Sunday, 11 August 2013


La Bandera De La Republica De Las Ovejas : Makeshift Studios 2013
Is it just me or do other people feel that politicians have a habit of promising to do something about an issue, when all they really do is sit on their hands? Haven't they chattered about regulating the financial system, while all the time multi-million dollar bonuses are still finding their way into the pockets of extremely rich bankers?

I have a friend, who is, as he will tell you himself, a free market capitalist. Now, even he, has been dismayed by recent events within his industry - PPI, dark pools, money laundering, High frequency trading, computer glitches.

When I related the story of the miner who had been buried alive when he was 18, worked in the coal industry - often toiling for 12 hours a day, six and, even, seven days a week to supply energy to corporate business - for 40 years and still could not retire because his pension was not enough, he described it as appalling.

He visibly winced and shook his head when I reminded him (what the miner had reminded me) that Stephen Hester was due to leave Royal Bank of Scotland with £6 million 'compensation' ($9.3 million, €6.9 million) for five years work.

But, something is happening 'out there', and I have a feeling it is all interconnected and interlinked with social media and technology.   Is there, among ordinary people, a burgeoning belief that the world is changing and that they deserve a bit more say in their own destinies.

Is there really a growing disenchantment with our politicians and our global financial set up? Are both in danger of being overhauled by early 21st century technology?

I've been watching Angela Merkel, usually one of the most assured politicians around, squirm in the wake of a scandal threatening to derail her, otherwise odds-on, election hopes (Germany goes to the ballot box on September 22). Recent revelations about the US spying on German citizens has unbalanced the usually upright Merkel, and her opponents in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) scent blood.

Her woolly-mouthed platitudes about having equilibrium between privacy and state security are not going down well in Berlin.

Equally restricted by a mouthful of cotton wool, the oddly uncomfortable looking, Vince Cable, had little or nothing meaningful to say about the hideous zero hours contracts. He ordered a review but stopped short of saying he would outlaw the practice as the trade union movement had been advocating.  (Zero hours contracts deny ordinary workers basic employment benefits like statutory hours of work, pension, holiday and sickness support.)

So there is talk, and reviews, and platitudes and vacuousness, and nothing much really changes because - and this might be controversial - our governments now, appear, to dance to the tune of corporate business, not the people who elected them.

But, you don't have to take my word for it.

Robert Reich, a former advisor to president Clinton, asks in his excellent book 'Supercapitalism' :

"Why has capitalism become so triumphant and democracy so enfeebled?" (Robert Reich, Supercapitalism : The Battle for Democracy in an Age of Big Business p5)

His analysis is sharp and centres at one point on the massive growth in corporate lobbying which he compares with, what he describes as, the 'paltry' efforts of non-business groups (p 133).

Let's consider that rather bald statement a while, let's mull it over 'capitalaism triumphant, democracy enfeebled?' 

It is not a million miles from where Occupy stand or from what Jeffrey Sachs wrote in his, also excellent, book The Price of Civilisation :

"At the root of America's economic crisis, lies a moral crisis: the decline of civic virtue among America's political and economic elite. A society of markets, laws, and elections is not enough if the rich and powerful fail to behave with respect, honesty, and compassion toward the rest of society and toward the world. America has developed the world's most competitive market society but has squandered its civic virtue along the way. Without restoring an ethos of social responsibility, there can be no meaningful and sustained economic recovery."

Sachs and The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Selby (going by recent pronouncements), actually sound like members of Occupy.  Actually, they are not saying anything different from the guys I interviewed on the street a few years ago - but that's for another day.


(Author's note : It is remiss of me not to have taken note of the page number from Jeffrey Sachs' book. It is not like me and I do apologise. Robert Reich, Supercapitalism : Icon Books 2009. Jeffrey Sachs, The Price of Civilisation : Economics and Ethics After The Fall : Vintage Books 2012. Happy as always to take comments in that interconnected pastiche world we all now belong to.)

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