The end of history? When the US renews Russia’s social democratic experiment


Mexico’s former foreign minister Jorge Castaneda recently wrote a piece that has be one of the most insightful commentaries on our changing world. Mr Castaneda, who’s currently a professor at New York University, mused on the political change that’s coming to America.

That’s not about Donald Trump but about something far far bigger. It’s about the realisation that America needs social democracy. From a “smaller, less expensive welfare state”, one part of the American electorate “is seeking to finally put in place what the Europeans built over the half-century following World War II.” This, because the conditions that made it possible for the US “to manage without a large, generous, expensive but highly popular welfare state have slowly vanished” after the 1980s.

It’s a historic shift, says Professor Castaneda, who has a PhD in economic history from the University of Paris, and it just might save social democracy from dying in Europe.

The fact that America, for the first time since Roosevelt and the New Deal, is looking at “policies devoted to reducing inequalityhelping the poorsupporting the young,” may revive ideas that are out of political favour on much of the European mainland. Except for Spain, where a social democratic party is in (tenuous) power, the whole concept of a generous welfare state is running into the polarising idea of who should benefit. The migrant? The asylum-seeker? The hijab-wearing woman who appears very different?

Those issues can, to some extent, be addressed by social democracy, the Professor suggests. From the time of the Russian Revolution, “the Social Democratic experiment has been the most effective antidote to authoritarian socialism”.

If it arrived in the US it would be the most effective riposte to the downsides of globalization. As Professor Castaneda writes: the best response to “growing inequality, and the fear of the ‘other’ — is more democracy, more social benefits, more equality.”