I’m not ecstatic about Hollande’s victory, but it might mean a more decisive move towards growth, which started back in March (partly as a result of Mario Monti’s push). Growth, however, is not given by spending per se. There is a difference between spending on all the things that western European states have been providing generously to people, and investment spending. We need to spend on people, by offering proper training and learning (see post on education). This need not come from the purse of government alone. It is in the interest of industry too, so partnerships are needed. We also need investment in ‘infrastructure’, be it broadband, high speed rail or other. We also need reform across Europe, not simply of the welfare state, but of professions. We need to tackle rent-seeking, which limit access to people and stifle economic productivity.
I’m not hearing anything sensible from Labour apart from moaning against ‘cuts’ and a general appeal to growth, because they’ve heard it from somebody else. They brand themselves as ‘With you in tough times’. That’s speaks of lack of vision and leadership. If they had a better grasp of economics, they would start talking Europe and immigration. Immigration is the best sign of growth and the best means to grow. I’m not denying the cultural and social problems that can stem from it. However, by being ‘tough’ on immigration, we only get illegal immigration (not less immigration) and condemn people to exploitation by ruthless criminals who demand money for the journey here and from the work they do.
The main parties don’t care because being sensible on immigration is not a vote winner whilst xenophobia is. The rhetoric against immigrants is engulfing the whole of Europe. In times of crisis, reactionary nationalism shows all its mediocrity and viciousness. (Nationalism is not patriotism, but that’s for another post!) That’s why Europe is treated as just another word for ‘foreigner’. ‘Europe’ is becoming toxic because it is blamed for the crisis. The crisis has unveiled the failures of member states: corrupt and inept political classes (Italy, Greece…), rent-seeking, an often burdensome and ineffective welfare state, and inadequate education systems, not to mention the lack of transparency of the banking system.
I have been in politics for ten years and I have never seen vision and courage. Politicians need to win elections to change things, so they often aim for the lowest common denominator. We’ve run out of excuses, action is needed now. As long as citizens don’t take responsibility, democracy will fail. By being responsible for the decision affecting a collective, we learn that things are more complex than what they seem, that you need to compromise between different interests and ideas.
Democracy is not about getting ‘services’ in exchange for money; it’s about relating to others. Politics has not made that step yet. It’s tribal, childish, cliquey and imprisoned in a mediatic bubble. Perhaps we need different types of politicians and leaders at different times. Right now, we need leaders with a vision and able to communicate that vision. We need people able to translate complexity into a message that is easy to understand. The art of politics is not winning elections, but lifting the spirits of people and turning them into citizens. Politics is a moral endeavour.