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Saturday, 26 November 2011

Democratic Deficit

One of the discredited Rating Agencies has downgraded Belgian government debt: apparently on the grounds that they have not had an established government for well over a year. The cause of the bickering between political parties arises from an excess of democracy, that pretty well ensures that there is never a predominant party with a parliamentary majority. Belgium's policy options are restricted by the fact that the state is a member both of the European Union and of the euro: the national capital, Brussels is overshadowed by a few buildings within that city from which the EU is run and by Frankfort where the European Central Bank is located. Every opinion and brand of Flemish nationalism is represented in the Belgian Parliament; as are all the factions and aspirations of the French-speaking Walloons. This wonderfully democratic outcome is impotent: the politicians can't agree formally how to share out ministerial posts, so they have just shuffled the pack and carried on from week to week as 'caretaker' ministers; and operationally it doesn't matter. But cosmetically it looks untidy, so Standard & Poors have chosen to give Belgium a kick by reducing their rating from AA+ to AA: this will license market traders to have a whirl at making a bit more money by selling Belgian debt short: a great game for the insiders, and a worry for ordinary folk, who know that policy on trade and industry is made by the EU, and well understand that the euro is completely beyond influence from any Belgian government.

A Belgian is President of the EU Council of Ministers, but he has no power: he can merely try to co-ordinate 27 heads of state and heads of government. The EU Parliament remunerates it members exceptionally well, in the combination of salary [related to the local parliamentary salary in the members' home countries] and EU expenses; but they have no real power. The Commissioners are nominated by the governments of the member states without any convincing pretence of democratic consent. Britain's Commissioner is a Labour Party hack who has never held national elected office, was totally unknown to the public on her appointment [made in haste when the sitting Commissioner was recalled to serve in Brown's despairing government], and whose rare appearances on the British TV News cause a surge of national embarrassment.The democratic deficit on the EU probably exceeds 100%.

The new Italian and Greek Prime Ministers are described as 'technocrats'. The 'technology' that they are supposed to understand is Economics, the discredited subject whose practitioners sanctioned and applauded all the excesses that have created the crises in business and in personal and in governmental debt; that none of the 'Atlantic economies' has yet begun to addressed effectively for the long term. They personally applied their Economics in bringing their countries into the tissue of lies and false hopes that enabled a very disparate group of countries to create the euro. They went on to occupy cushy roles in the unaudited EU mechanism and now have been set up as proconsuls for their cronies. They are part of the problem, not of any radical solution.

Germany has a carefully drafted democratic constitution, with a special court to protect it and a Chancellor who grew up as a subject of a militarily occupied satellite state. She is committed to democratic principles  and is accutely aware of the fraud that was committed by the founders of the euro. She is reported to be viscerally unwilling to legitimate the lunacy that has created the state debts of those eurozone countries that have systematically [and knowingly] lived beyond their means by 'monetising' those obligations under a German guarantee. So she is pressing for something like a democratic structure to be created, within which at least part of the eurozone can move close to fiscal union [a united tax and budgetary system]. Ms Merkel is not prepared to guarantee past follies and frauds in the mean time.

The EU has never been even slightly democratic: the 'European project' is the imposition of an elite who have drawn on the widespread fear of European wars to justify their own job-creation machine. Any currency zone that adopts Merkel's principles will certainly be smaller that the eurozone of seventeen states that is just about surviving into another week. A German-led outcome may be a eurozone shorn of the weaker bretheren, or it may be a Neumark zone comprising Germany, Austria, Croatia, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Finland and Estonia, probably Belgium, and possibly France, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. The Czech Republic, Hungary and the Scandinavian EU members would probably be welcome to apply to join once the system were up and running. The 'Club Med' countries would not be considered for candidacy until their devalued euro - or their separate currencies - had well stabilised and their balance of payments was restored.

Britain's desperate imbalance of payments and its structural budget deficit would become even more conspicuous when it drew comparison with the Neumark bloc. It would become clearer that party politicians cannot solve the problems, and the yaa-boo antics of the House of Commons and in the TV  'question' programmes would move from being a national joke to become recognised as evidence of the failure of the entire political structure. The British situation is worse than that of the EU: it is worse than a democratic deficit: it is an advanced case of defective democracy. This tragedy has been developing for several decades: in Can Britain Survive? [1971] Ken Watkins and I wrote:
"...there is a kind of auction of popular programmes carried on by the major parties, in which the highest bidder tends to win the lot. Since the parties do not wish to commit political suicide they are, willy-nilly, compelled to act accordingly. The fact that this inhibits them from tackling the fundamental structural weaknesses in the in the economy can be seen from the study of the elections since the end of the Second World War."
The same political auction game has continued unabated for forty more years! The deep defects of democracy, British-style, will not easily be corrected; and yet only when that correction has taken place can a rational economic strategy be formulated: then implemented over several decades. If the democratic defect is not corrected by completely fresh democratic means; a less democratic solution is quite likely to intervene.

The oldest current Constitution in the world, that of the USA, is not directly under threat. But American commentators from all segments of the political spectrum are worried about a failure of their institutions to provide clear policy in a very grave national crisis. Franklin D Roosevelt was - in effect - given exceptional powers to lead the economy out of depression, and he continued to exercise exceptional powers, sanctioned by Congress and unimpeded by the Supreme Court, for the Second World War. Harry S Truman had barely begun the process of surrendering the special powers when the emergence of the Cold War brought the Marshall Plan. Then came the Korean War, then the long stalemate of the nuclear confrontation. After 1991 the US was the unique superpower and the Clinton presidency was the first 'normal' incumbency since the mid-nineteen-thirties. It led to impeachment proceedings and a reassertion of party politics over constitutional propriety. George W Bush was continuing with the diminished role when 9/11 created a crisis and led to two overseas wars. The role of the Commander-in-Chief was once again unquestioned, and guided by the Vice-President and Secretary of Defence it transcended constitutional propriety. The limits to US global power were challenged and the end of hegemony was slowly acknowledged. Obama came into office in a diminished power and he has faced the full force of a resurgent, if uncomfortable, congressional democracy. His fluency became his greatest failing: he was unable to listen to and to interpret the diverse dialogues that had been unleashed by the collapse of the financial system and the weakening of the military-industrial complex. The attempts at bold initiatives to deal with the human consequences of the crisis that he has promoted seem to be based on the European welfare state from the nineteen-fifties: which the Europeans themselves are having to abandon under the burden of debt with which it saddled them. The result is that the USA has its own, very specific demcratic deficit: it is a real and urgent stress-point, that has been confronted by a dialogue of the deaf in a polarised Congress that exactly mirrors the depth of division in the country. Meanwhile, the prophets of economic Armageddon are having a bonanza.

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