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By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
It has now been four years since the start of the global financial crisis. This was a crisis that showcased a breakdown of markets - too much leverage, too little concern about risks and too much debt. So you'd imagine that any political backlash would involve a move towards the left.
Well, that's not what happened.
Instead, we saw a shift towards the political right in much of the industrialized world. Here in America, the Tea Party was born, pulling conservatives further towards the right. Consider that in the 2008 election, Mitt Romney was considered the conservative challenger to John McCain. In this election he is the moderate, outflanked on the right by every other candidate.
This dynamic seems afoot in Europe as well. Britain's Conservatives returned to power after 13 years. Germany's Merkel and France's Sarkozy cemented their positions. Spain has a new conservative government.
What happened to the left? Why was there no great surge in left-wing populism?
My own theory is that in the crisis the state had to jump in dramatically to stop a depression, but those actions - taking over banks and car companies, guaranteeing debts and mortgages - scared the hell out of people on the right, who saw it as the beginning of a new socialism.
The left never mobilized. The Occupy movement channeled popular discontent into its protests, but it never really had a coherent program and never gained traction.
But that seems to be changing. The French elections may prove to be the beginning of a new trend. The Socialist Francois Hollande is proposing a 75% tax rate on people earning more than a million Euros. He's now been upstaged by the more fiery Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The Left Front candidate has been holding huge meetings across the country, telling seas of flag-waving followers that he would impose a 100% tax rate on all earnings above half a million dollars. And these left wing candidates are polling well.
Consider, on a more timid scale, President Obama's 2012 campaign, which is moving to the left both in style and substance as he takes the "Buffett tax" on the road.
Look at the protests in Greece and Italy, which are getting more organized. Or consider even, "The Pirate Party". This is a European political network that was founded on the basic platform that information should be shared for free. They want to legalize online file sharing and minimize copyright protections.
I reported last year how the German offshoot of the Pirates won enough votes to enter the Berlin state legislature. Critics said it was a flash in the pan.Berlin is an urban city-state with a lot of rebellious young college students. But last week it scored a second win in Saarsland, a rural, gentrified state on the French border.
The Pirates won 7.4% of the vote to enter parliament. Polls now suggest that not only will the Pirates enter two more state legislatures next month, they have also become Germany's third most supported party.
So a new left-wing group with no real platform on energy, taxes or foreign affairs is now the third most popular party in Europe's leading economy.
We might be seeing the beginnings of a left-wing response to the crisis channeling popular discontent – some of it is extreme, some wacky.
But perhaps the larger function these groups will serve is not to actually be elected to run a government, but to do what the Tea Party seems to have done: To use its voter base to pressure moderates.
If the Tea Party made the right more right, then don't be surprised if France's left and Europe's Pirates make their governments more attentive to the left.
We may be in for more ideological strife in the West.