By James Saft
(Reuters) – Received wisdom on Europe’s electoral results is that the throw-the-bums-out events in France and Greece represent a vote against austerity.
Here’s another possibility: it is an anti-reality vote.
That’s not to say that policies of austerity are helpful; they are not, especially when they are, as in the euro zone, taken as a futile means to support unsustainable debts in the financial system.
Rather, the elections illustrate a truth which will vex whatever policies are enacted next in all of the economies which are struggling with high amounts of total debt, be it corporate, banking, government or household. No one, no electorate, reacts well to the policies put in place during times when living standards are grinding slowly lower. Voters, just like investors, endow the things they can control, like who is in office and what they are doing, with far more power and ability to turn the course of events than they probably possess.
France voted in Socialist Francois Hollande over the weekend, opting for his ‘pro-growth’ stance over Nicolas Sarkozy. In Greece all of the parties which supported the current bailout, which features a program of deep austerity for Greece, were soundly thrashed, and the electorate made its will known by voting in such a way as to make any kind of coalition difficult to form and even harder to sustain.
The latest U.S. polls provide further evidence of the difficulty of governing in tough times; no sooner do the Republicans stop making a spectacle of themselves in primaries and the polls for the presidential election tighten to a dead heat. While President Obama is not advocating the kind of austerity now getting the thumbs down in Europe, he is presiding over an economy which is, as economies do when they carry too much debt, failing to thrive and to create jobs.