Karl Marx’ saying was that when it comes to opinions, culture, and ideas, as well as laws and institutions, the “infrastructure” determines the “superstructure”. Your position in the economy (production relations) and society (class) determines what you think and all the related output – from art to law. Economy-society is the Infrastructure and culture-ideas-institutions are the Superstructure.
Recent polls in Western Europe suggest that opinions related to globalisation and the market economy vary widely across countries. It is striking to notice how the countries that have better adapted their economies and societies to globalisation are also the countries where positive attitudes to globalisation prevail, or attitudes towards globalisation are the least negative. This mainly the Nordics (I know my Swedish colleagues here at ECIPE will slightly disagree, but they are not Italians), and the Anglo-Saxons. Where support wanes most is where economic stagnation prevails – Italy is the worst case.
Attitudes towards free trade:
According to the German Marshall Fund: [American and ] French respondents wish to keep trade barriers to protect businesses, even if this means slower growth. They showed the highest levels of opposition to trade liberalization – 55% of French and 31% of American respondents do not favor freer trade. American (59%) and French respondents (58%) say freer trade costs jobs. But French respondents also showed the lowest confidence in freer trade providing consumer benefits (63%), helping poor countries (39%), increasing global prosperity (49%), and supporting democracy (45%).
Attitudes towards entrepreneurship, innovation:
Edmund Phelps, in a study on entrepreneurial culture, showed:
“The values that might impact dynamism are of special interest here. Relatively few in the Big Three report that they want jobs offering opportunities for achievement (42% in France and 54% in Italy, versus an average of 73% in Canada and the U.S.); chances for initiative in the job (38% in France and 47% in Italy, as against an average of 53% in Canada and the U.S.), and even interesting work (59% in France and Italy, versus an average of 71.5% in Canada and the U.K). Relatively few are keen on taking responsibility, or freedom (57% in Germany and 58% in France as against 61% in the U.S. and 65% in Canada), and relatively few are happy about taking orders (Italy 1.03, of a possible 3.0, and Germany 1.13, as against 1.34 in Canada and 1.47 in the U.S.).”
Attitudes towards the single currency:
An FT/Harris poll showed recently that “More than two-thirds of the French, Italians and Spanish – and more than half of Germans – believe the single currency has had a “negative impact “. In France, just 5 per cent said the euro has had a positive effect on the French economy.”
It is interesting to note how this persistence of negative attitudes is more pervasive in the “Mediterranean” and “Continental” countries. A typology of European social models was outlined by Esping-Andersen and re-articulated by Andre Sapir recently. Negative attitudes towards international market capitalism, prevail in those social systems that score worst in terms of economic efficiency: i.e. the Mediterraneans and the Continentals:
Recent political developments in Italy and the strikes in France come buttressing this interesting finding. Italy just formed a new centre-left, modern, pro-market party headed by a former Communist. Communists parading in the streets cry: boo. In France all those public sector employees who were given more pension benefits than the rest blocked the country last week, like spoilt children they shout because their candies are being taken away. German train drivers and hard left politicians are heading a backlash of the old German recalcitrant structures. What a circus of the same old corporatist interests parading all over – often with anti-capitalist slogans!
Hard to convince spoilt public sector workers in France that, yes, we live longer so why not work longer? And more competition in services markets, such as taxis (a big issue in France and Italy right now), is beneficial to jobs and the society, and also the taxi drivers’ own jobs. A French economist over at Telos explains that the introduction of competition in the road transport sector in 1986 led to annual job growth in that sector, of 5-6% while before that it was only 1.5%. To cut a long story short: unreformed countries are the most anti-market reform-minded. Anti-reformism hampers reform which entrenches the vested interests that oppose reform. And so on: long live decline, bad public services, unemployment and low-paid low-skill jobs!
So this is Marx turned on his head, so to speak: now it is the Infrastructure of professional interests organized in corporatist structures that determines the Superstructure of anti-market ideas. This of course to the detriment of the fundamental cause of the Marxists: Workers and small people (see this post, for more background).
Marx is accused of economic determinism. Its main opponents, so-called “neo-liberals” are accused of this too. Reality, and this particular case here, shows that if there is something coming close to determinism it is rather “institutions” (laws, organisations) that determine people’s thinking, opinion and behaviour. This would also support my view that if there is such a thing like an “infrastructure”, it is not so much production, but these “institutions”. Overregulated labour markets favour anti-labour market reform demonstrations in France by exactly those who stand to benefit from them….
Yet “institutions” are not rigid. Evidence shows that countries can be reformed and changed when wanted. This requires: Ideas, the courage to fight for them, and… the right interests to defend them. Reformers faced with even bigger, quasi unsurmountable, tasks in the late 1980s in Poland, were very aware of the issue of “ideas”. They professed to go quickly so that anti-reform thinking does not get entrenched. In a recent book by Anders Aslund on economic transition in Eastern Europe, I found an interesting paragraph:
“quick systematic change also transforms the intellectual paradigm. In Central Europe and the Baltics, comprehensive reforms soon changed the intellectual paragidmg, while slower reforms kept rather parochial economic ideas alive in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries.” (p.36).
Will Italy’s new centre-left be strong enough and find enough support? Public opinion in France is now less supportive of the demonstrators. Will Sarkozy have the courage to keep steering ahead or will he strike deals again that water down everything? Slowly, slowly, ideas trickle down. But it’s too slow!.