What is the point of a politician?

30 04 2011

Three years on from the near collapse of global financial structures and the overwhelming narrative in current affairs today is the need to reduce the national deficit. To understand how this issue came to be the major political topic of our day you have to ask why have national deficits increased?

There are two answers to this question, the simple convenient one and the one that has a basis in economics. The nice simple message is that your nation has been living beyond its means, the public service can no longer be allowed waste taxpayers money on bloated inefficient services or giving money to those who don’t deserve it. To seriously discuss this theory you need to put your head into a particularly small cardboard box and work on the principle that a nation only has the ability to cut spending and no power to tax.

The real reason deficits have increased is the financial crisis has led to lower rates of economic growth. When an economy is growing, individuals and companies have higher incomes, the tax they pay is a percentage of this so if goes up its happy days for the government but if it goes down that tax income has to be sourced from somewhere else. For an example of this problem take the national accounts of Ireland. For years Ireland ran up large budgets surpluses as the economy boomed. The source of these healthy tax incomes were in large part from the construction industry which operated inside a textbook bubble. It burst and tax receipts fell through the floor, first as building sites fell quiet and then later as the rest of the economy began to starve without all that cash pouring out of the banks, into the construction industry and then making its way into hairdressers, restaurants and any other businesses cash registers.

These are the problems, what do our politicians propose we do? They tell us, they are too incompetent to manage public money. This is the most bizarre aspect of the current western political elites mindset. They have come to the conclusion that all the services governments are elected to provide to the people, are too complicated and unwieldy for mere politicians to run. They tell us, we as individuals are better equipped to ‘choose’ the right services for ourselves.

So that old perennial issue of privatisation is trumpeted as the solution. I will leave the merits of private versus public operation of services for another day, but from a politicians point of view it is the perfect sawdust to throw into the gap between their own ego and their lack of ideas. Let me explain, when politicians find their own vanity project, they will brag about the extent of their power and influence. Take the western intervention in Libya, the political rhetoric coming out of London, Paris and Washington is that of confident, assertive and principled politicians.

Handing over the responsibility of public services in effect means a politician can wash his hands of responsibility if bad news starts to seep out, however if good news happens to be the product of the scenario they can claim the credit for their ‘vision’, its a win win situation. Take the death of Jimmy Mubenga, in October 2010 the Angolan national was being deported from Britain. The Home Office in Britain contracts this work out to private security firms, in this case G4S. Jimmy Mubenga was escorted onto his flight at Heathrow and was then physically restrained by his escorts until he died after complaining that he could not breathe.

Jimmy Mubenga who died while in the custody of private company G4S

A scandal or a tragedy? It depends on who is responsible, if those escorting him were public servants then the politician at the top would have a duty to respond in some way. But this episode troubles nobody, apart from Mr Mubenga and his family. The Home Office can say this is an issue for the private company (but in more considered, sympathetic PR language), the private company can say they do not comment on individual cases but that they take their duty very seriously. Parliament, can say they will hold inquires which will take months to assemble and mean very little in end and the media is left in the middle of a circle of people all of whom point to the guy next to them.

Here lies the politicians very own get out jail free card, your hospital is unsafe and causing unnecessary deaths? You will have to speak with the private company or trust now running that hospital, the Minister for Health is no longer in charge. The grades at your independently set up school are well below average, thats an issue for the school board, the Minister for Education only looks after the Ministries stationary cupboard now.

If a politicians main aim now is to delegate their own responsibilities out, what is their purpose when this process is complete? Unless of course there is a mad and bad dictator ruling half of a major oil producing country. Your duly elected representatives suddenly find their power and principles, they were there all along, now off for some long overdue chest beating and legacy building.


Where to begin

22 04 2011

I was initially wary of beginning a record of writing on the web as I feared it would wind up being a scatter of loosely related thoughts. However, a number of global political and economic events in our recent and very recent history have brought home to me how interconnected almost all the major problems of the world are. The most interesting aspect of this is how little we understand of our world despite the multitude of information available.

More precisely, I want to explore the impact all these historical and future events will have on our western ideas of economic and democratic utopia. The society in which we live in today was shaped by the turbulent events of the first half of the twentieth century. War, European imperial decline and economic collapse all brought about new global systems of governing the movement of money and power. To a great extent, institutions such as the European Community achieved what they set out to do, that is to bring stability to relations in Europe through trade and dialogue. TheĀ Bretton Woods conference in 1944 and subsequent international treaties set out to manage the world economy, all with the crash of 1929 still fresh in their memories.

These institutions, all created in the mid twentieth century, are now failing to maintain their purpose. However, they are not alone. The whole economic and political way of life that was created in the second half of the last century is decaying.

Democracy cures all these ills though doesn’t it? The voting power of the people gives us leaders with new and progressive ideas to replace the old discredited mantras. If only this were true, for there is something rotten in our democracies. Our political leaders from Barack Obama to David Cameron are not men of vision or of action. In reality they are career politicians who have reached the zenith of their professional lives. Their big idea was to get into the top job in the land, they never really knew what they would do once they were there. Of course they have various ‘policies’ but in later posts I want to show that these are essentially nice fuzzy sounding ideas that sound great, but have little basis in reality.

Why can’t things continue on as they were? There are many reasons for this which I will explore in later posts but here are a few:

The onset of peak oil. That is where oil production reaches its zenith, and then falls thereafter leading to a price that can only go one way. Oil is the most economically important substance on the planet, without it our modern world would not be what it is today. But today our most prized black gold is a economic leech on the world.

The domination of global finance. In economics banking has a clear purpose, it the fundamental lubrication for money in an economy, but global finance no longer serves that purpose. The brutal reality is the financial world is a millstone around many nations necks. But profit is their business, and business is good.

The governance of the strongman. While western political rhetoric talks of spreading democracy, this is not a western political goal, economics invariably trumps political idealism. Democracy is dangerous, the people may not vote the way you want them to.

A falling standard of living. From the end of the second world war onwards, citizens worked hard and raised families in the true belief that their children would have a better and more assured start than they did. Many social guarantees were set in place in this period to make it a reality. Admirable political philosophy this may have been, but for business this was a barrier to trade. Something which had to be dismantled in order for the market to operate efficiently, and again it worked. Maybe not for you but it did for that mythical and most holy of modern western citizens, the “wealth creator”.

I will return with more detail.