Archive for October, 2013

The United States: The High Point Passed

Friday, October 18th, 2013

We are witnessing one of those great moments in history when the balance in the tectonic plates of state power shifts,and thereafter everyone sees the world differently. The United States, as fashioned by Abraham Lincoln and on an upward trajectory since 1865, is now indisputably in decline. This is a good thing for the world. More to the point it is an even better thing for America.

There have been several elements to the combination which has brought the juggernaut to a stop. The first was the half baked notion of Reaganomics with its fantasy vision of wealth cascading down from an ever richer elite to fund a middle class whose taxes would in turn fund whatever wild expenditure the Federal Government chose to indulge. The result is national indebtedness on a scale almost beyond comprehension.

The second was an interventionist foreign policy post cold war, which led to Iraq, Afghanistan and finally Libya, all of which campaigns offered tactical victory and strategic defeat. The third was the idiotic war on terror. The concept was incoherent akin to declaring a war on the weather. The application of the campaign fed the source of terrorism, stoking recruitment and fanning out its strongholds. Al Qaeda was at the start holed up in Afghanistan. It is now active in Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia in all its various guises. Its leader, Osama Bin Laden, was killed. It now has several with a never ending pipeline in reserve.

The fourth was the public demonstration to a world audience, that the much vaunted and evangelically proclaimed American system of democratic government is, in fact, dysfunctional and peppered with politicians who are irresponsible. This is clearly a style not to copy but to avoid. It is the inevitable outcome of trying to create at Federal level an omnipotent state, to preside over the affairs of a collection of states who believe themselves sovereign and whose founders intended they should be. The Union was designed to manage the currency and provide security from attack. It was not organised to be a big brother set to build a world hegemony.

All at once the threat to attack Syria was neutered by the desertion from the project of the Parliament of its closest ally (also its oldest enemy), which caused the American people to rebel against their masters and shout no more war; this led to the US finding itself backed into a corner by Russia on the wrong side of international law and condemned by all the world except the failing French Presidency. The nail in the coffin came with the game of chicken over the prospect of default. That was playing with the lives and livelihoods of a wider world in a shocking display of political immaturity.

China said it; the time  has come to de-Americanize the world. This would be a good thing for everyone, but best of all for America, because its future lies not in domination but in community just as its founding fathers ordained. The era of the United States is is over. In future it will more and more become the United States are. First, however, the states have to find consensus and unite. That was the whole idea of the project in the first place and why their institutions are designed the way they have been. These are institutions of an are. They do not work as an is. That is why they were made that way.

Meanwhile Britain has turned its attention to China, with a high profile visit from Boris and George and announcements of lots of Chinese investment in Britain including airports, nuclear power and water. Herein lies another hint of the shape of things to come. Where were David and William?

America Divided

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

The collapse of effective government in the United States does not mean the collapse of effective government in America. This is because most of daily life is conducted through, and supported by, the governments and institutions of individual states. The closing down of the Federal government is one thing, but the continuation of all the State governments is another. If the world’s oldest modern democracy has a problem with the concept, it is because there is too much of it.

On top of the layer of democracy which enables each State to fashion it affairs according to its traditions and preferences, there is another layer much less sensitive. When the Constitution of the United States was written it was  in the belief that it was a voluntary union of independent democratic states, forged to assure collective security and a viable currency. The federal union derived its authority from the individual states. It was not intended it would enforce its authority upon them. For this reason many checks and balances were built into the institutions at federal level which made for impasse in the absence of either consensus or a clear majority. If this makes the United States ungovernable, essentially that was the intention. The United States was not formed to govern. It was formed to protect.

Not all agreed, but sufficient ambiguities were incorporated to enable both sides to interpret their wishes as met. The test came seventy odd years later when the democratic process at federal level failed absolutely and civil war ensued.This was afterwards said to be about slavery, mostly to justify the appalling slaughter unmatched to this day. In fact it was about the limitations and powers of federal government; slavery was the catalyst, just as Obama-care is today. In 1861 America was the only civilised nation not to have abolished slavery, just as in 2013 America is the only such country not to have a system of universal healthcare.

The argument today is not about the money, any more than then it was about the slaves.  It is, just as before, an argument about who has the authority to decide what. In 1861 it led to war. In 2013 it could lead not to war, but to default. Nobody knows how bad that could be, but just like the civil war, it will be many times worse than people expect. That is why it must not happen.

To the Right: To the Left

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

The much maligned Ed Milliband has succeeded in achieving the biggest change in the dynamics of British politics since Margaret Thatcher. By shifting Labour to the left he has set the Tories free to move to the Right. The centre ground, where both parties stood through the Major, Blair and Brown years, following similar pro-market policies, is now vacated; a windswept no man’s land inhabited by a few wandering Lib Dems who have lost their way. This is the best thing to happen in British politics for a generation.

Consensus is good but only if it is about good things. Thatcher did some good things, especially instilling responsibility into the Unions, but a lot of her legacy is bad. Brown, more than Blair, defined the reign of the New Labour, outside their foreign policy and going to lots of wars. Essentially it was a Thatcher philosophy with human touches and much tinkering at the margins.  In the end the public got fed up with the political class which jointly orchestrated the biggest bust in history, supported silly wars, failed to build needed power stations so that energy security is now lost and allowed the rich to grow richer, some stinkingly so, whilst the poor got poorer to the point of food bank dependency.

Housing costs are out of control and have to be subsidised by the taxpayer, while some privatisations worked, those of the monopoly public utilities like electricity, gas and water have not and the public finances are in disarray, with the connection between what is collected in revenue and what is spent by government severed. The annual deficit, in spite of all the cuts, is set to run at over £160 billion still.

This blog will not take sides, but  Ed has signalled that his party has some questions to ask the market and some demands to make of fat cat utility corporations. This is the first reproach many of the people, who think they are worth millions annually each to do quite straightforward jobs, have ever heard and they do not like it. Meanwhile Ed has dominated the Tory conference and the media while it has been going on. Cameron’s speech today is crafted as a response to Ed. David will shift the Tories to the right because his party believes that the mythical legions of hard working people dwell there . Do they?

There is now before us the most robust,  ill tempered and longest general election campaign most have known. At the end of it that question will be answered. No longer will it be possible to dismiss the political class as all the same. This must be an improvement and it is essential requirement for building better times. Whichever side you are on.

One more thing. This time there is a joker in the pack. Nigel Farage. He could be  bad news for everybody but especially for Cameron and the Tories. His policy is simple. Blame everything on immigrants and the EU. And sod global warming, we will build power stations and keep the lights on. He could find a lot of takers.