Monday, August 25, 2014

Why do the poor vote for the rich? Or seek refuge in xenophobic populism?

My sister in Greece playing Greek melodies.
This morning I read in a German newspaper that a quarter of the people living in cities in the famous Ruhrgebiet, the industrial area par excellence that propelled post-war economic growth and prosperity in Germany and other countries in Europe such as the Netherlands, is living in poverty.

My sister, who lives in Greece, is telling me continuously how poor people in Greece are suffering the consequences of a crisis that they did not cause, but that was caused by the rich (and the less rich)  in the United States and Europe as well as in other countries including Greece. I hear similar stories from friends in Portugal, Spain and Italy. But poverty is not restricted to southern Europe.

In letting the poor pay for the problems the rich have caused there is an important and democracy undermining mechanism: austerity measures and privatisation of public services are presented as if the people themselves wanted them. 'Democracy' is willingly used to 'legitimise' measures that favour the rich.

As a result, people are losing confidence that democracy (which is reduced to voting for politicians who seem to care more about those who have power rather than those who lack power) will bring them any good. This is part of the explanation of why xenophobic, populist parties and movements have gained such strength in Europe.

How come the poor are still voting and keeping the rich in policy influencing positions that are contrary to their interests?

The answer is simple: because they do not see or are not aware of an alternative. An equally important explanation is, because they think the normal state of affairs is that the rich, and the so-called experts (lawyers and economists) decide.

Can we break this unfortunate and democracy undermining 'normal' state of affairs? I will try to answer that important and difficult question in one of my next posts.

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