Austrian presidential elections?

In your most recent Economic Update you discussed the outcome of last week's presidential elections in Austria. Regarding this segment I would like to offer some feedback: While it is true that our President-elect Alexander Van der Bellen (coincidentally a former economics professor) used to be the head of the green Party (politically speaking the most leftist party represented in our Parliament), the presidential campaign he was elected on did not emphasize the plight of the working class, the need for changes to the economic pecking order or any other policy position of the left for that matter. Instead Van der Bellen was presented as a center candidate mostly in favor of the status quo and as the "candidate of reason" (imagine a not-as-bad-as-the-other-guy campaign á la Hillary). He publically stated that he is going to be a "passive President" (which is the norm in Austria as it is a parliamentary rather than a presidential democracy) and was mostly elected on account of not being a right-wing crazy person. However, the vote of the disgruntled working class most definitely went right, as their candidate (Norbert Hofer - FPÖ) was the one who was campaigning as the candidate of change - dystopian authoritarian and xenophobic change to be sure, but change nonetheless. This is obvious when looking at the results in detail (the article is in German but basically the higher the purchasing power of an individual the more likely she was to vote for the "left" candidate). Yes, people are unhappy with economic developments, but this potential is predominantly captured by the right. The Social Democrats, who have been part of all but 3 governments since 1945, have sold the interests of the proletariat similar to the Democrats in the US. The Green Party has been built on an environmentalist platform first and foremost and seems to currently be in the midst of a power struggle to decide whether to orient towards the center or double down on leftist ideals. As it stands right now, unfortunately, the Austrian working class does not have a viable and credible alternative for representation on the left.

Official response from submitted

Dear Benjamin Kolz,

Thank you for a very informative and persuasive correction of my reading of the Austrian election result. I suspect that I was looking for something that was not really there but that I hoped was there. You have provided the correction. And I think we do agree that the key political issue is whether the left can break its subservience to capitalism in general and neoliberal capitalism in particular and thereby become a political vehicle for a left response to mass disaffection rather than the current situation where right-wing deflections of mass anger onto religious, immigrant and other distractions are the only way to express opposition to the status quo of neoliberal capitalism.


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  • Richard Wolff
    responded with submitted 2016-12-10 21:11:13 -0500
  • Benjamin Kölz
    published this page in Ask Prof. Wolff 2016-12-10 06:59:03 -0500