxes for most of its revenue . . . especially compared to the highly regressive and easily changed VAT systems in Europe. (52% of France's total government revenue in 2007 derived from VAT, and the average VAT tax rate in the EU is 19-20% as opposed to the average 6% sales-tax in the USA across 50 states.)

(ii.) What can be said is that in all policy areas, the Tea Party supporters are the opposite of Nazis: they want less state intrusions into society, not far more.

They don't want an expanded state welfare-system of the sort the Nazis amplified in Germany, they want to dismantle most of it (except social security, it seems).  They aren't seeking one-party dominance, let alone a totalitarian state; and nothing indicates that they oppose democracy as it exists in the USA. They aren't beating drums for American world-dominance, yelling "Heute Amerika, Morgen die Welt!": "Today Amerika, Tomorrow the world".

They don't have an S.A. storm-trooper mass-movement (the brown shirts), let alone an elite SS blackshirted mass-killing, genocidal corps. They want fewer taxes, not more taxes and more welfare.  Are they racist? Some members may be, but none of the leaders have endorsed it, and it's not remotely like the Ku Klux Klan. Are they prone to conspiracy theories? Some may be, maybe even more than some; but then lots of regular posters here at Economist's View are convinced that Obama has become a puppet in the hands of the controlling Economic Oligarchy.

(iii.) What can be said is that they have simpleminded and outdated solutions for complex problems, with a tendency to blame government for most of what they regard as the ills of current American life . . . the obverse of what Social democrats, radicals, and left-wing liberals see as the solution to their list of ills.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was what got prof bug swat-banned and dumped into a fire-and-brimstrone Cybernetic-Underworld --- at any rate, as far as Professor Mark Thoma was concerned.