This question offers no foregone conclusion. Before the chairman of the Austrian People’s Party achieved his sensational election success, the judgements of friends and foes could well be subsumed under these two terms: statesman or juvenile juggler.
Of course, the question can hardly be answered unequivocally, because a fair judgement about any politician can only be passed by posterity. But I would argue that one thing can be affirmed even now . The youngest chancellor in the history of Austria has achieved something that the arguably most circumspect leader of the western world, the not quite so young chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, did not achieve. Sebastian Kurz saved Austria from the AfD. The FPÖ, its Austrian counterpart, suffered a devastating defeat in yesterday’s election. Of course, it did so with the active participation of its chairman Christian Strache.
Yes, I now hear the vocal protests of all those,
who can’t be persuaded not to consider Kurz a juggler. This success was only possible, they say, because Kurz himself had adopted the policy of the extreme right.
No, that is only partly true. He adopted no more than what the majority in his country actually wanted, namely a cautious immigration policy. And he did not adopt what the extreme right really wanted and still wants: namely to stir up hatred against everything foreign and to wallow in chauvinism. Even his worst enemies will not be able to accuse the party chairman of the ÖVP of sympathizing with dull xenophobia and stupid chauvinism. The young chancellor always distanced himself unmistakably from such tendencies and broke off the bridge to the FDP at the precise moment when these exhibited their well-known brown rashes.
On the other hand, this right-wing politician is
not a blue-eyed idealist who wants to push through abstract ideals even against a democratic majority. He has seen that in Austria – like in Germany – an elite of politicians, lawyers, and teachers wants to demonstrate their own enlightenment through an open door policy, while a majority rightly fears that this liberal generosity comes at their expense, because it is their standard of living, their jobs and incomes that will be endangered by an unregulated immigration. We all know that in the US the representatives of industry tend to advocate a liberal immigration policy for precisely this reason: Immigrants supply cheap labor, which depresses wages and thus increases profits. In this respect, Chancellor Kurz cannot be accused of a business-friendly policy.
But didn’t this Chancellor already cause a lot of misfortune
in his first term of office by reducing the minimum support for immigrants so drastically, that it hardly suffices for survival and therefore makes integration extremely difficult? That is a serious accusation indeed. In my view, the problem to be solved is very difficult for all political parties. There can be no doubt that the generous assistance provided by Western welfare states to immigrants constitutes a mighty force of attraction because the support may even largely exceed what most of them used to earn through their own work in their home countries. This statement remains, of course, true regardless of whether it comes from the mouth of a xenophobe or represents the sober judgment of social scientists. I think it is irresponsible to cut benefits for those whom we want to admit to our country and who, for some time, need the necessary capital until they finally manage to stand on their own two feet.
On the other hand, no state will convince its citizens to give a comparatively much higher standard of living even to those whom it grants only a temporary stay or not even that. In the long run, no European nation will be able to support the waves of refugees from Africa as generously as it was possible in the past, when we were confronted with comparatively small numbers of immigrants. No nation will have the means to do so, even if it wanted to. And the elites will not dare to impose such a policy against the declared will of democratic majorities. Let’s not forget: Africa today has 1.3 billion people, a figure that is expected to more than triple by 2100. Then there will be about seven times more people living there than in Europe, while the consequences of climate change will reduce the means of sustenance and, of course, will not leave Europe unaffected.
Of such depressing prospects
politicians usually don’t want to speak, because citizens too like to ignore them – here we may definitely come across a lot of cross-party jugglery. Almost all emphasize that any effective help means to enable people to make a decent living in their respective homelands, but the same people who proclaim this recipe have ensured that Austria’s development aid has been reduced to a minimum – and that is unlikely to change. Moreover, development aid has never been particularly successful, it is rather the abused capitalists who have promoted economic development by setting up businesses in countries with cheap labor. China is still the classic example.
But China also shows
that even this support from the outside world remains ineffective if not supported by appropriate domestic initiatives, first of all, population policy. Today, China would still be the Africa of the East with a population of two billion or more without the energetic one-child policy of its government. Africa’s misery is not due solely to climate change, but much more to “population explosion”, namely the fact that most states there (like in the Middle East) have far more people than they are able to feed or provide with jobs. Any progress in the standard of living is immediately wiped out by a relentlessly growing number of people. In 2015, the birth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa was 52 times the German figure, in 2100 it will be almost 200 times as high. In 2015, the number of people living in sub-Saharan Africa was about 15 times higher than in Germany, by 2100 it will be 62 times as much.
No politician from Austria or Germany
is going public with these figures – after all, they don’t want to upset the citizens – but of course they are not unknown to them since they rely on demographic material published by the UN. The new old Austrian Chancellor was wise enough not to mention immigration in his election campaign, as the public already know that he will defend the interests of the majority. Instead, his party put the emphasis on care and pensions – issues that normally do not attract much attention. As for his ideological leanings, political friends and enemies alike agree that Kurz can be expected to pursue a business-friendly policy.
Yes, and when it comes to business-friendliness
we are confronted by just another even more ominous trend: the weakening of those great parties in Austria as well as in Germany that in the past managed to defend the interests of the low-income earners – and thus the democratic majority. Of course, I am talking about the SPD in Germany and the SPÖ in Austria, both of which were once important popular parties, but are now vegging out as mere shadows. How was it possible for a democratic majority to decide in favor of right-wing parties which, as a rule, favor the interests of business concerns rather than their own? Nobody will seriously claim that the new Austrian Chancellor will stand up for trade union interests. Have left-wing people’s parties and trade unions been pushed against the wall by jugglers like Sebastian Kurz or a conservative leader like the German Chancellor Angela Merkel?
The answer to this question
does not seem to me particularly difficult, although it hardly plays a role in public discussions. It is a fact that the economies of all countries are by now globally so intertwined and interdependent that the scope for decision-making of a single country – and particularly of a country as small as Austria – hardly allows for major maneuvers in redistribution or the dismantling of privileges. As the most successful Austrian and German companies have to survive on international markets, it is these who dictate costs and prices. National governments can only raise higher taxes if innovation provides its companies with corresponding profits. But this does not apply to the majority of “normal” companies. Stronger state intervention always risks to place such a heavy burden on companies that short-term gains used for redistribution lead to long-term damages because jobs are cut or outsourced. This explains why during the last three decades left-wing parties have hardly been able to keep their promises.
By now, individual nations are practically powerless with regard to the greatest evil of our time, the worldwide concentration of wealth and power, power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Only the EU as a whole could intervene – but only at the price of regulating foreign trade, as the Trump administration is currently trying to do with the steamroller approach.
In spite of all their fine slogans
national politicians are condemned to powerlessness in the face of these – in part devastating – global tendencies. That is why the difference between left and right has becoming increasingly foggy. For this reason, the difference between left and right is becoming more and more foggy, although the parties themselves are, of course, doing their best when propagandistically turning into adult elephants those little mosquitoes, which they are still able to tame. I would wish the leftists not to become well-meaning but unwordly idealists in danger of running into windmills. The statesman Sebastian Kurz seems to be more immune to this danger.