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Conservatives Lose Their Friends in the Countryside

June 19, 2019 in Economics

By Alberto Mingardi

Alberto Mingardi

MILAN — The cleavage between the country and the city is
as old as politics itself — but is particularly worrisome
these days for one set of political ideas: those that aim to free
markets and reduce government intervention.

Last month’s European Parliament election illustrates a
disquieting trend. Unsurprisingly, liberal, cosmopolitan forces did
better in urban pockets (and in better-off regions in the West).
More remarkably: Big-spending populists did well in rural areas
(and in Eastern Europe more generally).

That rural areas voted for parties promising to open the taps of
public money is bad news for believers in small-government
restraint. It points to the possibility that conservatives in the
countryside — once the bastion of fiscal prudence —
have become accustomed to assistance from the state and switched
sides, offering their votes to those who irresponsibly promise to
keep the cash flowing.

To understand why that’s so worrying, we need to go back to the
work of the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, a giant of the
social sciences.

In the 1910s, Pareto argued that people could be divided into
two groups: rentiers and speculators. The first care deeply about
the stability of their possessions, favor routine, save steadily
and eschew debt. They are unimaginative, conservative-minded people
who have a strong preference for security.

The cleavage between the
country and the city is as old as politics itself – but is
particularly worrisome these days for one set of political ideas:
those that aim to free markets and reduce government
intervention.

Traditionally, these are the people from the countryside.
Rentiers plant trees, they save for the next generation, they tend
to trust real estate more than banks. They tend to see government
interventionism as an enemy — a threat to their holdings
— rather than a profit opportunity.

They greet each new spending proposal with the same question:
Who’s going to pay for all of this? Past experience provides the
mostly likely answer: them. As voters, rentiers have tended to
favor parties that promise to protect their savings from the fast
fingers of the state.

Speculators, on the other hand, are the city slickers —
ready to take advantage of anything, including reckless public
finance initiatives. They are the ones, in Pareto’s time and ours,
who benefit disproportionately from state intervention.

They’re ready to exploit opportunities in new regulations, to
supply authorities with what they need for the latest public
project — especially if taxpayers can be lined up to pick up
the bill for their failures. At the ballot box, speculators are
happy to support big spenders — politicians whose
interventions in the economy will provide them with opportunities
to profit.

Rentiers …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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