Conservatism and economic crisis

Many on the left hope that economic crises will radicalize voters to the left. Doug Henwood and Paul Krugman disagree. There is evidence from American history in their support, the first American presidential election at which the Democrats were clearly to the left of the Republicans on economic issues was 1896, but at this election the Democrats were soundly defeated, and one factor that contributed to their defeat was that many workers feared that the democrat’s populist economic policies would affect the viability of their employers. The Great Depression impelled the American left to power but it as I have said:

the great leveler of the American income distribution was not the New Deal but the war, the share of national income secured by the top 1% of income earners almost halved from the late 1930s to the mid 1940s and this income equalization was maintained through the 1950s. Perhaps the war did see a political comeback by American business, a state at war needs capitalists, but this comeback did not prevent a leftward shift in policy outcomes

Depressions weaken worker’s power at the point of production and encourage them to look for political solutions. For some (mostly workers who already supported conservative parties) that means a shift to the radical right but for others it inspires forms of radicalism that are ultimately of limited effectiveness. The ultra-left German Communists of the early 1930s gloried in their status as the party of the unemployed and in Australia mass support for Jack Lang as Ric Kuhn argues reflected the weakness of trade unions which led workers to trust in politicians. Today Australian Labor in government however at a time of strong economic growth is presiding over a shift of  public opinion to the right..brilliant.

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