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Depression and Fascism: Krugman’s Analysis


Hun­gar­i­an Job­bik Par­ty Mem­bers on Parade

COMMENT: Although he insists on refrain­ing from using the “F” word for what is tran­spir­ing in Europe, Nobel Prize-win­ning econ­o­mist Paul Krug­man has not­ed in a New York Times col­umn that the “aus­ter­i­ty” mea­sures cham­pi­oned by Ger­many (and also the GOP in the U.S.) and being cur­rent­ly imple­ment­ed, are dri­ving for­ward extreme right pol­i­tics in Hun­gary [2], among oth­er coun­tries [3].

It might be not­ed that it was the “aus­ter­i­ty” pro­gram of chan­cel­lor Brun­ning’s regime of 1930–1932, in com­bi­na­tion with the Great Depres­sion, that drove the  peo­ple into the arms of Hitler.

In Hun­gary, the very cut­backs being man­dat­ed by advo­cates of “aus­ter­i­ty” are dri­ving sen­ti­ment in the direc­tion of the Job­bik par­ty [4], an assem­bly of old-line “street fas­cists.” Author and appar­ent ben­e­fi­cia­ry of those cut­backs [5] and the reac­tion they pro­duce is Fidesz, the gov­ern­ing right-wing par­ty that has con­sis­tent­ly and suc­cess­ful­ly flanked Job­bik on the right.

It is note­wor­thy that here, too, the brazen imple­men­ta­tion of fas­cism (in a for­mer Axis ally) has tak­en place out in the open [6] and with very lit­tle fan­fare.

Not with a bang but a whim­per.

“Depres­sion and Democ­ra­cy” by Paul Krug­man; The New York Times; 12/11/2011. [7]

EXCERPT: It’s time to start call­ing the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion what it is: a depres­sion. True, it’s not a full replay of the Great Depres­sion, but that’s cold com­fort. Unem­ploy­ment in both Amer­i­ca and Europe remains dis­as­trous­ly high. Lead­ers and insti­tu­tions are increas­ing­ly dis­cred­it­ed. And demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues are under siege.

On that last point, I am not being alarmist. On the polit­i­cal as on the eco­nom­ic front it’s impor­tant not to fall into the “not as bad as” trap. High unem­ploy­ment isn’t O.K. just because it hasn’t hit 1933 lev­els; omi­nous polit­i­cal trends shouldn’t be dis­missed just because there’s no Hitler in sight.

Let’s talk, in par­tic­u­lar, about what’s hap­pen­ing in Europe — not because all is well with Amer­i­ca, but because the grav­i­ty of Euro­pean polit­i­cal devel­op­ments isn’t wide­ly under­stood.

First of all, the cri­sis of the euro is killing the Euro­pean dream. The shared cur­ren­cy, which was sup­posed to bind nations togeth­er, has instead cre­at­ed an atmos­phere of bit­ter acri­mo­ny.

Specif­i­cal­ly, demands for ever-harsh­er aus­ter­i­ty, with no off­set­ting effort to fos­ter growth, have done dou­ble dam­age. They have failed as eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy, wors­en­ing unem­ploy­ment with­out restor­ing con­fi­dence; a Europe-wide reces­sion now looks like­ly even if the imme­di­ate threat of finan­cial cri­sis is con­tained. And they have cre­at­ed immense anger, with many Euro­peans furi­ous at what is per­ceived, fair­ly or unfair­ly (or actu­al­ly a bit of both), as a heavy-hand­ed exer­cise of Ger­man pow­er.

Nobody famil­iar with Europe’s his­to­ry can look at this resur­gence of hos­til­i­ty with­out feel­ing a shiv­er. Yet there may be worse things hap­pen­ing.

Right-wing pop­ulists are on the rise from Aus­tria, where the Free­dom Par­ty (whose leader used to have neo-Nazi con­nec­tions) runs neck-and-neck in the polls with estab­lished par­ties, to Fin­land, where the anti-immi­grant True Finns par­ty had a strong elec­toral show­ing last April. And these are rich coun­tries whose economies have held up fair­ly well. Mat­ters look even more omi­nous in the poor­er nations of Cen­tral and East­ern Europe.

Last month the Euro­pean Bank for Recon­struc­tion and Devel­op­ment doc­u­ment­ed a sharp drop in pub­lic sup­port [8] for democ­ra­cy in the “new E.U.” coun­tries, the nations that joined the Euro­pean Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, the loss of faith in democ­ra­cy has been great­est in the coun­tries that suf­fered the deep­est eco­nom­ic slumps.

And in at least one nation, Hun­gary, demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions are being under­mined as we speak.

One of Hungary’s major par­ties, Job­bik, is a night­mare out of the 1930s: it’s anti-Roma (Gyp­sy), it’s anti-Semit­ic, and it even had a para­mil­i­tary arm. But the imme­di­ate threat comes from Fidesz, the gov­ern­ing cen­ter-right par­ty.

Fidesz won an over­whelm­ing Par­lia­men­tary major­i­ty last year, at least part­ly for eco­nom­ic rea­sons; Hun­gary isn’t on the euro, but it suf­fered severe­ly because of large-scale bor­row­ing in for­eign cur­ren­cies and also, to be frank, thanks to mis­man­age­ment and cor­rup­tion on the part of the then-gov­ern­ing left-lib­er­al par­ties. Now Fidesz, which rammed through a new Con­sti­tu­tion last spring on a par­ty-line vote, seems bent on estab­lish­ing a per­ma­nent hold on pow­er.

The details are com­plex. Kim Lane Schep­pele, who is the direc­tor of Princeton’s Law and Pub­lic Affairs pro­gram — and has been fol­low­ing the Hun­gar­i­an sit­u­a­tion close­ly — tells me that Fidesz is rely­ing on over­lap­ping mea­sures to sup­press oppo­si­tion. A pro­posed elec­tion law cre­ates ger­ry­man­dered dis­tricts designed to make it almost impos­si­ble for oth­er par­ties to form a gov­ern­ment; judi­cial inde­pen­dence has been com­pro­mised, and the courts packed with par­ty loy­al­ists; state-run media have been con­vert­ed into par­ty organs, and there’s a crack­down on inde­pen­dent media; and a pro­posed con­sti­tu­tion­al adden­dum would effec­tive­ly crim­i­nal­ize the lead­ing left­ist par­ty.

Tak­en togeth­er, all this amounts to the re-estab­lish­ment of author­i­tar­i­an rule, under a paper-thin veneer of democ­ra­cy, in the heart of Europe. And it’s a sam­ple of what may hap­pen much more wide­ly if this depres­sion con­tin­ues. . . .