Wanted: A new political left

After four years of uncomfortable Grand Coalition, Germany’s center-right party — or more exactly, Angela Merkel, the only really popular politician here — is finally getting to lead more or less the way it wants.

This has fairly widely been dubbed the most boring election in history. Which — aren’t we in the middle of the biggest recession since the Great Depression? Wasn’t there a gigantic financial crises this time last year, technically on Merkel’s watch? Shouldn’t there be a revolution or something (and come on, 12 percent for the Linke, the former East German state party, now a left opposition, doesn’t count)?

It’s astonishing how badly the left has come out of this crisis. It’s not that the right has fantastic ideas; certainly not in the States, where they’ve collapsed into sputtering brain-fevered monosyllables. But there is no coherent alternative to centrism today. Everyone is spending like mad, in a Keynesian approach to the post-Friedman global economy. Angie’s social market economy is not radically different from what Obama wants to do the States; and here, because she’s staked out that centrist ground, she wins.

Her new partners, the liberals, want tax cuts. Maybe they’ll get some, but Germany is awash in debt, at least by its standards, and if George W. Bush has shown anything, it is that shotgun-targeted tax cuts don’t produce anything but pain and messes that have to be cleaned up later. Not much room to maneuver in that respect.

So where is the coherent left? Certainly not in Germany. Or in France. Even socialist Sweden has a center-right government. There are good ideas coming from the left, like New Deal-type spending on green technology; but this can be adopted just as well by the center-right, and will, by Merkel.

We need a new labor movement; something that reflects the realities of today’s economy. Something that represents, or is grounded in, the interests of deliberately mobile, flexible workers. Freelancers and contractors, programmers and writers and service types. Based on an economics that understands that people aren’t rational, that the free market fails miserably in many areas (but actually does work pretty well in others), and doesn’t let finance types assure the world that they’re getting hugely rich because what they’re doing is really, really good for everybody.

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