Democracy requires political and administrative systems to have the capacity to make an impact on what its citizens judge to be unacceptable conditions. But it’s not only governments, corporate power and the media which are failing us – propelling us faster toward the precipice. We are actually failing ourselves. Our collective will to act as local, national and international citizens has weakened enormously over the past decade – despite our being presented in the financial crises of the past few years with the most powerful evidence for systemic change. In 1999 we had the Seattle anti-globalisation demonstrations and annual conferences. But, after the Genoa Conference of 2001, the movement disintegrated. Why? For, as the various financial scandals (eg Enron) of the 2000s culminated in the global meltdown of 2008, it seemed that the scales dropped at last from everyone’s eyes. The neo-liberal Emperor had been exposed in all his nakedness. So surely we now had the shared political understanding and will to return to the State some at least of the functions which had been stripped from it by those under the influence of dogma.
Indeed for a moment there seemed the possibility of developing greater legitimacy for alternative social visions more consistent with basic principles of democracy and collective dialogue and action. Not only did this not happen - but the high ground, amazingly, was quickly recaptured by corporate warriors who saw the State rescue of the banking system as an opportunity to “reframe” the agenda for their benefit. State debts had increased and had therefore, went their argument, to be reduced – but through the dismemberment of the last vestiges of the civilising aspects of state activities. Colin Crouch is one of the few who has recently identified and analysed the perversity of this stunning development (in his brilliantly titled book The Strange Non-death of Neoliberalism (Polity 2011) – pointing out, for example, the confusion large corporations have successfully sown in the public mind as they use the language of “the market” to defend their anti-competitive (let alone anti-social) practices. Richard Douthwaite put it very pithily in his 2003 Short Circuit The system that has emerged suits nobody: in the long run, there are no winners. Even at the highest levels of society, the quality of life is declining. The threat of mergers leaves even senior managers in permanent fear of losing their jobs. As for the burgeoning list of billionaires, try though they might to fence themselves off from the collapsing social order, they cannot hide from the collapsing biosphere. Neither social democratic nor green opposition parties offer, however, any convincing agendas for change. Such agendas are available (A draft paper Working for Posterity on my website identifies many of them) but need to be proselytised by those who recognise that the issue is not the simplistic one of greater State power but rather the need for a proper balance of power between corporations, state structures and people-driven political processes. “It was not capitalism which triumphed when the Berlin wall fell – it was balance” was the opening sentence of a powerful but neglected 2000 article by management guru Henry Mintzberg which set the European model of the “mixed economy” - of the “strong private sector, strong public sector and strength in the sectors between” - against the lack of balance and of “countervailing power” in the so-called communist societies. “The current push to privatise everything will”, he warned then, “lead to the same disease as communist societies”. It is the apparent powerlessness in the face of disaster which is the most frightening of current trends.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
The Dog that didn't bark
I delivered this morning my contribution to the special issue which the Revista 22 journal is running next week to mark the 10th anniversary of 09/11. I changed the title to "The Dog that didn't bark" (the title of a Sherlock Holmes episode)to refer to the strange inability of all those active in the anti-globalisation movement 10 years ago (so well described in Paul Kingsnorth’s One No, Many Yeses (Free Press 2003) to use the global financial crisis to present an alternative vision - let alone mobilise people for change. Previous posts carried the initial text for the article - it now continues -