THE GRAVEST DEVELOPMENT OF OUR TIME
Peter Kellow writes
The financial crisis that broke in 2008 is far from over. It is moving through different phases with different policy initiatives - all of them (printing dollars, European bailouts) involving state-sized sums of money.
This much is reported in the general media. What is not pointed out is the way in which governments are changing the narrative about what is happening. The ruling coalition in the Kingdom is well on top of this game and a cowed, dim-witted British media is fully on board with them, feeding us with a barely digested Cameron/City-of-London take on the continuing crisis.
However, alternative views by different people are coming to the fore - usually on the internet. Some are not trained economists. None have Nobel Prizes for economics and their dissenting views mean they are never likely to. They work independently of orthodox media and nearly all, as it happens, are women (Ann Pettifor and Noreena Hertz in the Kingdom and Ellen Brown, Janet Tavakoli, Nomi Prins and Naomi Klein in the USA). An exception to the all-female rule is David Malone who has just written a remarkable piece on the way the Conservative-lead coalition, together with a compliant opposition and media, is manufacturing the dominant narrative on the crisis.
“The official narrative today is that the plan of recovery is working. The narrative focuses on the rise of the stock markets to almost pre-crash heights. The failure of housing or commercial property markets to recover and the fact that unemployment is hideously high is simply no longer part of the recovery narrative. These things have been dropped. What has been added has been the 'shocking' level of public, national debt. …. The new story is that the debts we have now are nothing to do with the banks and their temporary difficulties. They are due to a deeper incontinence in public spending.
“The dissident narrative I advance says … The measures taken to 'deal' with the 'crisis' have in fact created ... a new and very much more reliable, system for ensuring that the super rich stay that way. The new system horrifies me because it has put finance above democracy, markets over governments, and …it sets up an untouchable aristocracy within the [financial] markets who are not allowed to lose and who can therefore take what they want, when they want, from whomever they want and the law will not touch them.” [PK emphasis]
Perhaps the most chilling phrase here is “finance over democracy”. Do we really now live in a society where the banks and the City of London have more power than the elected government? When we go to the polls to vote, are we in reality taking part in a political farce whereby we elect people into so called positions of power who are then controlled by a whole set of other people? - a whole set of other people who were not elected, whose primary purpose is the accumulation of wealth, who are globally positioned with no allegiance to this or any country and who have just brought the western economies to their knees by their unbridled pursuit of power through the creation of a wall of Ponzi money which came crashing down.
Dissident Narratives. From top left clockwise. Klein, Prins, Tavakoli, Brown, Hertz, Pettifor
One of the lessons that thinkers belonging to the Civil Republican canon, (thinkers such as Aristotle, Cicero, Nicolo Machiavelli, James Harrington, and James Madison) have always emphasized is that power in society does not belong exclusively to government. This statement is not a criticism. It is not saying that things should not be this way, for, if the government has all the power, that is simply a dictatorship.
Civic Republicans aim to understand the way different forces act in a society, to accept that they are there, and must be there, and then to seek to construct a society in which none of these forces becomes too powerful. Their power can thereby be harnessed for the good. Virtue and justice for all will prevail. The idea of a humanist society in which virtue and justice are paramount may sound idealistic to some but these are problems created by humans and so they can be solved by humans. This is a task this Republican Party should be addressing.
Listening to current political debate in the Kingdom reveals a big underlying assumption about the way power operates in society. People talk as if power works according to the following simple formula. It originates in the people, who for these purposes are the electorate. The people elect the government and the government can control and fashion the country and all within it - individual, businesses and organizations - as it wishes . Thus, via the democratic process, the people run the country. Or so we are told.
This is the received political scenario, but also most people are strongly aware that there are other constituencies that operate in society that have no democratic mandate but that nevertheless have considerable power. It has been a long running theme of the major parties, Conservative and new Labour, that there exist certain independent constituencies of power and the ones they choose to highlight are those that do most to upset their ideological view of the world. In the past the great bogey was trade union power and during the Thatcher years they attempted to attack and diminish that power.
Thatcher also began the attack on another perceived enemy – that of professional power which she identified with “vested interests”. In this she sought to reduce the status of the professions of law, medicine, architecture, education and public media (notably the BBC), with differing degrees of success. This attack on what is often referred to as the “Civil Society” or the “meritocracy” continued unabated under Blair and Brown and today shows no let up. The attack always takes the same form which is to replace “merit” as a qualification for doing a job with some kind of quasi-competitive arrangement. This is what we have seen in the NHS, the BBC, schools and so on.
There is a further constituency that the NeoLiberal Conservative/Labour consensus has identified as an adversary that they wish to hold in check – the civil service. The civil service of the Kingdom in the nineteenth century was recognized as one of the finest in the world and it still retained a good reputation for the first part of the last century. But it is not now what it used to be. It was Margaret Thatcher, as ever, who began the process of downgrading its status. To take just one example, she undermined the role of the Permanent Secretary preferring the counsel of kitchen cabinets and spin doctors.
Blair and Brown continued this process with gusto. For instance, one of the first acts of the incoming Labour government in 1997 was a wholesale reorganization of the Treasury resulting in the loss of years of experience and talent. This facilitated the imposition of Brownonomics and of course we know where that was to lead us.
We need, at this point, to stress the way in which this agenda of undermining the civil society and undermining the civil service is always justified by its proponents. The attack is presented as a promotion of “more democracy”. The loss of power and status of these other constituencies means more power for the government and under the simplistic idea that that government represents the people,and only the people, it means that power is returned to the people and “democracy”, and away from “vested interests”. This is the narrative that the post-Thatcherite consensus would have us accept.
This scenario can be understood seen as having as its players various different "-ocracies”. On the one hand we have the unelected constituencies of power in the meritocracy (civil society) and the bureaucracy (civil service) and the elected power of the democracy.
The problem is (and here we return to the theme at the beginning of this piece) there is another “-ocracy” that is now a far, far bigger player than any of the other three. It is one that wags the tail of the elected “democracy” and watches on with approval as the democratic leaders do its dirty work in clearing away the thorn in its side represented by the professionals in the civil society and civil service. The other “–ocracy” is as remote from most human life as its namesake planet and as indifferent to its concerns. It is the “plutocracy” of Big Finance, banks, hedge funds and the superrich.
The way in which the plutocracy has grown from strength to strength is the big socio-economic story of the last decade but its seeds were planted back in the early 1980s when the neoliberal philosophy was adopted on both sides of the Atlantic. Neoliberals claim to be for free markets and free enterprise but in reality they are the enemy of both. The liberalism they embrace is above all a liberation for the banks and the big financial players whereby regulation was begun to be dismantled and controls on international movements lifted. In the 1990s the stakes were upped enormously as the new instruments of finance such as derivatives and swaps were sanctioned by the regulatory authorities (to the surprise of the banks) as legitimate instruments for banks to use to further their ends.
The aim of all these innovations was a single one – the issuance of vast amounts of money into the international monetary system. As independent analyst, Dominic Frisby, recently pointed out, it is those closest to the issuance of money who profit from it and so the new global plutocracy of those close to finance came to the fore. It is to state the obvious that you cannot own mega amounts of money and assets unless that money exists in the first place. The creation of immense cliffs of money is what the Neoliberal politics has resulted in and with it a new global class of superrich and the banks that they effectively control.
It is into this new situation that the old constituencies of power: democracy, the civil society and the civil service, find themselves thrown. The leverage that the last two have on the situation is limited to say the least. Democracy, in the form of our democratically elected representatives, certainly has the power to reverse the runaway accumulation of power by the new plutocracy but they do nothing. In fact they encourage its development and support it. When the coalition says we have to have austerity to enable us to borrow on the bond market this is what they are doing. The clear subtext of this argument is: the wealth of ordinary men and women and of productive businesses is going to be bled dry to protect the wealth of big finance. The Labour opposition runs exactly the same line except they want the same austerity, but less quickly. Their allegiances are identical.
We should not fail to see the way this strategy of bailing out and enhancing the superrich is also an abrogation of the interests of our nation. The nation is made up of individuals and businesses that mainly do not belong to the superrich. The superrich belong everywhere and nowhere. We help them maintain their rootlessness by accommodating them with tax havens to ensure their profits do return to us to help the working nation. David Cameron speaks the vapid language of the Big Society, but the nation is not a concept he ever refers to. Why would he when the whole direction of policy is to serve the offshore, stateless superrich of the global plutocracy? The Conservatives and their friends and allies, the Liberal Democrats, have moved to a new phase of gross betrayal of the people of the nation.
As I have already said, civil republicanism is about harnessing the forces within society for the good. Accordingly this should never be about abolishing private banking which, in spite of everything, has an important role to play. The constituencies of power that I have talked about, the civil society, the civil service, the democratic system and, yes, even the financial services are ultimately made up of citizens.
What we have now is an enfeebled civil society and enfeebled civil service and a democratic system corrupted by its closeness with finance and the City of London. It is this compact between democracy and plutocracy that is at the heart of our problems. The meritocracy and the bureaucracy which in the natural way of things protect us against the malfunctioning and excesses of the other power constituencies are not doing their job. They cannot because their power has been attacked by democratic leaders who are then letting the power of money and capital dominate everything.
This is not a plea on behalf only of citizens. It is also a plea in favour of real productive businesses for these are asked to survive in the harsh economic climate that our politicians have allowed to develop. During the last thirty years hundreds and thousands of businesses, big and small, have been allowed to go bust not because they were not viable in the normal sense but because of the tax put on them by the prevailing economic environment. Let us be absolutely clear about this. The current Conservative Party, contrary to what it would say, has anti-free enterprise, anti-free market instincts. It cannot have anything else when all its priority is given to maintaining and protecting the unproductive offshore banking sector.
Only civic republicanism offers a viable understanding of how a free society and a free enterprise economy works. Only civic republicanism offers a way out that is not based on extremism but on balance and common sense. Balance and common sense are as remote from current policy making as that far distant planet. The one that is invisible to the naked eye and where nothing lives.
Republicans Need To Use Traditions To Their Advantage
Richard Middleton Writes
One thing has become much clearer to me, in recent times. People are not, in the main, rational beings. Therefore, as well as delivering the outcomes that people need, systems of government have to appeal to their imagination/ emotions.
Nationalism of some kind is, unfortunately, a necessity for any nation-state. However, if it's an outward-looking, inclusive, territorial nationalism, it can be a good thing. Regional identities could also be an important safety valve. What we definitely don't want is xenophobic, racist, pseudo-ethnic, pseudo-religious English nationalism, a force defined mainly by what it isn't and by what it hates. English nationalism is one of the main forces, breaking up Britain and driving us away from co-operation with other countries; something, which could be of enormous benefit to us.
The irony is that irrational and dangerous forces like English nationalism could damage England so much that the country will be forced into an undemocratic European super state. Then the sacrifices of forty generations will have been for nothing. Our own country has big enough democratic and civil-liberties deficits. Liberal British nationalism could be a benign force, both at home and abroad.
One only has to look at the Elysee, Versailles, the Louvre, the Republican Guard, the Cuirassiers [French Horse Guards] etc to realise that many of the arguments, which British monarchists put forward about tourism, national pride and so on are false. Wouldn't the New Model Army, with helmets, pikes and horses, be a much bigger tourist attraction than some four-times-amalgamated regiment, of which no one has ever heard, which is kitted out like charity-shop versions of Adam Ant or Captain Scarlet?
The trouble is that many symbols have become deeply embedded totems in English nationalism's cultural wars against Europe
I think that republicans need to use traditions to their advantage. It will be like controlled burning in a forest, to create firebreaks. Luckily, the traditions imported, imposed or manufactured since the Conquest, are not the only ones we have and there is a growing awareness of others.
Recommended article of the week
Finance Above Democracy - The New System
This is the complete text of David Malone's piece referred to above
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