Welfare populism has become the number one problem in the West

The French “yellow vest” movement has been going on for a year. Demonstrators have recently made a comeback and even broke into the famous Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris to express their dissatisfaction with the uneven distribution of social wealth. “Welfare coupled with populism is the root cause of the plight of developed countries in the 21st century.” Many years ago, scholars proposed the diagnosis of “welfare populism syndrome”. Today, Latin American countries such as Chile are also considered to be infected with this “illness”, which has caused many public opinion concerns: Why has welfare populism spread to many countries? In addition to paying attention to people’s emotions and responding to people’s demands, governments in many countries are also looking for the root cause of “welfare populism syndrome” and struggling to find a cure.

From French “yellow vest” to British “Brexit”

The “Yellow Vest” campaign in Paris started on November 17, 2018, after some French protested the government’s imposition of a fuel tax. The demonstration was at one time the biggest riot in Paris in 50 years. In fact, since the end of the 19th century, France has established a complete social welfare system through continuous legislation. In France, the medical security system frees people from having to worry about “seeing illness”, and the family welfare system provides subsidies for childcare and housing. Unemployed people in France receive unemployment benefits of 57% to 75% of their original wages. French children graduate from kindergarten to high school without paying tuition and textbooks. The only thing they have to pay is school supplies. Even so, low-income families in France still have school aid grants of up to several hundred euros per year.

In addition, French civil servants’ pensions are almost 100% of their original wages. Employees of the French railway company, the Paris bus company, and the French state-owned energy company can also retire early, and the proportion of pensions is also high. When the Macron government reduced the fiscal deficit and implemented fair treatment in various industries, it encountered great resistance at the beginning of reforming relevant departments. An important feature of the “yellow vest” movement is that no matter what kind of welfare measures President Macron and the government take, the “yellow vest” always asks for more and ignores the losses suffered by other social classes, such as businessmen and entrepreneurs. With stress. Macron, who appeared as a “reformer”, adopted measures such as taxing real estate wealth only to attract wealthy people to invest in France and increase employment. Opponents were accused of “serving exclusively for the interests of the rich”. In such a social atmosphere, various reforms in France have been difficult.

In developed countries, France’s wealth gap is not large. In 2018, France’s Gini coefficient was 0.298, lower than the average value of developed countries. Because France has a relatively complete social security system, the number of people who really have a difficult time is not large. However, the requirements of low-income groups in France have always been very high, and they attach great importance to safeguarding their rights. Strikes by railway workers and demonstrations against reform of the retirement system are common in France.

So is the British. “Britain’s job opportunities and benefits should be left to Britons!” When the Brexit referendum was held in 2016 in Britain, the slogan uttered by those who supported Brexit obviously catered to many people’s ideas because For ordinary Britons, it is hoped that benefits will be retained or even more. According to British official statistics, from 2002 to 2012, as many as 5 million people in the UK received unemployment benefits, and about 500,000 people have been chronically ill at home and sitting on benefits. The BBC has exposed a Welsh scammer: Mark Lowe was injured and retired while serving in Afghanistan in 2011. He applied for a personal independence benefit of 141 pounds a week in 2014 as a medical subsidy. In 2015, Loyd, who lied that he had to “lie in bed for a day to recover after walking 50 meters,” secretly participated in a triathlon in September of that year and did well. He even climbed Kilimanjaro and participated in the World Motorboat Championships in Malta. The Welsh District Court ultimately ruled that the “patient” who had defrauded £ 6551.8 was a deliberate fraud.

Excluding this case of deliberate deception, the British actually received considerable benefits in the past few years. For example, elderly people over 60 years old can get free prescription drugs and winter heating subsidies ranging from 100 to 300 pounds. Families with a total annual income of less than 42,000 pounds can receive university grants. Single-parent families can apply for a living allowance of between £ 350 and £ 500 a week, and single low-income people can apply to the government for free housing.

Some British welfare policies have been gradually reduced after the global financial crisis in 2008. Some Britons who pay close attention to their own welfare believe that it would be better if there were no EU immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe to compete with themselves for social welfare. Hardcore supporters of “Brexit.” According to Elena Hay, a professor of economics at the London Business School, these Britons are typical welfare populists. She told the Global Times reporter that British right-wing forces have risen in recent years, especially the social shock caused by the financial crisis and the European debt crisis, which have spawned new populist forces in European countries such as Britain, Italy and France. She believes that the British people’s emotions and people’s demands are currently being used by some politicians, and their dissatisfaction with society has made them more problematic. ▲

“Financial crisis fuels populist fire”

“Populism is the true legacy of the global financial crisis of 2008, and the working class has become the victim of this collapse.” The Financial Times analysed this article last year. The article said that the liberal democratic systems of some countries were also big losers in the financial crisis. With the stagnation of people’s income and the implementation of austerity fiscal policies after the crisis, “no wonder those who have suffered the most to support anti-elite populists”, especially It is in rich democracies that a large number of people are opposed to laissez-faire economics and globalization. The US “Wall Street Journal” also mentioned that “multiple studies have found that post-crisis politics tends to become more fragmented and divided, and the 2008 global financial crisis is no exception.”

University of Ottawa political researcher Jacqueline Bysted wrote on the Australian Dialogue website that the 2008 financial crisis fueled populism today. Byst believes that, just as measures were taken by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s liberal government in the 1990s, some (Western) governments are seeking to streamline and reduce social spending, but with it comes increased social injustice. And middle-class incomes have stalled. Beginning in 2010, almost all western governments have returned to austerity fiscal policies, and such measures have affected the people most in need of government assistance first, thereby hurting the country’s economic recovery. The article states that as the stagnation of middle-class wages extends to the upper-middle-income class, the only rich people to benefit from austerity fiscal policies are all these economic injustices and frustrations that have become breeding grounds for populism.

“Some countries are helpless with street demonstrations, and the underlying reason is the demonstration effect of populism.” An international business official who has worked in Chile and other Latin American countries told the Global Times reporter that the “welfare populism syndrome” has moved from Europe and the United States to Latin America. Spread: Chile ’s trouble, the president dismissed several ministers, and stopped the rise in subway prices; Bolivia ’s trouble, the president resigned, and the country fell into chaos, which seems to make the “actual effect” of populism more confirmed. He believes that one of the populist aspirations is economic rights or economic welfare. A basic rule is that the country’s economic growth must be directly proportional to the people’s welfare. However, after the 2008 financial crisis, the European and Latin American economies stalled, but the demand for welfare has not decreased. For example, with regard to pensions, as the average life expectancy increases, there will be a deficit in pensions, which can only extend the retirement age. In addition, the wide coverage of high welfare will also make many ordinary people lose their desire to struggle, and it is not conducive to economic development. The official believes that the reason why individual Latin American countries cannot climb out of the welfare populist trap is that whenever a new leader is elected, people will immediately demand that they honor their promises at the time of election, and once this government reduces benefits or fails to meet their Expect the people to switch to new leaders. Therefore, it is necessary for the governors to win the election first, then send benefits to the people, “send money” to the people, and wait for the government to run out of money before borrowing money from institutions such as the World Bank. This constitutes a vicious circle.

In June of this year, the famous German economist Clemens Foster wrote: “Serious politics must oppose populism.” He believes that populists describe society as two homogeneous opposing groups: one side is “People” and “elite” on the other side. Elites are described as “corrupting and stealing people’s wealth.” In contrast, populists claim to represent the interests of the people. Populism in the 21st century has several characteristics: it focuses on short-term interests and does not consider long-term costs, such as always supporting the expansion of public debt regardless of its consequences; refusing to acknowledge that different policy choices can have both gains and losses, and refusing to check and balance through international agreements or Limit national sovereignty; focus only on individual issues and stir people’s emotions on issues such as immigration, competition between imports and exports, or the gap between the rich and the poor; blaming economic problems on foreigners, immigrants, and international trade; populists often respond with simple solutions Complicated issues, such as isolating themselves to international competition through protectionism, are solutions that are false and will only worsen the problem rather than mitigate it. In Italy, populist parties have called for increased government debt and cancellation of labor market reforms. All these measures have pushed up interest rates, causing the country to fall into recession. Young people choose to go abroad, and entrepreneurs are more inclined to invest in foreign countries. ▲

Spreading from developed countries to developing countries?

In early November, due to the New York subway price hike, Brooklyn African-Americans rushed into the subway and some people shouted slogans such as “Don’t let the police touch us” and “A free subway”. However, in some states in the southern United States where conservatives have the upper hand, the “white left” people support the use of taxpayer money to help veterans. They also believe that the abuse of benefits by African and Latino people should not be dealt with. “Slackers” because they don’t contribute too much to the United States. The abuse of the US welfare system is often discussed with racial issues and minimum wages, while some ethnic minorities in the United States tend to vote for politicians who promise high benefits.

Xiao Gongqin, a professor of history at the School of Humanities of Shanghai Normal University, wrote the article “The Welfare Populism Dilemma in the United States” in 2012. Based on his observations in the United States, he concluded that welfareism coupled with populism is the root cause of the plight of developed countries in the 21st century. The “big pot” of welfare populism has caused social injustice in another form. Recently, Xiao Gongqin said in an interview with a reporter from the Global Times that the Obama administration was the period when Americans talked about welfare populism. He believes that, whether it is France or Chile, when the state’s finances are very difficult, any change may offend the so-called people at the bottom. From the perspective of the western development logic, welfare populism provokes conservatism and far-right development, and the latter conflicts with the traditional values ​​of liberal democracy in the west. If we develop according to the current “white-left” welfare populism, the country will become worse and worse; if we develop according to the extreme right-wing ideas, there are also risks. The way out in the West is likely to be to split a moderate middle-right from the far-right. If they can seize the middle-class votes and use logical logic to convince the people, they can get rid of the “prisoner’s dilemma” to a certain extent.

Xiao Gongqin said that the right-wing parties in Europe now lack a strong and charismatic leader, and it would be better if there were such leaders. At the same time, people must be made aware that the high welfare policy has affected the survival of ordinary people, and the people will weigh: whether it is to achieve high welfare and get everyone unemployed, or to accept the concept of the right-wing center and spend the economic development Difficult? In the face of great unemployment pressure, an ordinary person may get rid of ideology and use common sense to think about problems. This requires the center right to have high skills in persuading the people. If the level of voters’ knowledge is limited, and ambition politicians instigate the people when the society is in trouble, it will easily lead to the western democratic culture in trouble. In popular terms, “10 illiterate old ladies can determine the fate of 9 doctors”.

Haye, a professor of economics at the London Business School, believes that the “welfare populism syndrome” is spreading from developed to developing countries and has become a catalyst for political crisis. In some Latin American countries, the outside world can also see populists who “oppose to oppose” and are unwilling to analyze right and wrong. As a European research scholar, Hay has basically held a pessimistic attitude and believes that such a spreading trend is difficult to “stop” in a short time.

Some experts call for the “Fifth Industrial Revolution” to promote the great development of the global economy. Such economic growth points may be artificial intelligence, biomedicine, new energy, and the Internet of Things. Before this revolution comes, there are also “labours”. However, for people suffering from “welfare populism syndrome”, if the public is smashed into the streets for a moment of dissatisfaction, it will only make the country more “painful.”

In France, Global Times reporters have observed some interesting changes. Many rich people are trying to be secretive and live a life of “not revealing the rich.” At the same time, public opinion has a new understanding of welfare populism, realizing that the blind pursuit of welfare and high expenditures will make the French economy difficult to bear, and it is the people themselves that will ultimately suffer. The “yellow vests” movement has gradually subsided since the “French National Debate”, and the media’s opposition to the “yellow vests” has also increased. At present, the sympathy rate for the “yellow vest” movement is less than 20%. Last year, more than 280,000 people participated in the protest on the first day of the “yellow vest” movement, and only 28,000 people participated in the demonstration on the first anniversary. French media such as Le Figaro and Le Monde also called for the reform of Macron’s government to continue. France’s latest issue of “Focus” magazine hopes that when the government introduces new policies, it will explain more to the public and seek more opinions, so as to avoid sudden waves of social protest.