Friday, April 4, 2008

The Levellers and Optimists

By guest blogger Gerry Fitzpatrick

The ticker tape that runs across the top of my computer has just informed me that American government and the Federal Bank is in the process of changing the economic system once more. Now we are finally backed to the saner system of a failing bank being able to avail itself of extensive funds on demand. What this will mean I can only paraphrase in the style of a fellow columnist who contributes and occasional column to a UK liberal daily:

“Government Announcement: ‘Capitalism - it is a complex system and every now again the state needs to take your money, and the money from the weak, the poor, the disabled and the sick and give it to very rich people. These very rich people are like you and me – they are people who have failed to keep themselves very rich. We all depend on these people – they have committed no crime (other than acting like criminals). We owe them all a great deal and over the next few years you will see how much we are in their debt. If you are in receipt of tax allowances or pensions however small or Social Security payments how ever large, please donate to this worthwhile cause and give generously.”

I suppose any liberal or liberal comedian columnist could have written that as those who publish such broadsides believe that they are close to making a comeback. It would be glib to call them ‘Keynesians’ as they have only ever existed in theory. No, I’m actually talking about the good citizens at Goldman Sachs, CNN international, Granada Television, The London Independent, The Guardian, The Observer, and Melvin Bragg (Inc). For if there is one thing that unites them all, here and abroad, it is the belief that the state can be a great democratic leveller correcting the errors of the free market with power of regulation – once that is done they argue, society would then be both greater and more equal. Unlike the free marketers who tend to be Right Wing Populists they are Principled Democrats. Everywhere they and their ideas are poised for a comeback. From now on, we will all be reminded of the state Will Hutton is in.

But what if we had an example of a state where these notions had been the official ideology for over thirty years? Commentators used to joke that the state of Northern Ireland was the last bastion of communism in Europe. They were not of course referring to Northern Ireland’s annual security bill or the cost of replacing its slums after sixty years. They were referring to the state and its official ideology of bureaucratic optimism.

This policy was recently on more dramatic display at the launch of the consultative document on Human Rights which produced no agreement on what was a human right and who should be entitled to them. This was at the end of a ten year process of consultation. The cheerleaders of the process such as Sinn Fein and the Communist Party – the local official optimists who say they believe in the power of the state to level – were of course not downhearted.

For they have become like those who they supposedly oppose. Institutionalised liberals all, who believe in the state as a benign force that is supporting and guiding them because, as they say to whoever will listen – the process. It is the only progress that is available to them to believe in. And who could blame them, their needs as believers have been satisfied.

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