A failure of the global political elite

“Who’s driving this flying umbrella?”

I think I stole that one from the cartoon version of Robin Hood.

One of the things that has struck me repeatedly about the (extended) global economic crisis – which has been going on for the past three years now, is just how small today’s global political figures seem against the problems that the world faces.

One of the things I never quite understood about the Euro in the years between 1999 (when the original currencies had their exchange rates fixed) to 2002 (when the Euro currency came into being) was why there was no speculative attack against the Euro at the time. The response of my economics professors was that the politicians of the day were absolutely rock solid that they were going to make the Euro work.

Fast forward ten years to where we are today and we see political disunity across the EU on how to deal with this stupendously massive crisis that is also seeing some seismic changes in geo-political power and influence. How did they get to here and why?

Back in February 2011, Paul Mason penned a blogpost Why it’s kicking off everywhere – followed recently by his post on the Greece crisis.

“Above all, Europe needs to find a leadership group and a joint narrative; otherwise the centrifugal pressures will pull the whole project apart.

The problem: every one of these measures flies in the face of where the European electorates and peoples stand right now. And because nobody is offering to inflict significant losses on the banks, or taxation on the rich, or credit easing for the poor, there is nothing out of which to construct a narrative.”

That’s what we don’t have: A leadership group and a joint narrative. Perhaps never can have simply because of the significantly different political traditions and colours of national governments.

Bear in mind that all of this is being played out at a time of global climate change and the seemingly eternal global conflicts reflected in global arms spending rising in 2010 despite the global recession.

I am struggling to work out just how the world can get itself out of the situation it and we find ourselves in. I can’t help but feel that the standard policies that have been used have failed – and perhaps always were. The sense of injustice over ease at which those that got us into the crisis are not being held accountable is also striking – did we really get into the situation we are in by people acting completely legally? If not, why have there been no prosecutions? Why does Fred Goodwin still have his knighthood?

There is then the issue of the alternatives. The Financial Transactions Tax is one that has been gaining ground from a growing number of well-known names – as well as opposition from its detractors. At least these and other ideas are being discussed beyond the ‘usual suspects’. Business as usual for me can no longer be an option. But what does ‘business not as usual’ look like?

It’s how these things are playing out locally that are just as important as how they are playing out locally. The heartbreaking accounts of people who have taken on huge levels of debt to go to university only to find themselves in a jobs market where there are so few to go around, to the housing crises that have now come to the fore but as far as I am concerned never went away during the so-called ‘boom’ times. Rises in public transport fares are not making things any better for those who are in employment, ditto with rising food and fuel prices.

I don’t know whether it’s something to do with our conditioning – my conditioning even, in that I find the fact that no one seems to be in control of what’s going on being quite frightening. I go into further detail on this in my post Is middle class no longer magical? where I look at the desire of middle class types for stability and the quiet life. This extended economic crisis has ripped up the stability for a lot of people – myself included.

Finally, the one thing that has been a feature of the past few weeks – days even, is the sheer speed of these huge events. I’m still trying to get my head around what has happened, and I guess there are more than a few people on the inside of what’s going on trying to do the same thing.

7 thoughts on “A failure of the global political elite

  1. This is an immensely significant article, one we will circulate to all our
    contacts.

    Your output via twitter and blogs is so profuse that I doubt you have much
    time to read, but if so…

    Towards the end of this book ‘The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis of
    Capitalism’, David Harvey says:

    “The problem of endless compound growth through endless capital accumulation
    will have to be confronted and overcome. This is the political necessity of
    our times.”

    He also says:

    “Universities continue to promote the same useless courses on neoclassical
    economics or rational choice political theory as if nothing has happened and
    the vaunted business schools simply add a course or two on business ethics
    or how to make money out of other people’s bankruptcies. After all, the
    crisis arose out of human greed and nothing can be done about that.

    The great betrayal of the intellectuals who became so complicitous with
    neoliberal politics from the 1980’s onwards has first to be reversed before
    any meaningful alliances can be constructed with the deprived and the
    dispossessed.”

    In his book ‘Economyths’ David Orrell says:

    “The main obstacle to a rebalancing of the economic system is main-stream
    economic theory – the stuff they teach in universities. It is an entire view
    of the world, and pattern of thought, that reduces complexity to simple
    laws, and human motivations to cold calculations. The subprime crisis, which
    was based on highly complex instruments.that could only be assessed by
    relying on abstract mathematical tools, was a perfect example of this. The
    same emphasis on abstract theory over empirical reality is a major driver of
    everything from social inequality to the environment crisis.

    Anyone who takes an introductory economic course is taught that the
    individualistic pursuit of pleasure will, by a roundabout process involving
    the invisible hand, free markets and so on, somehow make life better for all
    humanity. Since these students go on to become leaders in business or
    government, where they perpetuate the same self-legitimising fiction, it is
    no surprise that we live in an individualistic, materialistic culture,
    dominated by market norms.”

    A brief synopsis if both books, and others, can be found in this online
    discussion on
    http://bit.ly/noyTMo

    Keep up the good work, you are an inspiration

    Joe Taylor – http://www.nationalcan.ning.com

  2. One of the things that strikes me is that this crisis is worst in countries that have a relaxed attitude to paying tax, it would be quite interesting to discover the level of tax avoidance in Greece, Spain and Italy. I bet if stronger measures were taken, backed up by penalising the legal firms, employing the delaying tactics used, the situation wouldn’t be half so bad. Name and shame the firms involved, let the public decide. Perhaps it’s unwelcome by governments because it targets the top 1%, the poor lambs. You would think out of a sense of shame everyone would be chipping in.
    Ponderoso

  3. The crisis demonstrates most lucidly that politicians are operating behind a shield of moral hazard. They know that the decisions they take are shielded from risk that the demos will backlash. Can you imagine a situation where New Democracy, the former governing party of Greece who hid the debt, still feel that they could win a snap election! Its the extreme end of the stick, but its the same stick that is being used by politicians all over Europe.

    It is for the perverse logic of economic reason that politicians choose the security of markets over the security of the people they represent. As you say, there is no alternative narrative. Or is there?

    I think the alternative narrative is there, somewhere buried under the fear, mis-trust and rancour. I see it across my own media perspective and I’m trying to find threads to connect a cogent story about what has happened, what it means for us, what are present dangers, what does our future hold. Its easy to just tell my story. You Puffles are doing your story. I’ve seen others doing theirs. How do we start to make these voices heard together? How do we make sense of out this so that we can give the future meaning?

    At one point I had hoped that Social Media would allow us to leverage the power of the social graph, and I’m still optimistic that can be achieved. Yet where I once thought it would emerge spontaneously from network of interactions I now feel we must mobilise a maieutic-ish approach to bring our individual narratives about the effect of our elites nonchalance and to start the discourse about future options and organising principles so that together we can weave a bigger picture, an image that we can share and has the power to provoke.

    How do we that? How do we build a better future? How do leaver the promise of social media to that? What is the collective intelligence response to resolving the crisis?

  4. Could the Private Pensions surplus in the UK be used as a tool to stabilize the Euro at the moment, because let’s be honest no interest is going to be forthcoming from stock trading in this unhealthy climate.

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