thus Adam Smith in 1776
The catalyst for this post was today’s news that a Greek editor has been arrested (in mid-broadcast) for daring to publish an official list of tax evaders which the Head of the IMF (no less!) had given a year ago to a previous Greek Minister of Finance and which seemed to have disappeared - although it has led to some suicides. Here's the guy's story in his own words.
I had first come across this story of the Lagardes memory stick earlier this month in the Diary of Deception and Distortion blog whose admirable mission statement I wrote about a few weeks back and which I continue to read with a variety of emotions. At one level I admire the guy’s insights and confidence – but, at another, I have trouble with the degree of conspiracy his various stories imply.
The internet is full of conspiracy theories relating to such things as 9/11, the Kennedy assassination, World Government, the Bilderberg Group etc
But I’ve never been a great conspiracy theorist – more a naïve, cock-up man! Not that I don’t agree the world is full of scheming characters - more so in the last few decades under the malign influence of the neo-liberalist pandemic of selfishness let loose by Margaret Thatcher, The World Bank etc.
And neo-liberalism, I need to make clear, has never been a conspiracy – rather an open, full-fledged (and so far successful) war!
Conspiracies are secret and face two major obstacles – first the lack of malleability of social and economic forces. Or, as Robert Burns put it much more eloquently in his great 1785 poem To a Mouse,
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
The mess which governments often make of things (and the counter-productivity of much ambitious policymaking) is, of course, one of the central arguments which neo-liberals have used in their (so far) highly successful drive to strip the state of powers and to hand its functions over to private interests. In passing we should note that their theory, of course, does not allow that private organisations (particularly the huge and unwieldy companies which dominate the markets) might also share these same features of “goal displacement”, inefficiencies etc. Nor does it recognise the additional costs for the public services now being taken over of (a) the huge “transaction costs” in parcelling rail, health and educational services into the manageable pieces required for contracting; (b) the additional managerial costs and profits the new private companies need; (c) the costs of the regulatory framework which has to be put in place to ensure various standards are met; and (d) the continued financial underwriting by the taxpayer when things (as they generally do and have!!) go wrong.
My apologies for this (rare) rant – but I am just so angry about how an intellectually fatuous and vacuous argument about government inefficiency has held sway for so long. The reality is that all human organisation is complex and difficult – regardless of whether it is private or public. Public perceptions are different largely because private enterprise has been able to buy itself a good press – both directly and indirectly (funding of a variety of intellectual activities)
I said there were two limits on the conspiratorial scheming of elites. The second, I would suggest, is simple lack of trust – honour amongst thieves. People are more cooperative than ever imagined by economists – but not the elites (see Al Mant’s marvellous (but typically out-of-print) book on Leaders We Deserve). Three years ago I blogged about the positive aspect of trust and cooperation on which so many post-war governance systems operated (and some Scandinavian) still do) but which the neo-liberals have done their damnest to destroy. An excellent detailed history is here for those who want to know.
And the damage it has done to those who a few decades saw themselves as guardians of public integrity is vividly shown in this story of greed and hypocrisy.
But one form of conspiracy I’ve always viewed as a "very real and present threat" as, I think, they now say – the conspiracy of silence which the Jimmy Savile story now running in Britain exemplifies very strongly. One of serial child molestation over several decades by a TV star which apparently most senior people in the media knew about but few complained of - partly because values were different from now; and partly because of calculated fear...
A year ago today, I had a post about the development of training systems in this part of the world.