The lost question that can help us find a future: Left or Right?
Written by Dosti Banushi
During the French Revolution, members of the National Assembly who supported the king sat to the right, while others who supported the revolution sat to the left. As described by Baron de Gauville, a then member of parliament, this split helped them and the public discern what position each part held on the country’s future.
This French Revolution’s parliament organization imposed an ideological division on the rest of history. The left and the right gained political and socio-economic meaning in the early twentieth century and stubbornly continued retaining it. History’s practices have caused the two opposing attitudes to embrace elements of the other in themselves. They constantly absorb new thoughts to not lag in an increasingly innovative world. However, although continually searching for improvement, the left and right ideologies have solid foundations on which the house that upholds their core principles is built.
The house of the right is based on the importance of the individual and individuality. This foundation builds the pillars of the rule of law, free market, privatization, meritocratic competition, and property. The roof over the head is a state of small size, which does not attack nor interfere, but only preserves and protects.
The house of the left is built on the importance of the community. It is based on the principle that a society’s well-being depends on all its citizens’ well-being. The pillars that rise above this foundation are the welfare state, the increase of the fiscal burden on the middle and upper class, the toughening of wealth heritage, the nationalization of private enterprises of public importance, and the large government-expenditure. The roof over the head is a powerful state that ensures relative equality and a democratized economy. The state of the “leftists” therefore defends by attacking. It is a state that interferes in the economy by strongly redistributing the revenues.
Objectively, both of these ideologies have undesirable consequences. At last year’s Conference of Conservatives, Chancellor Philip Hammond acknowledged that “a huge gap has opened between the expectations of right-wing policies and the reality they have created.” He went on saying: “A lot of people think the system is not working for them.” While the 83-year-old economist Gar Alperovitz summarizes some issues of the left, saying first that there is a specific limit that cannot be exceeded when it comes to society’s taxation. There is also a limit to central government spending. “Many voters are unwilling or unable to pay more taxes,” he argues. “Moreover,” Alperovitz continues, “central governments are increasingly losing their authority because they are weak, slow and arbitrary on spending on society’s needs. Governments are becoming obsolete.”
To fix some of these problems, both houses have begun to lay new foundations of thought that will provide the necessary ideological basis for safer socio-economic pillars. This process of new idea-absorption from the “two classics” is accelerating during the pandemic. This is the 21st century’s focus of discussion. A debate that our country cannot delve into. One cannot reach the second floor without constructing the ground floor first. The 20th century’s debate has not yet taken place here: Left, or right? It is a question that was lost in Albania’s transition years and a question that, unfortunately, is still not being asked.
The weight of reality attests to the absence of this principled and ideological discussion. Albania has been governed by a self-proclaimed left-wing party for seven years now. Its pledge to strengthen the welfare state and minimize socio-economic injustices was the catalyser that rose this party to power. But from the statistics, one can infer that this promise has fallen into the huge gap of impossibilities.
According to a 2018 International Labour Organization (ILO) report, Albania’s government spending on social protection (excluding health) is fixed at only 9% of Gross Domestic Product, the last country in Europe. The situation of financial inequality is also alarming. For 2019, the Deposit Insurance Agency statistics show that 3% of Albanians own a total of about 4.1 billion Euros in bank deposits, while 97% of individuals own about 3.2 billion Euros. According to consumption inequality, INSTAT statistics for 2017 show that 10% of Albanian households have a 2.5 times larger consumption budget than the other 90%. This is an indicator that ultimately describes the reality experienced by many Albanians. A two-faced reality that discriminates against the poor and the middle class.
As can be seen, the left government has not narrowed the depth of inequality in Albania or strengthened the attention to the welfare state, when compared to the norms of the region or social-democratic countries in the west. The left policies have been muddled with the right policies. They both have annihilated each other, not giving a stable perspective to Albania’s socio-economic reality. To take some recent examples, the Law on Higher Education is a right-wing policy that instils the spirit of competition for funds in a public good. Furthermore, the tax exemption policy for small businesses was accompanied by the easing of dividend tax. Simultaneously, the implementation of the progressive tax system was not accompanied by a substantial fight of informality or corruption. The Public-Private Partnership, the most egregious example, is a policy that proves the left-wing government’s need to find short-term effectiveness in right-wing policies. This necessity is the price to be paid by a state that has not yet laid the foundations on which its society’s well-being shall be built.
“Left or right” is not just a party debate, but a national one. To build an enjoyable economy, a state must first set up the backbone that will keep it upright. The extent, composition, or shape of the backbone may change as the power switches between parties, but there must be a backbone nonetheless. Will we build an economy that empowers the individual or an economy that supports the community? Will we facilitate entrepreneurship to create new jobs, or will we increase taxation to provide more public goods? Do we want to have as a problem the negative externalities produced by the right or face the limits of government spending and taxation set by left-wing policies? The vacuum created by the lack of these questions suffocates both the community and the individual.
To design a future, structure and coherence are both necessary. But they are only fostered in ideologically-devised policymaking. As Baron de Gauville put it, it isn’t easy to decide the position a nation takes on its future without first having a clear division of the left and right.
Hopefully, we will not naively wait for the years to pass. They cannot bring us the desired future if we do not commit ourselves to it. Therefore, our task is to lay today the foundations of tomorrow’s house the Albanian society will live on. Whether this will be a right-wing or left-wing house is up to the vision to decide. However, it should be understood that inequality in Albania is an invitation that calls for this task. A task that can only be accomplished after the debate: Left or right?
*Material i përgatitur nga portali SCAN. Ripublikimi mund të bëhet vetëm kundrejt citimit të autorësisë dhe burimit origjinal.