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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Migrant Crisis.

th5ME3YUAOThe migrant crisis is bringing anxiety to the fore in the EU, notably: Greece, Italy, Austria and Hungary, and other former eastern bloc nations. Such is the scale of the exodus and the political pressure from within these nations that something has to give. Is Europe sinking into its own mire?

An estimated one million have left their homelands and are making their way to Europe. It is a terrifying number made worse by the prospect that several thousand more will join this meandering river of hope.

The economics of the numbers is but one problem that has an immediate impact. However, the long-term costs both economic and social may have a greater effect. Housing, schooling and health which must include sewage, need considerable planning. The infrastructure, especially the road network may need substantial updating. More cars/lorries = more headaches =more pollution.

Pollution with the build-up of diesel fumes. See, Diesel Vehicles: Killer in our Midst. An approximate 9,000 deaths in London are directly associated with pollution. Sadiq KhanthE0TWUDA5 Moreover, frustration is mounting in Southern Britain with the number of hold ups, crashes etc. on the main routes.

The assimilation into the community and workforce and the scale of jobs required to compliment the number of migrants will generate a huge social/economic cost. It is already known that it has a consequential effect on wages, on welfare, and on the level and make up of those on the dole.

Youth unemployment is alarming high in Spain, Greece, Italy and more generally.  Such unemployment cannot be ignored as it could stimulate radical consequences down the line. Politicians need to remember above all else that every action has a reaction.

A Syrian migrant family enters Hungary at the border with Serbia near Roszke, Hungary August 28, 2015. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

A Syrian migrant family enters Hungary at the border with Serbia near Roszke, Hungary August 28, 2015. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Inviting the migrants is a very human reaction and it is good to see that we have not lost our humanity. However, many more anxious souls are watching, worried by the influx for a myriad of reasons. Opposition parties will be cheering with each gulp of beer; they know there will be trouble ahead. Their argument will find a receptive ear in pubs and the workplace.

Germany has opened its borders and has called upon the rest of Europe to follow suit. It is suggested that Germany will take 800,000 this year alone, perhaps up to 1million and 500,000 next year. Germany already has a Muslim population of some four (4) million. www.my.telegraph.co.uk         The scale of such figures has two direct consequences:

  • They cause grave misgivings among large sections of the indigenous population.
  • They stimulate more movement. News of a welcome will spread as quick as mouths can chatter and phones can ping.

The media have put the crisis front and centre in an avalanche of coverage which has brought an emotional screech of humanity, humanity! However, there are a host of other issues, inhumane, happening now, but it’s not in the peoples’ face and so there is silence.

A silence more deafening, more barbaric because it suffers from an old cliché – out of sight out of mind, and so child abuse , slavery, trafficking continue. As those who screech humanity wander back into the microcosm that is their life; chuffed with their emotional outburst, suffering grows.

Germany, France the UK have a large immigrant population and they are not a happy bunch. They have tended to congregate in particular areas and towns. Integration has not worked. Adding to the dilemma will not ease but rather exacerbate the situation.

Furthermore, the tension in Europe is growing. Juncker’s notion of compulsory quotas has not gone down well: Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Rumania are not keen. Britain, Ireland and Denmark have an opt out clause. The Schengen agreement is in tatters. The idea that France, Germany and Spain should take 60% of migrants from Italy, Greece and Hungary will meet opposition as the numbers increase. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34193568

Opinion polls in several countries point to great hesitation on the part of the indigenous population. The second largest political party in Finland have grave reservations. Bbc.co.uk

  • France: a poll found 55% didn’t want more migrants.
  • Germany: dozens of attacks on migrant centres.
  • Switzerland: a poll found 45% want their borders closed.
  • Denmark: has closed railway links to Germany.
  • Some towns and cities in Italy have refused to house migrants. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_migrant_crisis

www.cnbc.com/2015/09/08/how-europeans-have-reacted-tomigrant-crisis.htlm

The EU had 626,000 asylum applications in 2014; it will be well over one million this year. The question of numbers will start to dominate thinking. En.wikipedia.org

Turkey is reputed to hold 1.9 million migrants. However, around 3,000 are sailing to Lesbos in Greece daily. How many will come? After-all the welcome mat has been dusted and placed at Europe’s doorstep.

  1. None of the richest Gulf States have taken any, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain. Why not? www.npr.org/2015/09/08
th37W5KMYL

The precedent has been set, wherever there is conflict people are free to come to Europe. If you open it, they will come. People will come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’s Here!

 

thCAAXS9NGShush! Don’t make a sound. Don’t stand up! He’ll put you down. Big Brother has arrived. His arrival is much later than envisaged by 1984 author George Orwell, neither did Orwell anticipate that the controlling hand would stem from a democratic rather than a totalitarian regime. Few could have foreseen the rise of the troika, renamed ‘The Institution’.

Poor Greece it doesn’t stand a chance against the might of the EU and its enforcers, the troika, the faceless: the European Commission (E Comm) the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) all unelected. It is their way or the highway.

This is your Europe where democracy does not matter, where decisions will be made for you. The democratically elected government of Greece tried to uphold the principles by which it was elected but has been brow beaten by ‘The Institution’. Greece wanted to opt out of the austerity economic plan followed by the rest of Europe. The new government wanted to reverse the savage cuts imposed on its workers by ‘The Institution’.

As far as the faceless are concerned there is no alternative to their adopted policy. They are wrong, very wrong. I can point them to two Nobel Prize winning economists, a Harvard university economist and a Cambridge university economist who all advocate a positive alternative to the austerity / neoliberal model now in force.

    • J.E. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality
  • Paul Krugman, End This Depression Now!
  • Dani Rodrik, The Globalization Paradox
  • Ha-Joon Chang, Economics: The User’s Guide

 

Greece did not cause this mess, though the propaganda would have you believe otherwise. What Krugman p177 calls the Big Delusion when he points out that Ireland and Spain both had budget surpluses and low debt prior to the banking crisis of 2008 but ended in the same bog as Greece. So it was not that Greece spent more than it could afford. Krugman p179 goes on to suggest that the political, financial and banking leaders are deeply committed to their version of events. Others may define their logic as ‘groupthink’.

A large part of the blame rests with the introduction of the € euro currency but they will never admit their complicity in creating a mess. At the time of the discussion to adopt the euro many pointed out that while America had a good model, “Europe fell far short of that model”. Krugman p173   Stiglitz p30 is equally scathing in stating that there was no “…political or institutional arrangements to make it work, and they will pay a high price for that failure”. I think we can all agree they are.

Moreover, it’s not just Greece that’s in trouble: Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus and Italy are trapped in the same bog. These nations have opted to wield the axe and cut the life blood of so many families by cutting jobs by the thousand, cutting welfare, lowering wages and refusing to increase the minimum wage and allowing privatisation which entails job cuts.

Ha-Joon Chang p105 therefore concludes, “With the austerity budget, the prospect for economic recovery in many of these countries is dim”. That they might even face a ‘lost decade’ as Japan suffered in the1990s and Latin America 1980s. The point is supported by Krugman p186, “…deficit countries have been required to impose…draconian…spending cuts and tax hikes—programs that push them into deeper slumps…” Krugman p42 suggests that the ‘Institution’ should look at the work of past economists e.g. John Maynard Keynes, Irving Fisher and Hyman Minsky to find an alternative to the neoliberal austerity package.

Why Austerity?

The IMF, the World Bank and the Federal Bank of the USA are commonly referred to as the Washington Consensus as these are the guys pushing the neoliberal model, free trade and globalization. Rodrik p171 opines that it is a “damaged brand” and has abundant evidence to support his statement.

The role of the IMF is quite confusing:

  • In the years 1978 – 2009 the IMF found 173 cases of fiscal austerity in advanced countries, “And what they found was that austerity policies were followed by economic contraction and higher unemployment”. Krugman p237
  • In February 2010 the IMF document Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy, suggested that central banks such as the ECB in Europe “might be better to aim for 4% inflation rather than the 2% or less that has become the norm for ‘sound’ policy”. A policy of ‘groupthink’. P161
  • In 2011 a study by the IMF found that inequality in income affects the economy on the demand side and suggests that ‘reduced inequality’, the reverse of austerity, can lead to sustained growth. Stiglitz p114

The conclusion drawn by Stiglitz p288 is that, “The worst myths are that austerity will bring recovery and that more government spending will not”. Support comes from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) “…income inequality has a sizeable and statistically negative impact on growth”. Guardian 14/12/09

Nonetheless we find the IMF as part of the ‘Institution’ that is promoting austerity in Europe. Who are the faceless that they can disrupt the lives of millions and simply walk thILH29564away with their own pockets filled? Stiglitz p290 condemns them as akin to blood letters of the Middle Ages who cut to release bad blood and when the patient didn’t recover argue that more of the same was needed. They are fixed in their opinion. Groupthink!

 

“Groupthink is one of the most dangerous traps in our decision-making. It’s particularly likely because it taps into our deep social identification mechanisms – everyone likes to feel part of a group – and our avoidance of social challenges. But consensus without conflict almost always means that other viewpoints are being ignored, and the consequences of groupthink can be disastrous”. (p137)

Dr Nicky Hayes, Understand Psychology

A telling point by the author comes with the observation, perhaps tongue in cheek,     “…our understanding of what it is and how it happens doesn’t seem to stop politicians and others from doing it”.

The Greek people were not alone in rejecting austerity the Netherlands and France voted out pro-austerity parties in 2012. A year later the Italians did the same. Chang (p106) It will be interesting as other elections come up how the people will respond but will it make a difference. The ‘Institution’ has set its parameters and seems unlikely to budge. Can people power move them? Or are we powerless against the ‘bureaucratic order’. He’s Here. Are we witnessing the start of the overt rule by the faceless? Democracy, write it in your diaries for your grandchildren to read.

Do some good—————–join Robin Hood.