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2004-06-09

On why I'll vote for the Austrian Greens for the EU-parliament 

I believe that economic policy impacts the lives of individuals more than most other issues that are regulated by lawmakers. I would like to know more economics so that I could make confident judgements about economic policies, but from as much as I understand, it seems that even being an economist would not provide a reliable set of guidelines. However, in retrospect one can see quite clearly how some economic decisions have created big problems. Excessive national debt due to government overspending in the 70's and 80's is severely limiting political manoeuvring space. Overregulation in the economy is slowing down adaptation to a changing global environment, and thereby limiting growth, and thereby causing ever increasing unemployment. Ubiquitous welfare and state interventionism is creating a mindset of passive dependence on the state, and suppressing entrepreneurialism. The recipe to address these shortcomings in many cases would be more liberal economic policies.

Unfortunately, when the state cuts back on welfare systems or reduces its involvement in economic affairs, this is perceived as a threat by large parts of the population, rather than as a step towards an opportunity. The people look at the messengers of such liberalisation, and they see wealthy upper-class types, "capitalists", who indeed stand to gain more than the rest of the population from liberalisation. To make matters worse, when right-wing parties propose measures for the compensation of the poorer part of the population who may lose a certain subsidy, they often mix the support measures with elements of a cultural conservatism that is rejected by large parts of the low-income groups, who have grown up with social-democracy.

Unfortunately, Austrian social-democracy has not yet embraced sustainable economic policies (recent cases in point: pension reform, globalisation), but is maximising votes on a program of exploiting its cultural hegemony combined with populist interventionist economics.

I see the Greens as the political force that is best placed in Austria to advance sustainable policies across the range of political issues. It has a culturally liberal (sometimes avantgardist and therefore unpopular) background, and has struggled for the last ten years to develop a more grown-up approach to economic policy. Most European Green parties have not arrived at a reasonable approach to economic policy yet, but the German Greens have come pretty far under the pressure of responsibility in government, and I keep hoping that the Austrian Greens will follow their example (whenever Greens turn economically mature, their election results jump from 5% to 10% it seems). In a country like Austria, the crucial task for the Greens is to pick up socially liberal voters and to offer to them an economic policy that is liberal because of sustainability objectives rather than because of narrow capitalist group-interest.

Yet, in every election campaign I hear things from the Greens that make me cringe in discomfort, such as the inflationary but utterly ill-defined use of the word neoliberalism, alluded intentions to create a centralised economy and welfare system across the EU (IMO the EU needs to respect and thrive on its growing diversity), irresponsible ad-hoc foreign policy positions courtesy of Mr Voggenhuber etc. And I'm never sure how much of the potential I see in the Greens is fact and how much is just my own utopian projection. Voter's headache.

Footnote: Oh, and about ecology. At least in Austria, there's hardly any difference on this between the parties any longer.


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