Europe: Moving Politically Right?

  • Our politicians

There are fears that Europe is moving inextricably to the right in politics. The numbers voting for the parties of the right has grown. Nationalism and an increase in xenophobic

If only it was about food waste.

attacks have prompted scaremongering.  The parties of the left in politics are equally loud in protest and actions. The increase of extremism can be laid squarely at the door of politicians; they will not admit it but their poor management has brought us to this juncture.

America is also witnessing a political phenomenon. And this is where our story begins. The decision of the American administrations of Reagan, Bush and Clinton to deregulate the financial system led us directly to the banking crisis of 2008. The repeal of the 1933 Glass – Steagall Act which brought regulation to the banking sector after the great crash of 1929, lead the way. Suzanne McGee (p269). The crisis of 2008 still has us in the doldrums. Thank-you cowboy Ron!

In Europe the crisis was handled badly, made worse by our political leaders. Joseph Stiglitz (pxxv) Greece had been allowed to spend aided by Goldman Sachs bank until the bubble burst. The EU refused to bail Greece out and instead insisted that the country go cap in hand to the IMF. A political farce ensued, Dani Rodrik (p218). Panic engulfed the EU caused by political ineptitude particularly on the part of Germany.

Greece was forced to pass laws on cutting its health service, on trade union rights including collective bargaining and to cut the minimum wage to secure a bail out. Austerity, austerity the catchphrase of the neo-liberal economists had taken hold. Prune back, was the rallying call, in order to pay your debts. Believing in the ‘confidence fairy’, Paul Krugman (p200) e.g. make the markets believe that you are not being profligate and they will continue to invest. Mm, the very people who caused the crash!

Prune, hack, slice; wages, jobs, the welfare state. Prune, hack, slice, the debt man’s at the gate. That was the basic spin from our politicians. Somehow the economic mire we found ourselves in was the fault of the workers and the poor. A telling analysis of the absurdity of such a political logic is given by Krugman (p200)

“The trouble with the current situation, [2012] insisting on perpetuating suffering [austerity] isn’t the grown-up, mature thing to do. It’s both childish (…) and destructive”.

We can add the voice of Stiglitz (p76) to that analysis:

“The irony is that in the crisis that finance brings about, workers and small businesses bear the brunt of the costs”.

Income inequality has been rising since the 1980s. Ha-Joon Chang (p333). The trend is acknowledged by many economists. The trend was marked in the USA and UK who have followed the neo-liberal economic school of thinking — austerity. Thus over a sustained period ordinary people have witnessed a decline in their living standards and the failure of politicians to protect their well-being.

Dissatisfaction has been brewing, the kettle is not yet boiled, but. Wages depressed, jobs scarce at the lower end of the market, the economic crisis not yet resolved, forced cultural change with growing concerns over migration / immigration. A very large section of society is concerned by the onslaught of politically correct doctrine and worry about their culture and way of life. The negative response of politicians has many feeling that their voice is irrelevant.

In the midst of this cacophony the politicians in the UK gave themselves a pay rise. The gulf has just got wider!

The sustained barrage of political correct idioms to be learned coupled by the demeaning labels: racist, bigot, NIMBY, old and backward etc. etc. etc. leaves many feeling they are being brainwashed by New Stalinists. Having to mind your P’s and Q’s every time you speak, support their interpretation of events. Perception is everything!

A note of caution from Howard Gardner the eminent Harvard psychologist (p51);

“…emotion is often a more powerful factor in influencing our behaviour than logic”. He suggests that there are: “…more neural connections going from the limbic emotional centre to the intellectual cortex”.

With the establishment of Sharia courts in the UK and the seemingly endless mention of the rights of minorities tends to suggest that the needs of the majority have already been met. This does nothing to broker acceptance or respect. Frustration and anger builds!

On and on the assault comes with an absence of someone to turn too. No political outlet because all the recognised parties are seen to be in cahoots. There is tiredness with interest groups hogging the limelight and achieving their demands. Politicians have forgotten the wisdom of Edmund Burke: cited in Charles Handy (p103)

“ Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate clink, while thousands of cattle, repose beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field,…”

The real danger of the present situation is that the dissatisfaction with the establishment becomes ingrained. It could make a good Shakespearian play:         Macbeth Act 1V sc.1

“Double, double toil and trouble,

Fire, burn; and, cauldron, bubble.

No surprise that the electorate, middle-left and middle-right scour the horizon for an escape route. The far-right too has quickly recognised an avenue to explore and found many alienated folk standing on the roadside.

 Germany            –              NPD (neo-Nazi???)

France                  –              National Front

Austria                  –              Freedom Party

Netherlands       –              Dutch People’s Party

Sweden              –              Sweden Democrats

Finland                 –              Finns

The list could go on but the point is made.

Much of the anger at this time is generated by the migrant crisis and once again political ineptitude rears its ugly head. However, many of the parties of the far-right are also opposed to the EU – the mammoth without ears. Some of these hard-line groups have secured up to 30% of the popular vote and together hold an approximately 33% of the seats in the European Parliament. Amazing!

www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/05/26/

The crucial point here is that they don’t want to reform the EU. They want to kill it off.

In the UK voters floundered in various directions, some finding solace with Ukip, but the electoral system (first past the post) dented their enthusiasm; 4 million votes but no parliamentary seats. Others took revenge on the Liberal and Labour parties leaving the Tories with a strong hand.

In the USA the republican right are being trounced by Trump, whilst the democrats have found an alternative voice in Bernie Sanders. Why?

The story unfolds with a Sky news correspondent Tuesday March 1 2016. A question of why a woman was voting for Bernie Sanders brought an illuminating response: she said it was not about Bernie but the doors his campaign opened to a wider discussion of many important topics.

Here an articulate, grey hair, voice of reason is seeking an explanation for her feeling of alienation from political life. Her voice is echoed in multiplies of millions around the globe. For decades the political class has ambled on impervious to ordinary folk and disparaging of their concerns. They had been emboldened by the lack of an opposition.

Floundering in the political mire, ordinary Joe felt powerless. Their only source of power they believed was their vote, but all the recognised parties were proving to be equally crap. Along came the extremes and sat down beside them and brushed their powerlessness away.

I can hear echoes of Caliban:      The Tempest   scene 2 187 – 195

No more dams I’ll make for fish,

Nor fetch in firing

At requiring,

Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash a dish.

‘Ban, ‘Ban, Ca—Caliban

Has a new master. Get a new man!

Freedom, high day! High day, freedom! Freedom, high day, freedom!

 

It seems that the political class are akin to an oil tanker, nice and steady when crossing the Atlantic Ocean but slow and in need of a lot of space when it has to turn. It has to turn.

Are we adrift?

Not quite but we are getting there. There is a growing feeling of unfairness out there in the world. Fairness is a powerful psychological trait. It is so strong that it can dictate people’s thinking, tied, perhaps rigidly, to a person’s emotion.

There is a sense of tiredness with the grab society; the, me, me, me philosophy of some. And with the flashy, look at my wealth occultists.

Charles Handy (p198) puts it well, “…it is ultimately not tolerable for the many poor to live beside the fewer rich”. Jealousy? No, disgust! During the so called ‘Golden Age’ of the 50s, 60s, 70s, everyone seemed to share in the prosperity created. Since the 80s times have changed.

The trickle-down effect

Many of the working class accepted the ‘spin’ of government that by cutting taxes for the rich this money would be used to create more employment hence the new wealth would ‘trickle down’. A similar ‘spin’ is given to corporate tax reductions. This view was entrenched until, “…in the face of considerable evidence that it is untrue”. Fukuyama (p465) Further evidence can be found in: Chang (p451), Stiglitz (pp 8, 78), Rodrik (p165) and Krugman (p84).

Quid pro quo

The rich and our politicians appear more focussed on feathering their own nests than being responsible leaders. The concept of clientelism: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, is very much alive in the corridors of power.

In the UK members of parliament (MPs) were able to employ their wife and offspring at the expense of the tax payer. The expenses scandal of recent years is still haunting some of them. Others have been caught doing dodgy deals.

In America clientelism is all but a business whereby interest groups give generously to a politician’s campaign for election and in return gain influence in the corridors of power. Fukuyama (p87) suggests it undermines democracy because it “…strengthens existing elites and blocks democratic accountability”.

Therefore we can see why the people feel alienated from the political system. The feeling of powerlessness is not a fleeting will-o-the-wisp experience. As Ha-Joon Chang (p106) points out, austerity governments in the Netherlands, France, and Greece were voted out in 2012 followed by Italy in 2013. It made no difference; the austerity package of the EU was nonetheless imposed.

Meanwhile, in the UK the conservative government is busy cutting away at areas of the state in the name of efficiency. Slice by slice it is cutting into the National Health Service (NHS).

Perhaps politicians should take note of the wisdom of Fukuyama (p532)

“When governments cease being accountable, they invite passive noncompliance, protest, violence, and in extreme cases, revolution”.

Abuse of power

A further hard hitting policy is the raising of the retirement age in the UK. Women had their retirement age raised from 60 to 65 in line with men. Now everyone has to put in several more years before they can escape the workhouse. The ‘spin’ by the government is that as a result of people living longer the pension bill will be much higher and needs to be offset by people working for longer.

Some women will have had their work life extended by up to 10 years. How much is the government saving by that little manoeuver??

The true implication is that successive governments have sanctimoniously mismanaged the economy. For 50 years many have paid income tax and national insurance tax and god knows how many other taxes and now when retirement looms they are a burden. Shame!!

This is an abuse of power as it leaves large numbers of people feeling anxiety and guilt. It only affects the workers as the better off have the means and can decide when they want to retire. No such luxury for the less well off.

Thus we have the rise of the Tea Party in America and Donald Trump viewed as a saviour. In Europe the rise of the far-right and extreme left. In the UK we have Ukip on the centre right whilst the far-left are still sucking their dummies and waiting for the resurrection of Trotsky.

A few more words of wisdom for our shamelessly needy politicians – from the 17th century

“…government should benefit the people, not those in power”. Wang Fuzhi       www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Fuzhi

Karl Popper adds his voice: we need an open society; “…in which the political institutions can be changed by the governed”.

Do some good join Robin Hood!

 

Suzanne McGee                               Chasing Goldman Sachs

Joseph Stiglitz                    The Price of Inequality

Dani Rodrik                         The Globalization Paradox

Paul Krugman                    End This Depression Now

Howard Gardener           Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice

Ha-Joon Chang                  Economics: The User’s Guide

Charles Handy                   The Hungry Spirit

Francis Fukuyama            Political Order and Political Decay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taming the Beast (3)

The Road Ahead

Banksy

Banksy

It must start with a clear head, and a very honest appraisal of the task ahead.  Those who wish to fight for human progress must recognise that every cause cannot be fought in the first instance. As stated previously, the number of charities is an indication of the scale of the task. Therefore the starting point is the first rung.

Banksy

Banksy

To make demands which prove unrealistic is to give the opposition a propaganda boost. Ordinary people are often treated like muck but they do think and have a greater understanding than many give them credit for. They too will recognise what is achievable and what is fanciable. It will be a hard lesson for many on the ‘left’ to learn, such is their commitment to their cause.

Finding a unity of purpose and an agenda that can bridge the meandering streams of thought will prove incredibly difficult. Without a unity of purpose all causes will flounder. It can be agreed that each group can continue to support their cause but their first allegiance must be to the general good.

To this end a ten (10) point plan, should be drawn up and promoted by all. My personal agenda would include:

  • No business to be allowed to give financial support to any political party.
  • Politicians should have one job. None outside their political duties.
  • No lobbying!
  • A Clean Air Act.

I think these suggestions would be fine and resonate with the wider public under a campaign banner of greater democracy. Of course I could be wrong.

Democracy might not be everyone’s idea of a platform for achieving human progress. However, there is no alternative and democracy is more powerful than many think. There is little point in hankering after a mystic goal that will not take the people with you. Work with the people. Don’t demand they follow you!

In compiling an agenda there will be much argument. I can almost hear the furious ruckus as individuals and groups clamber over one another for a seat at the top table. The noise is over ridden by the screech of others demanding their key points be included in the plan.

‘Top table’ it creates a problem. It really needs people who are self-assured and with nothing to prove. If one has a separate agenda then the mind is out of focus.

Above the melee, a blunderbuss of laughter is heard from the 1%. They are unafraid of such a throng as this; the tartar army.thRMW0GF2G

Getting agreement may seem like an impossible task. Nonetheless, where there is intellect there is hope. The challenge is not to see the cause as a belief system but rather as a means to an end. Above all it should embrace the peoples will not that of any organisation.

The possibility exists that the compromisers will endeavour to include a plank of everyone’s policy stance. This is the weak link and will prove to be the death knell of any attempt at unity and progress.

Handy Hints

On reading Charles Handy, The Empty Raincoat I was heartened by his change in outlook. He talks about his American business school in the 1960s where in every room the blazon charge, “maximize the medium-term earnings per share”. (p135)  That was the focus that every tutor instilled in their students. Many years later his outlook was adapted to a greater understanding and purpose:

“My business school in America was wrong, I am now convinced. The principal purpose of a company is not to make profit, full stop. It is to make profit in order to do things and make things, and to do so ever better and more abundantly”. (p136)

This is not just a change of heart by Handy but a clear shift in understanding. It is recognition that the world is more than a selfish consumer or a buccaneer entrepreneur. Such a change in stance should act as precursor for the left in politics. Never examining a belief or cause is to diminish your understanding and thereby the view of the future. It holds all other views in contempt. The greater good is the one area that permits all of us to attain personal development.

The world cannot grow until men learn how to.

Blindland (4) Consumerism: The Con!

 

“When people have lost their authentic personal taste, they lose their personality and become instruments of other people’s will”. Robert GravesthY98TUIFY

While, Graves was referencing food, it nonetheless becomes a powerful political statement about consumerism in general. Consumerism is a method of control over the unsuspecting.

The Overlords want to access your brain to empty your pocket; much like a burglar and your house. They want to keep you on the treadmill and thus devise ways to harness your attention. A bit like Pavlov’s dogs, which were trained to respond to stimuli. Or Skinner’s book Walden Two, written by the psychologist where it was envisaged that the masses would be conditioned to behave appropriately. The last thing the Overlords want is for you to think!

look into my eyes

look into my eyes

It may be a bit like being hypnotized. Look into my eyes – when I click my fingers, tout de suite – you are under my control – you will now do many silly things. Advertisements induce a similar response, they make people buy, buy, buy! Meanwhile the Overlords live in the twilight world of obscene wealth and no doubt some come to believe they are paternalistic deity.

Are we being conned? A quick glance at computers may lead us to Reason. We have a desktop – we need more power – more ram, more hard- disc. Then we need even more and the latest software and the upgrade and we arrive at windows 8.1. Will we stop there? No, no, no! We need a laptop and soon go through the same procedure as with the desk top. Now we need a smart phone an all singing dancing acrobatic smart phone. We need: little kids in primary school need, old grannies in care homes need, suddenly there’s a mountain of need.

Who decided we need? Was it us? Are we in control, making personal decisions about

shop 'till you drop!

shop ’till you drop!

our desires? Another master class in ‘we need’ stems from fashion. We must have this year’s colour – decided for us 18 months in advance. Must have that dress worn by the supermodel or celebrity. How many pairs of shoes does one person need? We are also at the mercy of built in obsolescence whereby manufacturers make goods designed to falter after a period. Type in – built in obsolescence and be staggered by the multitude of examples.

Consumerism is a method of control; people get trapped in a pleasure zone. Each time they buy an item the endorphins race into their head and the buyer gets a kick just like a druggie. They are as lab-rats spinning the treadmill. Why else would companies spend £/$ billions on advertisements if they did not influence. Supermarkets are designed to make you buy more than you intended. We are being conditioned to respond.

Take note of the words of Edward Bernays from his book Propaganda 1928:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute the invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country,…We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

Bernays claim to fame came from public relations. It was he who made smoking ‘cool’ for women in the 1920s. Who made America believe that bacon & egg was a natural breakfast for the U.S. For Proctor & Gamble, he convinced millions that Ivory soap was the best. Today others have taken over his mantle to convince us that we need, need, and need. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays

In 2006 a journalist at Der Spiegel carried out an interview with the founder of a PR company Burson-Marstellar: “Bernays thought he could control public opinion. His methodology of course was fundamental. Most of the things we do today were identified by Bernays 80 years ago”. Harold Burson www.sorcewatch.org

Large companies spend £/$ billions to make their product a ‘brand’. The costs of the adverts are added to the cost of the product – therefore you are paying for the company to manipulate your buying habits. How ‘cool’ is that? The Overlords have control!

Many get so caught up in consumerism that they camp overnight to be the first to have the new iPhone; even though millions will have it within a few weeks. Likewise many must have this year’s new car, even though it loses value as soon as it leaves the showroom, and the price will drop in a few months. These are the most powerful free adverts a company can get, thanks to you.

Reason has no defence against being ‘cool’. We spend £/$ billions annually trying to be ‘cool’. Any purchase from the iPhone, coffee maker, and specific brands. Some folks will not leave the house unless they have a ‘brand’ to wear! We generate billions of tonnes of waste trying to be ‘cool’:

 

a valley of barrels

a valley of barrels

“220 billion cans, bottles, plastic cartons and paper cups are thrown away each year in the developed world”. www.verdant.net/society.htm

In the developing world the situation is disastrous. The nations are offered free trade as a panacea for all their ills but does it work for the benefit of the people? Under the arrangement the countries can have all their needs met by the multinational companies, therefore they import a lot. If the country is compliant they can manufacture some goods to be sold in the West.

Thus the nation becomes dependant on imports = balance of payments deficit = need tothCA2OLY29 borrow = debt = IMF/World Bank help = job cuts, wage cuts = poverty = cheap labour + long hours = sweat shop = virtual slave labour = dependant on charity = foreign aid = corruption = poor investment = lack of local business development = dependant on charity = vicious circle = no human rights = cheap gear for the developed world.

Where are all the trendy socialists and liberals now? Let us hear them rage against the dying of the light!

“The market, one has to conclude, is not always the best guarantee of free choice or democracy”. Charles Handy: The Hungry Spirit p123.

Consumerism may bring pleasure to the unsuspecting but it brings with it severe costs. Our environment is under constant attack. Our ability to breathe fresh air diminishes with every new car and truck. China has a potential 150 million cars on the road and the number is set to grow. www.worldwatch.org/node/810 The world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. UN Only recently(April 2014) in the UK a report by Professor Frank Kelly, Department of Health has suggested that diesel cars are responsible for smog and a lot of Nitrogen Dioxide and as many as 7000 deaths per annum.

In America transportation accounted for 30% of US energy demand. “In 2005 motor vehicles produced $56 billion in health and other non-climate dangers”. Also “Coal fired plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S.”. National Research Council Oct: 2009.

“ ..the air in our cities has pollution levels that are higher than those recommended by the World Health Organisation”. The natural and the social: uncertainty, risk, change. Steve Hinchcliffe & Kath Woodward (ed:).

The degradation of our environment; is it our fault or the result of the Overlords control over us? Can we excuse ourselves by claiming we were drugged by consumerism? Move away from the herd, follow the path to Logic and escape the Overlords control. Somewhere out there a sleeper has awoken, join them. Help make tomorrow’s world a place to breathe!

“The sobering thought is that individuals and societies are not, in the end, remembered for how they made their money, but for how they spend it”. Charles Handy: The Hungry Spirit p127.