Recessions: Better for Right Than Left

Doug Henwood

For a long time, I’ve been critical of the left-wing penchant for economic crisis. Many radicals have fantasized that a serious recession — or depression — would lead to mass radicalization, as scales simultaneously fell from millions of pairs of eyes and the imperative of transcending capitalism became self-evidently obvious. I’ve long thought that was nonsense, and now there’s empirical support for my position.

Bad economic times, research shows, increases votes for hard right and nationalist parties. It’s not a huge increase, but it is there. Further, votes for left parties stay about the same during hard times.

Whatever the reason, recessions are not good for the left and are good for the right. A major exception, of course, was the U.S. in the 1930s, but that one took the unemployment rate up to 25%. And that Great Depression didn’t do much for the left in Europe. So please, let’s put this one away and stop hoping for the worst.

Indeed, hoping for calamity is a seriously self-defeating way to organize and inspire people. Plus, it’s essentially passive, waiting for something hideous to occur which means you can then presumably leap into action. A far better method to be optimistic and give people something positive to work towards.

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