A few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and almost two centuries after the French Revolution (1789) – when the Right-Left political distinction was historically established – Norberto Bobbio attempted to define the dividing line between the two political wings in his book “Right and Left.”
According to Bobbio, the stance of political ideologies toward inequalities defines their difference. The Right considers inequalities “sacred or inviolable, natural or inevitable.” The Left, on the other hand, believes that “they can and should be reduced or eliminated.”
If Bobbio’s work seems too dated, one can look at the work of Thomas Piketty, who says the same thing in a new way.
Employees of digital platforms know first-hand what this discussion is about. They experience the uncertainty of the self-employed combined with the exhaustion of the worker, while being controlled by the “electronic employer” without any possibility to respond.
However, the dominance of neoliberal doctrine, based as it is on the ideas of the Right, is being challenged head-on for the first time after four decades. The pandemic, the climate crisis, and movements for the protection of rights have brought focus back to values and needs that had been forgotten or neglected. First among them is the need to protect human life through strong healthcare and welfare systems. Second, the need to stop the destruction of the environment is finally being given attention. Third, the need to restore social cohesion, which has been dangerously fragmented by the frenzied growth of inequalities between developed and developing countries, but also within Western societies, is brought to the fore.
Research shows that 1% of the global population owns 50% of global wealth, while at the same time 1% is responsible for the emissions of more than twice as much CO2 into the atmosphere than the poorest 50% of the global population.
The new US president seems determined to respond effectively to the challenge of inequalities: “It’s time for big business and the richest 1% of the country to pay what’s fair.” As he said in his historic speech to Congress, social spending will increase, but will not be paid by the middle class, but by the richest. The speech signals much more than a change in the economic model of the USA. President Joe Biden brought common sense back into the discussion on inequalities. Humanity is at too critical a juncture to keep following doctrines that have failed. And it is almost certain that what President Biden’s stance brings will sooner or later affect Europe as well.
Unfortunately, the government in our country is still fighting a rearguard action to defend the old world. It does not follow President Biden’s initiatives on increasing the minimum wage, taxing wealth by using new tools and strengthening state intervention in the market. It is inspired, rather, by what Kyriakos Mitsotakis himself said before the TIF Forum in 2017: “I do not have illusions about a society without inequalities. That would run contrary to human nature.”
The problem with Mr Mitsotakis’ strategy is not that he belongs to the Right. It is that he vigorously defends the principles of a world that seems to have run its course. And even though he desperately tries to spin every backward reform as somehow signifying progress, he is in fact unable to understand the radical changes that are taking place on all levels, also due to the pandemic.
His party’s stance on issues such as citizenship, integration of refugees and immigrants, LGBT rights, police violence, or the Prespes agreement, is indicative. As indicative is the way in which he passionately attacked, almost as an automatic reflex, the proposal for waiving vaccine patents when it had just started gaining momentum.
Even if one were to dismiss the issue of vaccines and patents as extraordinary, the structural problem inherent in his positions becomes even more clear in the glaring case of labor reform. At a time when the global labor market is changing, when the necessary fiscal space is there, and when public discourse revolves around proposals to reduce working hours, Mr Mitsotakis is planning outdated reforms inspired by Reaganite and Thatcherite policies, such as abolishing collective bargaining and the eight-hour workday.
But our world is changing very fast. And the sooner the country starts to keep pace with and to play a leading role in this change, the faster and more effectively it will emerge from the crisis, serving the interests of the majority.
It is extremely crucial, for example, to use the resources of the recovery fund and the new National Strategic Reference Framework in a way that will finally transform our economic model and turn it in a sustainable direction. A transformation that will distribute wealth and profits fairly, that will protect small and medium-sized enterprises, and that will reduce inequalities. European resources need to finance the necessary reforms to establish an economic model based on a shift to quality products and high value-added services. Greece cannot and should not compete with other countries on the basis of reducing labor costs – in short, wages – but rather on the basis of increasing productivity and investing in training, research and innovation.
It is extremely crucial that the restructuring of our economic model and our technological capacity goes hand in hand with the necessary steps toward a green transition and a digital transformation of the economy. We need to build a modern, efficient and decentralized state with the active participation of society. It is only a strong society – not market forces – that can lead to strong sustainable development. Reforms must therefore aim at establishing a universal welfare state, a guarantor of real social security.
At this historical turning point, it is necessary for our country to be on the right side of history. But that requires a new government, a progressive government. A government that, when faced with the question of where it stands in terms of political dividing lines, will always choose to be on the side of the interests of the majority. On the side of working people and the productive, innovative forces of Greek society. After all, they are the ones who built Greece. Not the few families who chose to send their money abroad during the crisis, share the country’s spoils, and once again, today, expect to become the main beneficiaries of the recovery fund.
* Alexis Tsipras is the leader of SYRIZA