In the introduction to The Revolution – A Manifesto, the Republican enfant terrible Ron Paul describes the limited set of choices presented to US voters in most elections: more public spending on government programme A or more public spending on government programme B? In much the same way, Austrian voters were presented with different variations within a state-dominated framework in last Sunday’s elections.
The election results signalled a major rightward shift and political stalemate. Both partners of the governing “grand coalition”, the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP), experienced their worst poll results in post-war history. With the opposition Green Party stagnating, there will be no majority for a left-of-centre coalition. A coalition of the right is also unlikely.
The far-right Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) and the further-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) may be the most obvious election winners, but the ÖVP has ruled out a coalition with either one. Moreover, despite programmatic overlaps, BZÖ and FPÖ are deadly enemies. It could well be that the grand coalition, whose split after one and a half years in office triggered the advanced elections in the first place, will have to be reanimated.
Despite the seeming diversity in Austria’s new parliament, what is entirely absent is a passionate voice for free markets and individual liberty. The policies of the governing parties were characterised by measures such as the introduction of a national minimum wage, increases in social and environmental spending, the accumulation of budget deficits despite record-high tax revenues, and opposition to foreign investors taking over domestic companies. The parties of the right, in turn, represent a more aggressive and nationalist variation within the given interventionist consensus.
The allegedly “business-friendly” BZÖ campaigned with slogans such as “Austria for the Austrians” or “Going the social way!” Its platform demanded government programmes to “create jobs” and “stimulate the economy”. In fact, parts of the platform could easily have been stolen from anti-globalisation activists on the left: “Globalisation endangers the freedom of the individual and the democratic, social rechtsstaat. This is why we fight the destructive forces of globalisation. Each human being is precious, not just a cost factor of business” [my translation].
This is a sad state of affairs in the native land of Hayek and Mises.