French-American political scientist and activist Susan George says that the political mainstream has abandoned many people – and they vote for populists. George also told EURACTIV Slovakia that she doesn’t think CETA and TTIP are all that different.
George was interviewed by EURACTIV.sk Publisher Radovan Geist
So-called populist politicians have been succeeding in recent elections in Europe, in the US, but also some other parts of the world. What’s the principal reason?
One word: neoliberalism. You impose neoliberal policies on people long enough, and you will get populist politics as an answer. You will get Donald Trump. Because people, regions, whole parts of countries are being excluded, and the neoliberal policies destruct social cohesion. Therefore, people think nobody’s looking after them, governments are not doing what they’re supposed to do, and therefore they are looking for somebody else: Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orbán… Therefore, I was not surprised by Trump’s victory.
Did the Democrats choose the wrong strategy to counter Trump?
Democrats hoped that the minorities – the Afro-Americans, Latinos, women – would come out for Hillary, but they didn’t. At least not in the same numbers as for Obama. On the other side, Trump got strong support from white, poor, poorly-educated, small-town and rural men.
These politicians are promising a reversal of some neoliberal policies. Trump said he’d bury TTIP and TPP. Similar politicians in Europe say they’d take their countries out of the Eurozone.
…and the EU as well. Marine Le Pen says France would leave Europe.
So, ultimately, do they present an alternative to the neoliberal order?
No, they don’t. They’re not offering the real alternative. They are offering some political programme, and people are ready to try it, because they’re alienated. In France, which is the country I know best, these voters used to support Communists. Now they don’t, because they feel they have been let down, and left out. There’s a party going on upstairs, and they’re not invited.
Mainstream parties are sometimes trying to block extremists and populists from power by uniting and forming “grand coalitions”. Would that work? Could that help maintain political stability?
It works for a while, but you can’t wipe out electorally 30% of the population, pretending they don’t exist. Marine Le Pen has spent the last 10 years “normalising” the party. Now she is invited on television, and the strict blockade is not maintained anymore.
When the crisis started, some centre-left politicians hoped that the situation would help them to come to power. Their belief was that increased social insecurities would lean people towards social-democratic parties. As a matter of fact, these parties are rather losing influence. What is the reason?
They’ve given in to neoliberalism. Look at François Hollande. His approval rating is somewhere between 4% and 11%, depending on the poll. He’s given huge amounts of money to corporations and backed down on his pre-election promises. In his campaign, he said, “my enemy is finance”. In the end, he did not do much on bank regulation. His government did not do anything to get finance under control, they’ve not done enough to stop inequality from growing.
Apparently, the inequality in France has not risen as much as in some other countries – I’m ready to give them on that. Still, we are losing 60 to 80 billion in the public budget because of tax heavens, capital outflow that should not be taking place, and they’re just copying neoliberal approaches. Socialists are destroying the name of socialism in France and in many other places.
France’s Socialist government tried to raise taxes for the highest earners, and these people threatened to leave France for Belgium and other places. Some did. So, is there anything that could be done about inequality on the national level?
I think there is. It would probably have to be gradual, but modified Keynesian policies are still possible. You have to start with those that are the worst-off. You have to start with child poverty, give poor families a sense of belonging, reach to those people that are feeling left out. Let’s take for example the minimum wage. In our present system, it’s not enough to live on – and there are many people who have to live on minimum wage.
In some states in the United States, they’ve started increasing the minimum wage. For example, in Washington, where it was raised to $15, and the state is doing very well. It’s getting richer, socially it’s easier to live there. Another think is universal education, free in so far as you can. There’s not a shortage of money, but you have to go where it is.
And where it is?
One French humourist in the 19th century said: If you’re after money, you have to go, where it is; that is to say, among the poor. But I’m saying not among the poor, but among the rich and the corporations. Tax them, because they´re not paying their shares. Do something on tax havens, introduce taxes on financial transactions, and use it on social goals. In fact, there’s is some progress on that. We’ve proposed the financial transaction tax in ATTAC some 15 years ago, and there’s some progress.
What about other economic policies?
We need to change to renewable energies. That would create more jobs and more income. Besides being a fantastic move socially, it would help on climate change. Why don’t we do it? The governments are still living in the 1960s, and they’re afraid. It’s not a question of not knowing how. It’s about getting the power to do it.
Moving to the trade policy, we have just gone through the CETA drama. Europe’s political mainstream seemed to be nearly united in supporting the deal with Canada as “the most progressive” of trade agreements. Would you consider CETA, with changes introduced at last moment under pressure from Wallonia, as the blueprint for progressive, fair trade policies?
Absolutely not! CETA is very close to being the same as the TTIP. The Europeans are pushing the idea of “nasty Americans” and “dear and kind Canadians”. But there isn’t any difference. The Canadians have subsidiaries of all the largest US corporations. US corporations could use the Canadian subsidiaries to sue any European government. Canada and the United States use the ISDS process a lot! Canada is the fifth largest complainant in ISDS, under a variety of treaties. It´s mostly the fossil-fuel companies that are suing, so it would be bad for the climate change as well.
Beyond ISDS, there were also other reservations, in agriculture and regulatory cooperation.
The agricultural system in Canada is exactly like the US system: 5% of the farmers produce more than half the food. It´s huge farms, and the European farmers would not be competitive with them. When it comes to chemicals, they don´t believe in the precautionary principle. I have not read the 1,600 pages of CETA, but I believe this principle is not included there. There´s a mechanism for so-called regulatory cooperation between Canada and the EU. I´m not sure how that´s going to work either, but we will be subject to “mutual recognition”, and there´s no way you could have recognition between the American-Canadian, and the European system. We observe the precautionary principle, meaning if we think a chemical substance could be harmful to health or environment, you could abstain from
I’m not sure how that´s going to work either, but we will be subject to “mutual recognition”, and there´s no way you could have recognition between the American-Canadian, and the European system. We observe the precautionary principle, meaning if we think a chemical substance could be harmful to health or environment, you could abstain from authorising it. You don´t put that product on the market. We have banned 1,200 chemicals on the ground of the precautionary principle. Over the same period, some 35 years, the Americans have banned six. So how can you have mutual recognition?