Developed world voters: ‘Austerity is failing, the banks have too much power’

Economic optimism is rare among the advanced economies, yet rife within the emerging economies, a poll has revealed.

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Owen Tudor is head of European union and international relations at TUC.

Economic optimism is rare among the advanced economies, yet rife within the emerging economies, a poll from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has revealed.

no recoveryAnd, alarmingly, they don’t think voting will make much difference, because they think banks and large corporations have too much influence.

The poll, conducted at the end of April in 13 countries, should worry western politicians wedded to austerity and unwilling to challenge the power of the financial sector.

When asked whether their country was heading in the right direction or the wrong one, people in the UK came down on the side of pessimism by 61% to 39% (pretty much the average for the six EU countries surveyed).

When asked if they thought future generations would be better off than them, 79% said no compared to just 22% expressing optimism. (In both cases, people were pretty decisive – no one indicated that living standards would stay the same or that they didn’t know, unlike in countries like Brazil or Bulgaria.)

Britons were roughly in line in their expectations of the future with other developed economies. Although the French, polled before Hollande’s election victory, were slightly more pessimistic, and the Greeks much more so (and that was before their indecisive election). People in the US said pretty much the same as in the UK.

But the real contrast is with emerging economies like Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa. In Brazil, 45% expect future generations to be better off and only 24% think they will be worse off, with 29% thinking things won’t change.

Sixty-four per cent of Brazilians – the highest figure of the 13 countries surveyed – think their country is heading in the right direction, which is good news for the Workers Party-led government.

Fifty-nine per cent of Indonesians think the next generation will be better off, and 47% of South Africans think their country is heading in the right direction (although slowly – only 36% think the next generation will be better off.

See also:

“We must all be up to this challenge together”: A new social compact for Europe 8 June 2012

Prepare for “no austerity without growth” 6 Jun 2012

In terms of jobs, 46% of Britons think the threat of not having a job has increased over the last two years, and only 8% think it has lessened, which, again, is in line with how the French felt before they voted Sarkozy out of the Elysee.

People are more optimistic in Germany (but still more likely to think jobs are under threat than not, 21% to 14%), the USA, Canada and Japan. Again, the optimists are in emerging economies: Brazilians and Mexicans think that the threat of not having a job has, overall, reduced in the last two years – but they are the only countries of the 13 surveyed who are so optimistic.

The worry for politicians is whether their people think that voting will change things. Asked who has too much influence over economic decisions, strong minorities of Indonesians, South Africans and Mexicans thought voters had too much influence (as, remarkably, did a fifth of Greeks) yet in most countries, it was the banks/financial institutions and large corporations who were felt to have too much influence.

Four-fifths or more of voters thought the finance sector had too much influence in Belgium (80%), Brazil (83%), Britain (80%), France (84%), Germany (86%) and Greece (88%). Over 70% thought the same about large corporations in Brazil (76%), Britain (72%), Canada (76%), France (72%), Greece (81%) and the USA (76%).

For balance, I should add that in some countries, some people thought workers and their unions had too much influence – up to 46% in South Africa, and 30% in the UK – but nowhere near the figures for the banks and big business.

There is a lot more in the poll results, some of which are being held back until the G20 leaders summit begins in Mexico this weekend – where the TUC’s Brendan Barber will lead a union delegation to meet prime minister Cameron to urge policy solutions to the issues raised in the polling (part of a massive lobbying exercise of G20 leaders known as the “L20”, where L stands for Labour).

Commenting on the poll, Brendan Barber said:

This poll shows that people across the world are worried about the direction their country is going in. Two thirds of people believe that future generations will be worse than today – a telling indictment of the failure of global austerity measures.

“But this understandable pessimism needn’t become a reality. Unions are making the case for an alternative to austerity – one that invests in young people and prioritises growth over a failed economic doctrine that is failing across Europe.”


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