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Despite Thomas Piketty, Voters Reject Economic Redistribution

A Commentary by Michael Barone

Friday, May 30, 2014

 

The opinion pages, economic journals and liberal websites are atwitter (a-Twitter?) these days over French economist Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century." Left-wingers cite Piketty's statistics showing growing wealth inequality -- though some have been challenged by the Financial Times -- in support of Piketty's policy response, huge taxes on high incomes and accumulated wealth.

One suspects that many of his fans have another agenda in mind. They'd like to gull a majority of the 99 percent to vote for parties that would put their friends in control of an engorged state apparatus.

There they could stamp out fossil fuels in favor of renewables -- and get all those overweight suburbanites out of their vulgar SUVs and into subways, and out of their ticky-tack subdivisions and into gleaming mid-20th century modern high-rises. (Actually, there is a great city like that: Moscow.)

The only problem is that voters won't cooperate. They don't seem interested in centralized direction from the chattering classes. The protest votes around the world are mostly going not to redistributionist parties of the left but to various anti-centralization parties of the right.

Current polling points to Republican victories in the 2014 off-year elections, and Pew Research reports that 65 percent want the next president to follow policies different from Barack Obama's. Our Anglosphere cousins Britain, Canada and Australia all have center-right governments.

Then there are last week's European Union parliament elections. In Britain, the United Kingdom Independence party, which wants out of the EU and tougher limits on immigration, came in first, ahead of recently redistributionist Labour -- the first time in 30 years the national opposition party wasn't first.

In France, first place went to the more sinister Front National led by Marine Le Pen. President Francois Hollande's Socialist party, which Piketty has supported, won 14 percent of the votes.

The Denmark People's party won there. Parties for which Nazi comparisons are not wholly unjustified -- Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece -- won seats in those countries. Beleaguered Greece was the only country that lurched to the redistributionist left.

The European fringe parties are not a united lot (UKIP won't caucus with Front National). They express attitudes specific to each nation and lack a common platform. What they have in common is distaste for nanny state liberalism imposed by unaccountable E.U. bureaucrats and executives.

In effect, they are saying that the original purpose of the E.U. -- to unite Europe to prevent a third world war -- is obsolete, now that war in Europe (beyond the former Soviet Union) is unthinkable.

Instead, they see the democratic nation-state as their protector and the legitimate object of their allegiance. And, despite some fringers' admiration for Vladimir Putin, they tend to prefer Capitalism to mandarin-mandated economic redistribution and regulation.

Europe and North America are not the only parts of the world rejecting Piketty politics. In the world's largest democracy, India, 554 million people voted and gave a resounding victory and the first outright parliamentary majority in 30 years to Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi promised to unleash free markets and encourage growth as he had done in the state of Gujarat. The BJP won 282 seats. The Congress party, in power for 49 of India's 67 years, promised more welfare and won 44.

Across the Pacific, a plurality of voters in Colombia favored Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, endorsed by former President Alvaro Uribe, over incumbent Juan Manuel Santos. Zuluaga criticized Santos for negotiating with the FARC narcoterrorists rather than continuing Uribe's tougher policies.

Either could win the runoff June 15. But the weak showing of Santos, widely praised internationally, suggests Colombians put a priority on public safety. Redistribution isn't an issue in a country with great economic inequality.

Not all elections around the world go the same way, and sometimes voters just rotate politicians in office. Americans have twice elected a leftish president, and last year, New York City elected a leftist mayor.

But over the last 40 years, Piketty's years of increasing economic inequality, the biggest electoral successes have been free-marketeers (Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan) and light-on-redistribution moderates (Tony Blair, Bill Clinton).

Leftists hope the Piketty book will spark an electoral surge for redistribution that will let them install nanny state policies micromanaging ordinary people's lives.

But the lesson of recent history is that, even when the inequality increases in the economic marketplace, there's not much demand in the political marketplace for economic redistribution.

Michael Barone, senior political analyst at the Washington Examiner, (www.washingtonexaminer.com), where this article first appeared, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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