“Your parents might have done it with just one job, but now you’re working for less and twice as hard.”Tomorrow’s Industry, dropkick murphys
The embedded liberal promise of material security, embodied in various forms of advanced capitalist middle class construction, has obviously given way to post-Keynesian, neoliberal realities. From worsening economic – and subsequent social – inequality (e.g., Blank, 2011) to an emergent precariat (Standing, 2011; see also Munck, 2013), the voluminous collection of studies articulating the curious contemporary phenomenon of economic insecurity for large portions of respective populations during an era of unprecedented economic growth. That neoliberalization has contradictory outcomes is neither in dispute nor a novel observation. The question here becomes centered on the effects of this differential growth and deepening inequality. As advanced capitalist societies see larger portions of respective populations gain fewer benefits from national economic growth, how might other social institutions – such as democratic processes – be impacted?
This chapter examines the growth of economic adversity during the neoliberal era and argues that the specific conditions of neoliberal reform indirectly contribute to the rise of nationalist political rhetoric and the strategic integration of nationalism as a means to obtain political legitimacy in the neoliberal era. In essence, the deepening of material hardship is a consequence of state-led neoliberalization, which places specific constraints on those same state actors and institutions expected, by respective constituencies, to mitigating socioeconomic hardships. As a result, sitting or prospective political actors are increasingly unable to address constituent demands for economic protection through economic means (or at least, those not amenable to market demands) and therefore seek alternative means to justify electoral support.
The purpose of this study is to highlight the hardship conditions that underlie neoliberal growth and make the case for an indirect link between these hardships conditions, decreasing confidence in state capacities to resolve said adversities, and the commensurate (re)rise of nationalist political legitimation. I argue that a direct effect of the (re)ascendency of nationalist political legitimation is the further deterioration of state level economic protections. That is, nationalist or other non-economic legitimation strategies may rhetorically integrate the language of protectionism in various ways, but cannot (nor have shown a willingness) to alter market-oriented neoliberal reforms in any way that would ameliorate hardship conditions in respective national states. To that end, the comparison below focuses on cases (Finland and Sweden) in which levels of economic protectionism are purportedly high and the adverse effects of neoliberalization supposedly mitigated by the “Nordic Model” of welfare capitalism.1
The cases of Finland and Sweden are compared below for two primary reasons. First, both are exemplars of the Nordic Model of welfare capitalism – specifically designed to mitigate inevitable economic disparities that are requisite aspects of capitalist societies. Second, both countries are experiencing increased support for respective nationalist parties. These parties are not allied with each other (in fact, can often be adversarial),2 have distinct party histories, and exist within distinct national political climates. Sweden and Finland have similar political economic characteristics but differ in other social and demographic realities, including immigration trends and populations. However, both the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna) and the Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset) have emerged as influential members of respective parliaments based on the integration of a monolithic national cultural definition, notably through public aversion – often hostility – to immigration, migrant cultures, and migrants, themselves.
Given the idiosyncratic nature of national politics (even in Scandinavia) and the unique realities of respective immigration (i.e., massive disparities between Swedish (high) and Finnish (low) levels of immigration), it seems reasonable to question whether singular reactions to levels of immigration, specifically the recent refugee crisis, is really at the heart of this resurgence of European nationalist politics. Yet, the consistent and public anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric coming from these political parties is impossible to ignore (see Taggart, 1995). At the same time, attention to national debt crises and the aftermath of the most recent global recession have encouraged some to understand nationalist political parties as a commensurate reaction since 2008 (see Bosco and Verney, 2012).
I discount neither the impact of immigration and the recent increase in refugee populations throughout select countries in Europe nor the negative impact of the recession on local populations as influential factors in nationalist political efficacy. Quite the opposite, in fact, as I believe both have served as catalysts for contemporary nationalist political support. However, I do argue that attention to these two temporal/episodic factors obfuscates the underlying political economic foundation for nationalist political ascendency. Specifically, I argue that material adversities resulting from neoliberal political economic reforms have created cumulative conditions of economic adversity for specific portions of national populations, which have coupled with the decreased capacity of political organizations/actors to mitigate these adversities through traditional (i.e., Keynesian) economic protectionist means. As such, both sustained and deepening economic adversities and an emergent crisis of neoliberal political legitimacy has created a political opportunity for formerly irrelevant parties and ideologies. In short, the impact of recent population migrations and economic crisis certainly contribute to the contemporary popularity of nationalist political parties and actors; however, the economic and political effects of neoliberalization provided the conditional foundation for the rise of nationalist political efficacy.3
This chapter offers a theoretical framework designed to explain the link between neoliberalization and nationalist political efficacy, primarily through a conceptual synthesis of the Polanyian double movement and Bourdieu’s understanding of doxa. The advantages of this synthetic approach as a holistic complement to alternative explanations are subsequently presented. The comparative cases of neoliberalization and nationalist politics in Finland and Sweden are then examined through this analytical lens. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of the challenges of both theorizing nationalist
1 Explaining Nationalist Political Efficacy: A Brief Synthesis of Polanyi and Bourdieu
The problem of nationalist politics is as much one of definition as it is of national distinction. This is the essence of Walker Conner’s methodological critique: “Even when one restricts nation to its proper, non-political meaning of a human collectivity, the ambiguity surrounding its nature is not thereby evaporated” (1978: 378). Divisions between so-called “primordial” (cf. Herder and in a more contemporary sense, David Smith) and civic (cf. Renan and contemporary exemplars such as Anderson and Gellner) understandings of nationalism are compounded by additional issues such as methodological nationalism (Wimmer and Glick Schiller, 2003) and nationalist political utility (Brubaker, 1996). With consensus elusive on understanding and defining the nature of nationalism, it seems reasonable to wonder whether a theory of nationalist politics might be equally tenuous. The issue, of course, is the distinctive nature of respective nationalist history, content, experience, and legitimation. While nationalisms differ, the utility of the concept is common with regards to legitimating state institutions and political actors.
The integration of nationalism as a means to legitimate state-building efforts is well chronicled (Schulze, 1994; Hobsbawm, 1992); however, the postwar era is best defined by the ebb of nationalism as a primary means of practical political legitimation. The rise of the state as an economic regulator and (sometimes) protector during the Keynesian embedded liberal era functioned as a strategic means of national legitimation thus “rendering nationalism obsolete” (Brubaker, 1996: 1). The return of nationalism as a means of mobilizing and legitimating political activities appears to have caught most observers by surprise.
Like studies of nationalism, there is no consensus on what counts as nationalist politics, what motivates the rise of nationalist politics, or even how to adequately define the phenomenon. Variously understood as populist or “radical right,” nationalist politics is often understood as a phenomenon rooted in reactionary conservatism, although even among these political parties there are examples of progressive economic platforms. If there is a common finding with regards to studies of so-called “radical right” parties it is that there can really be no consistent definition of what constitutes a “radical right” party nor what motivates its ascendency (Norris, 2005).
Norris (2005) and Mudde (2007) offer comprehensive overviews of political and sociological literature that both frame as “supply and demand” categories of explanation. Essentially, “demand-side” explanations privilege structural conditions and motivations as primary causal factors. For example, the “New Social Cleavage thesis” builds on the work of scholars such as Betz (1994), Betz and Immerfall (1998) and Ignazi (2003) arguing that political economic and social structural changes (deindustrialization, for example) create conditions that further divide respective populations and facilitate reactionary, right-wing parties who monopolize on these social divisions. Holmes (2000) offers a nuanced version of this perspective with his concept of “integralism,” which is based on an understanding of rapid socio-political economic change (“fast capitalism”) creating latent opportunities for historically rooted “integral” interests based on specific notion of European identity.
Others argue that these cleavages and shifts have promoted a significant backlash against the cosmopolitanism and diverse migration that defined the post-1960s Atlantic world (Gibson, 2002; Pettigrew, 1998). Kitschelt (1995) offers a synthetic version of this theoretical perspective in which he argues that social changes create political opportunities that political parties are positioned and willing to exploit. In this sense, far right parties are outside of the cosmopolitan paradigm and willing to take advantage of social change (in this case demographic diversification) in order to offer an exclusionary alternative.
Kitschelt’s perspective forms a convenient bridge between the demand (structural) perspectives and more agency-oriented supply perspectives. The latter focuses on various aspects of party behavior and adjustment. These perspectives are reflective of both political opportunity and rational choice biases that emphasize the importance of organizational decision-making and party strategy (Art, 2011; Dalton, 2009; Rydgren, 2005). The pragmatic political emphases of these perspectives are clear – political parties and organizations seek to alter strategy and orient platforms with regards to party competition and other conditional political factors. Thus, nationalist politics is a strategic choice and not necessarily the causal outcome of deeper social and/or political economic structures.
The political bias of these perspectives offers significant insights into the mechanical processes that influence party positions as well as viable explanations for the intentionality of nationalist politics as a strategic choice. The problem of course, is that this singular emphasis on political factors reduces the capacity to integrate extra-political social structural factors and can reduce explanation of both parties and the phenomenon of broad nationalist integration as episodic and local actor choices.
In short, this move away from structural influences minimizes the ability to theorize the phenomenon of nationalist politics, while simultaneously enhancing the capacity to study national political mechanics. The ability to more specifically study party strategy is valuable, but I would argue that it must be integrated with more conditional factors – specifically, material economic factors – in order to create a more useful holistic understanding of a truly global phenomenon.
The categorization of explanatory “far right/populist” literature into demand/supply is efficient but limiting. The construction and inevitable deconstruction of each theoretical perspective serves to highlight the problems with each and clouds the possibility of integration.4 The tendency toward monocausal explanation (certainly inclusive of more than this particular literature) belies the fact that political strategy must be accepted as an empirical reality but so to must political economic conditions. This essay offers a synthetic, yet admittedly structurally biased, way of understanding the rise of nationalist political efficacy in the contemporary neoliberal era by focusing on the conditions that influence strategic political options. I argue that a conceptual focus on political legitimation offers a means to retain a focus on the importance of political agency while also ensuring sensitivity to the conditions of local legitimation and supra-national political economic structures that influence those respective conditions. This approach can (a) better reflect the diversity of nationalist political parties/actors by focusing on local, conditional factors that influence strategic legitimation and thus (b) theorize nationalist politics as a strategic political reaction to altered conditions of legitimation, regardless of national uniqueness and idiosyncratic conditions.
2 The Double Movement and Neoliberal Doxa
The theoretical synthesis presented here is built on two complementary concepts: the Polanyian double movement and Bourdieu’s conceptualization of neoliberal doxa. In sum, Polanyi argues that modern capitalist societal relationships are rooted in a tension between capitalists desiring minimal regulation and maximized profit potential and national populations seeking protections
Capitalism itself is a political project, but liberalization requires policy intentionality (or “planning” in Polanyi’s terms on the part of the state (Polanyi, 2001: 147, 216)). Any process of liberalization implies that regulations exist, and thus political will/control is necessary for any process of deregulation to take place. Similarly, the role of the state in enacting/reenacting protectionist regulation designed to mitigate the adverse effects of unrestricted capital accumulation is also contingent on political will and action. As such, both ends of the double movement are based on vested interests channeled through political institutions. Capitalist interests demand that the state liberalize for the purpose of expanding profit opportunities and national populations demand material protections from adverse conditions exacerbated by liberalization (Polanyi, 2001: 142). Meeting these countervailing demands becomes the basis for political legitimation in a modern capitalist context. Polanyi’s capitalist state is understood as a mediating institution that manages this tension
In this way, Polanyi explains both the role of the state in maintaining capitalist systemic legitimacy, as well as the contradictory dynamics of that legitimation. During the postwar period of Keynesian embedded liberalism, Polanyi’s understanding of a functional double movement was embodied in the form of the welfare state (Offe, 1985; Holmwood, 2000). High economic growth was matched with a Fordist emphasis on enhancing the consumptive capacities of national populations. Relatively high wages were matched by publicly mitigated costs of living through state subsidization of education, health care, infrastructure among many other areas, to substantially expand (if not create) a middle-class consumptive base in advanced capitalist societies (Cohen, 2003). In Polanyian terms, significant portions of national populations were thus “protected” through mediated liberalization, but more importantly economically stable in large part due to the efforts of the state. Conversely, rapid postwar economic growth7 was enough to pacify capital interests for a time, although ongoing efforts to liberalize global trade (gatt) belied a longer-term strategic view and reinforces the constant pressures within the double movement. When crises inevitably arose in the 1970s, an ideological and political alternative centered on growth through liberalization was in place to reorient
Neoliberalism, rooted in neoclassical refutations of Keynesian economic theory, has gradually chipped away at the ideological notion of the state as a protectionist institution, which has facilitated the practice of productive and market liberalization on an incrementally global scale. The result of this expansion of liberal capitalism on a global scale has been substantial (albeit regionally-specific) economic growth (particularly from the 1990s until 2008) and simultaneous increases in economic inequality and cost burdens for liberalizing nations (Frank, 2013; Kenworthy and Pontusson, 2005). In short, neoliberalization serves as an acceleration of normal capitalist tendencies: Expansions of profit built on the back of worsening adversities and cost burdens for majority populations, or what Portes referred to as “immiserating growth” (Portes, 1997; Shefner et al., 2006). The political problem, as Polanyi noted, is one of maintaining legitimation within the context of differential benefits – as conditions amenable to capital accumulation conflict with worsening material conditions for large national constituencies, non-beneficiary populations can withdraw legitimating political support if demands for social protection are not met. Many have pointed to the role of ideology in maintaining a level of popular support for capitalism in general (e.g., Lukacs, Althusser); however, a more dynamic understanding of ideological influence comes in the form of Bourdieu’s notion of doxa.
Bourdieu’s understanding of doxa is predicated on a reflexive relationship between respective populations and political power that is mitigated by subjective interpretations of both objective and manipulated (read: ideological) knowledge (Bourdieu, 1977: 6, 164). Specific knowledge is (nearly) unanimously and uncritically accepted as “self-evident and undisputed” (such as in the case of traditions) (Bourdieu, 1977: 164). This normative acceptance of broad social “truth” is an active process in which the habitus of respective social actors is both constructed and reinforced through regular discourse informing respective fields where this doxa represents an ideological context in which decisions, policies, and strategies can be built (Bourdieu, 1977: 167). Key to this understanding is the intentionality of doxic– power relationships determine the ascendance and viability of specific forms of knowledge over other competing forms. As Bourdieu puts it:
In class societies, in which the definition of the social world is at stake in overt or latent class struggle, the drawing of the line between the field of opinion, of that which is explicitly questioned, and the field of doxa, of that which is beyond question… is itself a fundamental objective at stakebourdieu, 1977: 169
in that form of class struggle which is the struggle for the imposition of the dominant systems of classification.
Bourdieu’s later work on neoliberalism features this understanding of doxa prominently.8 Not only does he (along with sympathetic collaborators) understand the ideology to be an intentionally disseminated and promoted form of knowledge (Bourdieu, 1998; Desai, 2006; Wacquant, 2010) that has become an unchallenged field in which politics must now be negotiated (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 2001), but also that this paradigmatic environment influences the reflexive definitions of political power/authority (Chopra, 2003: 430).
In this sense, the discursive promotion of neoliberal ideals (failure of the state/economic protectionism, prominence of the market, individualism, etc.…) become translated upwards as constituent populations repeat and reaffirm these neoliberal talking points, actively constructing a broader neoliberal doxa.9 Within this context, it becomes more and more difficult – both ideologically and practically – to maintain protectionist policies and platforms, particularly when state protectionist capacities have become decreasingly viable and liberalized global capitalism promotes market solutions over public alternatives. This is an ironic outcome when we juxtapose doxa with the double movement: Popular incorporation of the individualism and marketization of neoliberalism creates a political climate that encourages political convergence around neoliberal goals, while those same neoliberal goals worsen material conditions for large portions of those respective populations.
In other words, the context of the double movement is sustained as increased liberalization exacerbates material adversities for large portions of national populations. The problem in the contemporary era, however, is that the basis of the countermovement (economic protection) and the mediating role of the state are disrupted by the dominance of neoliberal doxa – in the minds of many, there is no alternative to market fundamentalism (Jessop and Sum, 2013). This situation has profound implications for political legitimation – if the structural dynamics of the double movement remain intact, but the protectionist role of the state weakened, how then is political legitimacy maintained? I argue that the centrality of economic protectionist demands is essential in understanding the resurgence of nationalist politics. Within the context of willful neoliberal policies or constraints imposed by neoliberal adherence, the utility of economic protectionism is either rejected by respective parties/actors or weakened in terms of efficacy by existing neoliberal structural constraints.
This climate of neoliberal doxa conditions/constraints combined with worsening material conditions for large national constituencies that are often formerly privileged (i.e., white, male, middle class) creates substantial problems with regards to legitimating political actors and parties. This creates the need to seek out alternative means of political legitimation, which are readily available to parties and actors closely aligned to nationalist symbols and rhetoric or those willing to revise national cultural definitions.
In this sense, nationalist politics become a means to political legitimation within neoliberal doxa. Of course, not every party will embrace nationalist politics and every national context is unique with regards to the extent of neoliberalization; similarly, some countries have experienced drastic increases in inequality and immiseration, while others have not. How are we then to understand the relationship between neoliberalism and nationalist politics given such national conditional distinctions?
To that point, the cases of Finland and Sweden are juxtaposed with regards to (a) support for nationalist political parties, (b) extent of material economic hardships in the specific context of (c) altered political economic conditions (specifically, gendered deindustrialization, service occupations, educational attainment). These cases offer an opportunity to examine the influence of economic protectionist decline in a part of the world supposedly shielded from the effects of neoliberalization. The following sections first problematize the role of general inequality and immigration as causal explanations for nationalist political efficacy, then specifically examines the context of material economic shift and change in those who support each respective nationalist party.
3 The Rise of Nationalist Politics in Finland and Sweden
The rise of the Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset) and the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna) has been both dramatic and surprising. Both were viewed as largely irrelevant tertiary parties until the latter part of the 2000s. The Finns Party emerged from the ashes of the Finnish Rural Party in 1995 and languished until 2011 when the party not only breached the 5% electoral ceiling but also became the third largest party in the Finnish Parliament with 19.1% of the vote and 39 members of parliament. Although the Perussuomalaiset saw their share of votes decrease in 2015, they entered Parliament as the second largest by seats and joined the governing coalition. Their success in European Parliamentary elections is perhaps even more consistent (see Figure 3.1).
The Sweden Democrats have no formal political pedigree and many of its early members had explicit connections with various neo-Nazi and national socialist groups (Widfeldt, 2014; Rydgren, 2006). The party underwent a series of moderating reforms in the 1990s to broaden its appeal and create distance from its neo-fascist roots, but it wasn’t until the 2006 general election that the party seemed to marshal increases in electoral support. Since 2006, the Sverigedemokraterna have increased their percentage of total votes from three to thirteen percent in the 2014 Swedish General Election (Figure 3.1). Since 2014, support for the Sverigedemokraterna has seemingly increased with recent poll support reaching twenty percent nationally (The Local, 2015).
Both parties have been buoyed by specific conditions – in the case of the Finns, strong anti-EU rhetoric and opposition to the regional bailout of Portugal is generally pointed to as the foundation for electoral success in 2011 (bbc, 2011), while the recent refugee crisis in Europe – acutely felt in Sweden – appears to have anecdotally driven support for the Sweden Democrats (Greenwood, 2015). While both specific conditions are (relatively) unique to each respective country, neither offers a consistent causal explanation for the rise each respective nationalist party. Sweden is not a Eurozone member and has a long history of euroskepticism that certainly predates any rise in nationalist political support. This distinction is even more profound with regards to immigration in Finland, which has seen increases in overall immigration, but with relatively low numbers in comparison with Sweden (and many other migrants receiving states, see Figure 3.2).
These inconsistencies belie the fact that in both cases, nationalist political rhetoric is increasingly effective in terms of mobilizing electoral support. A closer look at the constituent support for both parties illustrates the centrality of material adversity and perceived declines in economic protectionist capacities. The bases for both are predominantly male and have strong support from constituents who identify as “blue collar” or “working class” (svt, 2014;
The fundamental context of this contemporary rise in nationalist support is a commensurate development of neoliberal doxa that simultaneously advocates for the decline of protections that reinforced middle class growth, while at the same time limiting the policy capacities of formerly protectionist political actors and parties. The problem, however, is how to understand the adverse effects of neoliberalization – income stagnation, declining social services, increased household costs – in societies supposedly protected from such changes. I argue that a closer look at the sources of perceived economic hardships (increased costs of living, debt burdens, and educational attainment) in the context of shifts to service-oriented employment and lingering assumptions of patriarchal privilege combine to facilitate an audience for nationalist, reactionary political efficacy.
4 Neoliberalization and Economic Protectionist Decline
Finland and Sweden are models for alleviating many (certainly not all) of the material adversities that I argue underlie the rise of nationalist political efficacy. Both countries (along with their Scandinavian neighbors) consistently rank among the lowest with regards to within country income inequality (Keeley, 2015) and highest with regards to social welfare provisions (Brandal et al., 2013). As a result, the countries appear somewhat immune to the larger global trend of worsening income inequality. In fact, income inequality has been relatively stable in both countries (see Figure 3.3). Percentage shares of income for the highest earners in Finland slightly decreased from 10% in 2004 to 9.8% in 2013, with a similar decrease in Sweden over the same timeframe (9.9% to 9.2%). The third through fifth income quintiles in Finland either showed nominal increases or stability over the same 2004-2013 timeframe, which the same income quintiles in Sweden showing similar patterns (Eurostat, 2014).
This consistency with regards to income inequality is striking in the neoliberal era and highlights the inconclusive nature of general inequality as a causal explanation for nationalist political efficacy. Having said that, both countries are impacted by neoliberalization, albeit in relatively distinct ways. The economic crisis on the early 1990s accelerated liberalization processes, albeit in a more incremental way – increasing income-contingent contributions, reducing social service funding, and deceasing state revenues through systematic tax cuts (Moisio, 2008). Others have noted a specific shift in rhetoric that privileges corporatization and competitiveness over strong state protectionism (Alasuutari and Rasimus, 2009; see also Alasuutari, 2004). Jutila correctly highlights the dual impact of liberalization – marketization increasing profit and therefore costs of living (i.e., through increased housing costs) yet stagnating or even decreasing (in the case of student benefits) social benefits. As social benefits fail to keep up with increased household costs, vulnerable populations are increasingly at risk even as growth accelerates (Jutila, 2011).
Swedish neoliberalization has followed a similar path with acceleration occurring in the 1990s, however the pace and scope of Swedish liberalization far outpaces that of its Nordic neighbors. Ryner (2004), like Alasuutari, identifies rhetorical trends underscoring the shift to marketization and denigrating state regulation, while other collaborative work identifies trends in the marketization of pensions in the same time frame (Belfrage and Ryner, 2009). Other common trends highlight shifts in housing from increased costs to differential housing opportunities and increased gentrification (Christophers, 2013; Hedin, 2012). Swedish neoliberalization has proven so rapid that the Economist recently commented that, “Milton Friedman would be more at home in Stockholm than
These increased cost burdens – and the lack of political will to actually mitigate these adversities – are a more concrete manifestation of the effects of neoliberalization and offer a means to better understand collective motivation with regards to political legitimation. Attention to specific categorical adversities such as housing, debt and changes in employment structures offer a more effective means of identifying the centrality of economic protection in political legitimation.
Housing costs in both countries have risen in significant but distinct ways. The purchase price of homes in Sweden has risen dramatically following 2008 and has recently surpassed pre-recession prices (oecd). Buying a home in Sweden is an increasingly expensive proposition with prices rising 144 percent between 2000 and 2015, with recession-sensitive increases of 76 percent from 2005 to 2015 (Statistics Sweden, author’s calculations). Finnish home prices have shown more gradual growth overall but still experiencing a 26 percent increase in nominal home prices throughout the country between 2005 and 2015 (Statistics Finland, author’s calculations).
Rental prices have also shown long-term increases with much more comparative consistency. Both have increased significantly between 1995 and 2015 with Finland (58%) outpacing Sweden (50%) in terms of rental cost increases (oecd). Figure 3.4 illustrates the consistent growth in rental costs since 1995.
At first glance, it appears that the housing burden in Sweden is more onerous than that of Finland, due largely to the pace of home price increases in the former. This assumption is somewhat reinforced by other manipulated statistics designed to highlight cost differentials between purchasing and renting a home (price to rent ratio) and home purchase affordability (price to income ratio). As seen in Figure 3.5, Finnish housing affordability (price to income ratio) stabilizes in the post–recession era while Swedish trends highlight more recent problems in terms of affordability. Similarly, increases in price to rent ratios encourage respective populations to rent as opposed to buy, pushing particularly younger, prospective first-time homeowners into rental markets which are both equity neutral and more consistently expensive in terms of annual increases in rental costs.
Put another way, housing cost increases are not simply episodic burdens – the decreasing ability for younger and underprivileged populations to enter the home purchase market keeps them in lucrative (for property owners) rental markets and compounds the problem of attaining equity-producing homes in the future.
These challenges regarding housing affordability and constantly rising rental costs is also contingent on aspects of income and costs of living that either contribute or detract from housing affordability. Overall wages have increased, as is normal in advanced capitalist states, yet the pace of wage increases to keep pace with rising housing and purchasing costs has not kept pace. The mean annual increase in wages between 2005 and 2014 in Finland was .9 percent, while Sweden saw average increases of 1.6 percent (oecd Stats). If we compare these data with the same mean annual changes in respective consumer price index (cpi) data, we find mean annual increases in Finland cpi at 1.7 percent, while Sweden saw a 1.08 percent increase in cpi over the 2005 to 2015 period (oecd Stats, author’s calculations). This comparison highlights the complexity of experienced costs – while Finnish home affordability may paint a picture of stability, wage increases have not kept pace with increased overall consumer costs over the past ten years. Similarly, while Swedish wages have increased more than annual cpi increases (on average) exorbitant housing costs place significant downward pressures on particularly vulnerable portions of the Swedish population. As rent increases are consistent in both countries, if becomes apparent that housing costs are increasingly problematic despite distinctions between respective national markets. The impact of rising housing costs is, of course relative to income and wealth and has a disproportionate impact on less affluent populations. This is especially true of youth populations both in terms of affordability challenges and subsequent increases in youth homelessness.10
Rising housing costs are certainly primary contributors to household financial insecurity, but these costs are complicated by the fact that increased housing expenditures are directly linked to increases in household debt (Oikarinen, 2011) – this is also the case in both Sweden and Finland (Turk, 2015; Marrez and Pontuch, 2013). Rising debt occurring simultaneously with increased housing costs is not a surprise, nor need it be necessarily debilitating in terms of household finances; however, the combination of low wage growth and increased costs has resulted in a larger portion of household income servicing household debt. As seen in Figure 3.6, household debt as a percentage of net disposable income has risen significantly in both cases – with Swedish growth outpacing that of Finland in both consistency and scope. There are distinct trends that highlight expansion of household debt in both countries. Sweden has experienced approximately 94 percent growth in debt as a percentage of household disposable income between 1995 and 2014, with Finland only slightly behind at 79 percent in the same timeframe.
It should be noted, however, that in the aggregate both cases are remarkably similar with mean annual increases in Sweden reaching 3.6 percent and Finnish household debt growth at 3.2 percent. Overall, Swedish household debt is both more burdensome and consistent with regards to growth, although post-recession growth in Finland (28%) has significantly outpaced that of Swedish (18%) household debt between 2005 and 2014 (oecd Stats, author’s calculations). While unique national economic contexts certainly create distinct temporal moments, the common trend of increased household debt is essential to note particularly within the context of debt burden among impoverished or underprivileged households – the cost of servicing personal consumer debt is higher among such populations.11
The rising household debt burden in both countries is compounded, in many cases, by languid growth in disposable income. Annual rates of change in disposable income (controlled for expenditure) show clear downward trends in the Finnish case, while Swedish data show more stable longitudinal trends, but substantial annual variability (see Figure 3.7).
Measurements of the mean annual change in this measure of disposable income highlights these differential trends with Sweden showing an average change of 20 percent between 2005 and 2015, while Finnish average change in disposable income is nearly negative 70 percent over the same timeframe. Once again, differentiation may lead some to conclude a distinction with regards to perceived economic security between the two cases but the cost of housing and other expenditures in Sweden is measurably higher and thus reducing the impact of higher per capita rates of disposable income growth. The combination of disposable income fluctuations and increased debt burdens illustrate the trend towards household financial insecurity in both cases. The point here, of course, is that the increase in household indebtedness is relative to the capacity to service increased debt burdens – as costs outpace income, that burden becomes an increasingly contentious barrier to economic security.
4.3 Employment and Educational Changes
The context of perceived economic adversity in these neoliberalizing economies is multifaceted and certainly not comprehensively documented here. Food, fuel, health care, retirement, and a host of other possible measures of ‑economic comfort/security are ignored in this descriptive analysis. The selected measures (housing and debt) provide a broad yet significant means to examine
The third categorical area is specifically oriented toward the context of income and demographic change: Who is able to afford cost increases and who is vulnerable? Keys to this category are aspects of employment type (specifically, service and manufacturing occupational categories), commensurate tertiary educational attainment, as well as gender differentiation in both areas. The data from both Finland and Sweden are remarkably consistent. On average, general industrial and manufacturing production decreased annually in both cases. Swedish industrial production as a value-added percent of gdp has decreased .7 percent annually since 1980, with manufacturing decreasing at a slighter fast rate of .9 percent on average. Finland has experienced average annual industrial decline of nearly 1 percent with manufacturing also declining at a faster rate at 1.2 percent (World Bank Databank, author’s calculations). These declines have accelerated in manufacturing but at a slightly slower pace with regards to general industrial production. Between 1995 and 2014, respective industry and manufacturing declined at annual rates of .6 and 1.1 in Sweden and .9 percent and 1.6 percent in Finland (World Bank Databank, author’s calculations).
This clear decline in industry and manufacturing is similar to trends ‑throughout the advanced capitalist world as national economies in affluent countries shift to service orientated occupations (Alderson, 2015). This shift is somewhat bifurcated with the highest growth in service employment in low skill, low wage sectors, while high skill, high wage sectors (technology, communications, etc.…) offering upward economic mobility, most often with the requisite of a tertiary (or higher) education. The data presented in Figures 3.8 and 3.9 do not reflect this bifurcation and thus are limited measures, but ones that ‑highlight a specific trend in both employment and education. Regardless of salary/wages, employment in service sectors is increasing while opposite trends in industrial sectors is declining. If we assume that at least a portion of service sector employment growth is in high skill/high wage ‑employment we can also assume that those skills are commonly obtained in conjunction with tertiary education degrees.
In fact, the acquisition of isced 6 (Bachelor’s Degree equivalence) degrees in both Finland and Sweden has grown considerably since the 1980s. The annual increase in isced 6 graduates in Finland averages 4.4 percent since 1980, with Swedish growth at 3.7 percent. The number of graduates in both countries accelerated between 1995 and 2005 to 5.1 percent in Finland and 4.7 in Sweden.
Not only has there been an increase in overall tertiary graduates, but the demographic pace of change has been quite telling. In Finland, more women than men obtain isced 6 degrees with Finnish women beginning to outpace men in 2001 (Statistics Finland (a)). In Sweden, men still obtain university degrees in higher numbers than women; however, the growth in female isced graduation has increased dramatically with average annual increases among female graduates at 8.2 percent (compared to 3.4 percent increases for men). Growth for both groups similarly slowed in the post-recession era with women graduating with annual increases of 5.2 percent (compared to 1.9 percent for men) (Statistics Sweden (a), author’s calculations).
The point here is that increased overall rates of university graduation reflect the importance of tertiary degrees in obtaining higher waged/salaried employment (or at least the perception of such an effect), but more to the point, these increases highlight significant shifts in both employment trends and the role of tertiary degrees in terms of accessing higher incomes in this service/knowledge economy context. As shown in Figures 3.8 and 3.9, the decline of industrial employment and rise of service-oriented employment has specific characteristics when controlled for sex.
The traditional predominance of men in industrial employment and subsequent sector decline is significant, particularly given aforementioned trends in tertiary education as well as lower numbers of men working in expanding service sector employment. These postindustrial trends are, of course, in place well before any contemporary nationalist political rhetoric, which is the point: The conditions that lead to increased efficacy of national political rhetoric are both historical and cumulative. There is little political opportunity for the Perussuomalaiset or Sverigedemokraterna without the commensurate decline in industrial and manufacturing employment and the eventual inability for social democratic parties to meet now-increasing demands for protection from the adversities of economic change (i.e., deindustrialization). As such, the longitudinal trajectory of manufactoring decline and declining economic protectionist politics are gradual – these shifts contribute to, but are not deterministic of, conditions that make nationalist political efficacy viable. The shift of voters from social democratic and labor parties to more exclusionary nationalist parties is not confined to Finland and Sweden and the trend is certainly not a direct one (see Evans and Mellon, 2016), but the decreasing ability of social democratic and labor parties to meet rising economic protectionist demands from particular constituencies over time decreases confidence within formerly reliable consituencies. These votors have often abandonded social democratic and labor parties for conservative or other tertiary options (such
5 Economic Adversities and Shifts in Political Opportunities
The cumulative effect of maturing neoliberalism increases economic insecurity for large portions of respective populations. The context of increased growth in domestic markets (not to mention the effects of liberalized international trade) has driven up costs in key areas such as housing. As a result of increased cost burdens, households have turned to increased consumer credit to maintain levels of consumption in advanced capitalist economies. These conditions (primarily increases in cost of living) impact populations differently depending on the local capacity to absorb such increases – clearly, for households with languid, stagnant, or declining incomes, the rate of cost increases will quickly outpace the ability to afford said increases.
The intensity of these localized cost burdens is contingent on the level of economic protectionism in a respective national economy. Obviously, the Nordic states’ popular embrace of a collective model of welfare capitalism purports to create a buffer against the harshest requisite aspects of capital accumulation. Strong state support for housing, educational costs, health care, retirement, childcare and far more highlight areas where the state has met national protectionist demands (in the Polanyian sense) and mitigated the effects of capitalism in the face of constant pressures to liberalize. The reality in Finland and Sweden is, as previously illustrated, better defined as neoliberalizing societies somewhat late to the party. While there are clear differences in terms of cost of housing, household debt and context of educational attainment and employment, but the common trends toward increased costs and decreased national economic protections are clear.
As both Scandinavian countries have followed the path demanded by an encroaching neoliberal doxa, the increased financial burden of rapidly rising housing costs and expanding debt burdens creates substantial strain among households ill-prepared to absorb these increases – while such increases are lauded by political and economic proponents as elements of positive capital
Regardless of the veracity of this claim, the reality of household financial insecurity leads populations to the conclusion that Polanyi accurately predicted: In capitalist societies, increasing costs and stagnating/declining disposable income will engender demands for protection from the causes of such adversities. It is the causal mechanisms that become the point of much ideological investment on the part of liberal capitalist proponents. The construction of a neoliberal doxa in which non-market alternatives are broadly understood as antithetical to the very existence of capitalism and “freedom.” In this ideological environment, political will to engage in meaningful economic protectionism erodes – even in welfare state exemplars. The growing sense that traditional political parties are unwilling or unable to mitigate household financial burdens becomes the root for the phenomenon of both nationalist politics and the growing sentiment that traditional political parties are failed projects (Dalton, 1999; Nye et al., 1997). In both Finland and Sweden, Social Democratic Parties (sdp) have intentionally moved to integrate neoliberal ideals into both ruling policies and party platforms (Kuisma and Ryner, 2012; Rydgren, 2006: 43). This neoliberal convergence leaves many traditional labor/sdp voters with limited options with regards to parties willing or able to meet economic protectionist demands.
This “hollowing out” of social democratic parties identified by Poulantzas in the nascent days of neoliberalism highlights the central political problem of economic legitimation in an era that discourages exactly that (Poulantzas, 1978; Bruff, 2015). The imbrication of neoliberal policies and reforms by labor and social democratic parties has gradually weakened the capacity of those parties to meet the inevitable social protectionist demands of national populations through more efficacious economic means. The slow weakening of social democratic parties as economic protectionist parties invariably leads to a withdrawal of popular support, which then reinforces neoliberal ideology as an increasingly doxic social belief. This is particularly true in the context of the post 2008 crisis when many were calling for an alternative to the neoliberal
Despite clear evidence of the overall failure of deregulation and the sustained myth of self-regulating markets as well as broadly exacerbated material adversities, neoliberal reforms have strengthened in much of the advanced capitalist word. This can be explained by several factors such as the rapid rhetorical mobilization of neoliberal proponents and their ability to rhetorically “blame” public debt and social spending for the crisis (Walby, 2015) or the structural constraints such as budget and spending caps that discouraged or disallowed non-austerity solutions to budget crisis and declining services (Peck, 2010). But perhaps the most influential cause of neoliberal ideological survival is the languid neoliberalization of parties formerly legitimated based on their economic protectionist foundations. As Magnus Ryner puts it: “Accompanying the loss of neoliberalism’s hegemonic aura is the absence of social democracy as an effective political agent” (2010: 554).
Nationalist politics, in essence, offers a strategic means of circumventing the nature of legitimation in neoliberal societies. The potential impact of this strategic shift away from economic means of meeting protectionist demands is significant for welfare capitalism. This has the potential to enable short-term political legitimation, particularly in the absence of a viable social democratic alternative, but at the cost of ignoring the underlying financial hardships experienced by respective neoliberal populations. More to the point, the absence of protectionist alternative that actually mitigates financial hardships increases the likelihood that neoliberalism remains politically dominant. Thus, the downward pressure experienced by even Nordic countries has the potential to be sustained and even intensified in the post-crisis era.
The combination of neoliberal doxa constraints and declining confidence in political actor/organizational protectionist capacities creates significant political opportunities for actors and organizations with alternative legitimation strategies, such as exclusionary nationalism. The high level or variability of nationalist political parties with regards to economic protectionist policy – the Finns have a stated social democratic platform, while the Sweden Democrats seems to have no clear economic platform, preferring to maintain a centrist position – belies the larger doxic context of neoliberalism: Political parties can now gain legitimating support by focusing on non-economic issues such as national identity, and migration. This is a primary reason for the lack of
In relation to neoliberal ideology, these parties provide a near perfect model for obtaining electoral legitimacy while ignoring structural economic factors that influence financial adversities in the first place. In other words, nationalist politics offers an alternative model for political legitimation in an environment in which liberal capitalist ideology is dominant and remains unchallenged. As I have suggested in other work, wherever you find neoliberalization you will also find increased elements of nationalist politics (Blad, 2012).
The perils of this legitimation strategy are obvious. Nationalist political rhetoric or policies do nothing to mitigate the effects of exacerbated inequality or differential hardships in respective economies. In fact, such policies often have negative economic effects due to the deepening of neoliberal ideologies and continued evisceration of state protectionist capacities. Regardless of whether a nationalist actor or party is supportive of neoliberal political economic policies, the amenability of nationalist rhetorical platforms to a neoliberal political context acts as a disincentive to engage in struggles for protectionism when liberal capitalist legitimation (and financial support) can be obtained by adhering to neoliberal doxa while attempting to placate national populations with increasing calls to obey nationalist symbolic trends. The common constituent demographics of nationalist party supporters – undereducated, male, young – reflect populations vulnerable to economic change, least able to afford cost of living increases, yet most capable of connecting to a “lost” patriarchal past in which race and gender underscore past material comforts and household economic security.
Recent efforts in Finland to institute a basic income level for all Finns is showing early promise (Independent, 2017), but it remains to be seen whether
More to the point, the rhetorical foundation of this political legitimation strategy is problematic due to eventual inability to resolve root economic adversities demanded by national populations. Nationalist political parties lose support once in office if they are unable to demonstrate the capacity to enact perceptible change (Heinisch, 2003). In the context of neoliberal governance, that change must include more equitable benefits in terms of wages or consumptive affordability. As these distributive goals are antithetical to the neoliberal political project, the likelihood that nationalist politicians and parties will magically correct growing economic adversities seems poor. At the same time, the efficacy of these actors and parties to obtain popular support and legitimation in a neoliberal context is significant. While these ideologies and strategies may be practically incapable of addressing real local economic adversity, their rhetorical capacity to win support in an era hostile to traditional, economic protectionist, means of political legitimation must be better understood. In this sense, the support of vulnerable populations for political rhetoric offering a return to past privilege, yet offering almost no practical means of improving economic prospects is at least analytically comprehensible.
See the chapter by Nissen in this volume.
While there is certainly political cooperation between so-called nationalist parties in the European Parliament – particularly in the Europe of Nations and Freedom (enf) voting block, there are still significant practical divisions and efforts toward disassociation within this party type. The single eup representative of the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna) is a member of the Europe for Freedom and Direct Democracy (efdd) block, while the Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset) and the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti) are members of yet another allied block, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ecr). More to the point, the Finns Party actively distances themselves from nationalist-oriented parties such as the Sweden Democrats (Author’s interview, June 2014; Forsell and Rosendahl, 2017) in an effort to legitimize the party as more than tertiary.
See the chapter by Czarnecki and Vargas Chanes in this volume.
To be fair, both Norris (2005) and Mudde (2007) appear to understand this problem quite well. The problem of theoretical categorization and monocausal bias is a systemic social scientific problem and certainly not limited to this discussion. The larger point being made here is that this brief accounting of literature in this particular subfield is a problem in and of itself – while all demand and supply perspectives may not supply the desired singular explanation, elements of each might.
Both production deregulation and privatization are used as examples of possible liberalization outcomes. These are possibly (however likely) outcomes, but certainly not the only way that liberalization can create adverse material effects while t the same time facilitating profit accumulation.
The Polanyian concept of the double movement essentially theorizes that the central tension in capitalists societies is between those who advocate for increased liberalization of markets (i.e., moving toward more laissez-faire, deregulated markets) and national populations demanding protection from the adverse effects of market liberalization (Polanyi, 2001, 79-80). Put simply, the tendency of liberal market capitalism to prioritize growth at the expense of labor and social impact (for instance, the motivation to depress wages and increase costs as a vulgar means to maximize profit will create adverse material pressures on respective populations). This desire to maximize profit and prioritize growth conflicts with populations who may not benefit from market liberalization and in fact benefit more from increasing market regulation (price controls, wage regulation, etc…). As such, the natural tendency of capitalism is conflictual, requiring state intervention to both promote economic growth while at the same time protecting national populations from excesses and overextensions of that same growth ethos and effect (Polanyi, 2001, 145-148, 162). The articulation of the double movement has long been recognized as a foundational concept in relation to welfare capitalist theory (Holmwood, 2000).
Bourdieu’s understanding of doxa certainly shifts from his earliest version based primarily in traditional societies to more reflexive versions in “modern” societies. The underlying dynamics, however, remain applicable – specifically, the subjective processes of knowledge integration and its relationship to larger structural fields. Myles (2004) offers an excellent critical overview of the shifts in conceptual definition and utility.
More to the point, Bourdieu’s notion of doxa is one rooted in dynamic and contentious power relationships. The apparent passivity in which national populations embrace dominant ideologies and normative beliefs obfuscates the intentionality of doxic origins – that is, the appearance of a priori assumptions is an illusion. The quiescent integration of dominant norms and beliefs is neither organic nor passive, rather rooted in pre-existing power dynamics and motivations. Perhaps a more explicit way of understanding the intentionality of Bourdieu’s conceptualization of doxa is found in Gaventa’s (1980) third dimension of power, in which quiescent acceptance is not the product of passive populations, but rather historically manufactured through myth, normative discourse, and rewarded/punished actions. The product of third dimensional power dynamics is often the integration of belief structures encouraged by groups in positions of power which manifests in quiescent acceptance of powerlessness, active support for groups in power (i.e., participatory self-subordination), or sustained resistance to unequal power relationships.
See Bak Nielsen and Nichols and Malenfant in this volume.
There is a substantial literature on the relationship between debt, the cost of debt servicing, and socioeconomic status. There is strong consensus that lower socioeconomic status makes household debt more expensive for respective households and thus exacerbates financial adversity (Bird et al., 1999; Pressman and Scott, 2009; Sierminska, 2014).
This conclusion is consistent with the observations of liberal capitalist proponents such as Mises (2000 ), who opined that income and wealth inequalities were “an essential feature of the market economy” (62). In this sense, liberal capitalist defenses of systemic inequalities rest on the idea of such adversities incentivizing labor, production, and investment.