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.Go read the whole article. It will give you a picture of Europe that you are not getting from the mainstream media.
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.
The 1930s should be an object lesson for those who think they can write off 10% or 20% of the population during a financial downturn. Letting the government turn its back and refuse to aid these people and, worse, to refuse to stimulate the economy into a robust recovery condemns that country to a rise of right wing demagogues.
Krugman is sending out a clarion call for a change of course by democracies to save themselves from their own funeral:
Nobody familiar with Europe’s history can look at this resurgence of hostility without feeling a shiver. Yet there may be worse things happening.I thought political leaders were "too smart" to let another depression occur. I was wrong. I didn't even consider that the democracies would reprise the horror of the 1930s and allow fascist dictatorships to rise yet again. But it looks like I was far too naive. The idiocy of political leaders plumbs a depth that I stupidly just couldn't believe was possible. Incredible!
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 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.
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.
The European Union missed the chance to head off the power grab at the start — in part because the new Constitution was rammed through while Hungary held the Union’s rotating presidency. It will be much harder to reverse the slide now. Yet Europe’s leaders had better try, or risk losing everything they stand for.
And they also need to rethink their failing economic policies. If they don’t, there will be more backsliding on democracy — and the breakup of the euro may be the least of their worries.
For a peek at Krugman's premonitions about the United States, read this.