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CLIMATE, DEPRESSION AND DEMOCRACY December 13, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Global Electoral Politics, Global Warming Politics, Social Environment, US Politics.
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Paul Krugman (via Truthdig) writing in the New York Times says in effect let’s call the economic situation for what it is: a depression.

These are not, as he notes with reference to Europe, good times for democracy. Nor are they good times for the climate, despite the last minute agreement arranged in Durban.

The obvious thing to do, and the first consideration to mind, is the answer to the question as to what these three aspects of human existence have in common. That proposition would be that the freeing of the market economy has lead inexorably to the dominance of corporate power over the economy and the political processes with a consequence commitment to fossil fuels and negligence in relation to climate science. If there were other explanation what would they be?

I don’t have the answers.

Paul Krugman argues the case for the linkage between the current economy in both the US and Europe and their respective democratic crises. Paul Krugman says:

True, it’s not a full replay of the Great Depression, but that’s cold comfort. Unemployment in both America and Europe remains disastrously high. Leaders and institutions are increasingly discredited. And democratic values are under siege.

On that last point, I am not being alarmist. On the political as on the economic front it’s important not to fall into the “not as bad as” trap. High unemployment isn’t O.K. just because it hasn’t hit 1933 levels; ominous political trends shouldn’t be dismissed just because there’s no Hitler in sight.

Let’s talk, in particular, about what’s happening in Europe — not because all is well with America, but because the gravity of European political developments isn’t widely understood.

First of all, the crisis of the euro is killing the European dream. The shared currency, which was supposed to bind nations together, has instead created an atmosphere of bitter acrimony.

Specifically, demands for ever-harsher austerity, with no offsetting effort to foster growth, have done double damage. They have failed as economic policy, worsening unemployment without restoring confidence; a Europe-wide recession now looks likely even if the immediate threat of financial crisis is contained. And they have created immense anger, with many Europeans furious at what is perceived, fairly or unfairly (or actually a bit of both), as a heavy-handed exercise of German power.

Nobody familiar with Europe’s history can look at this resurgence of hostility without feeling a shiver. Yet there may be worse things happening.

Right-wing populists are on the rise from Austria, where the Freedom Party (whose leader used to have neo-Nazi connections) runs neck-and-neck in the polls with established parties, to Finland, where the anti-immigrant True Finns party had a strong electoral showing last April. And these are rich countries whose economies have held up fairly well. Matters look even more ominous in the poorer nations of Central and Eastern Europe.

At this point, soon after the election of Obama, Paul Krugman is optimistic about the “progressive moment” and the possibility of a carbon tax:

And then he observes the middle class society came into being in a span of seven to eight years:

American commentators can point to the rise of extremist parties in Europe because unlike in the US those countries typically have electoral systems that allow minorities to be represented. One can argue, I believe, that the failure to reflect minority opinion gives rise to false majorities. The counter argument as bitterly expressed recently in New Zealand is that proportional representation favors party placements over individual candidates and gives minority representatives disproportional power.

Still the imperfections of a system should not blind to the merits. An economic crisis is likely to create the conditions for a change of consciousness about other system processes. However the problem is, as is evident in relation to the climate, the positive intervention needs to proceed to the denouement. The normal assumption is that in order to collectively orchestrate a fundamental change in social direction charismatic leadership is essential.

The most productive course, in my opinion, would be make problems associated with Global Warming the central focus, and not to ignore, especially in regard to the US the economic implications of the role of violence in establishing and maintaining the global political order. There is much money to be saved by limiting defence spending and redirecting those saving to socially and ecologically beneficial purposes, which paradoxically perhaps if it lead to the development of non-fossil energy systems would negate the need for the exercise of threat power.

So what are the moral choices to be framed and made? How might a culture be reconstrued ahead of catastrophe?

Then might we “prepare for business as unusual”?

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