In response to an FT article by Wolfgang Münchau on 27th November 2016, entitled 'The liberal elite’s Marie Antoinette moment'
Prologue: This article indicates a noticeable shift in mindset from Wolfgang Münchau. This almost certainly does not reflect a wider 'awakening' at the FT. Nevertheless...we get what we get...I think it’s worth a full read.
“Some revolutions could have been avoided if the old guard had only refrained from provocation. There is no proof of a “let them eat cake” incident. But this is the kind of thing Marie Antoinette could have said. It rings true. The Bourbons were hard to beat as the quintessential out-of-touch establishment.
They have competition now.
Our global liberal democratic establishment is behaving in much the same way. At a time when Britain has voted to leave the EU, when Donald Trump has been elected US president, and Marine Lee Pen is marching towards the Elysée Palace, we — the gatekeepers of the global liberal order — keep on doubling down…
The correct course of action would be to stop insulting voters and, more importantly, to solve the problems of an out-of-control financial sector, uncontrolled flows of people and capital, and unequal income distribution...
If you want to fight extremism, solve the problem...The gatekeepers of western capitalism, like the Bourbons before them, have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing" – Wolfgang Münchau
By jove he's got it!
A senior columnist reading the runes, making an intelligent analysis of the forces at work in our political economy? You risk being labelled a real journalist Mr Münchau. And seriously...thank you.
This is such a refreshing change from countless articles designed to do two very shortsighted things:
1. Attack the symptoms of an inevitable backlash against a crony capitalistic system, one that is distant from, and indifferent to, the needs of millions of people
2. Apologise for the elites who oversee the so-called 'liberal democracy' that is under attack. A system that is not 'liberal' in any classical sense of the word, and which is run by life-time politicians and self-serving elites, who don't appear to believe in ‘democracy’ unless it gives them the 'right' result
To be a little flippant here, but not really - 'Liberal Democracy' is not under attack - it would just be nice if we had it.
So, thanks Mr Münchau, I hope there is more to come and that you start to rub off on Messrs. Wolf, Luce, Rachman and Stephens. Like the majority of the stale minded intelligentsia that write for the NYT and the WaPo, the 'four hoarse men of the apocolibs' are still pretty clueless.
There were a number of ‘push-backs’ on the article, and my support of it. Here are a couple of interesting ones, with my responses:
Reader: Mr Munchau, offering zero solution, is just stoking the fires of extremism
MarkGB: He's not stoking the fires of extremism - Governments have done a perfectly good job of that for themselves by ignoring the warning signs that have been building for years now. It seems to me he is suggesting a solution:
1. Millions of people are voting with their feet...so...wake up and smell the coffee before the baby gets chucked out with the bath water
2. "solve the problems of an out-of-control financial sector, uncontrolled flows of people and capital, and unequal income distribution"
That wouldn't be a bad start in my view.
We can discuss the details of the precise 'how' of number two (personally I am not in favour of capital controls)...but until the people in power do number one - I.E. stop throwing their toys out of the cot, stop blaming 'populism', and address the underlying problems...then they can expect to get voted out. If they get chucked out it will not be because Wolfgang Münchau, or anyone else, yelled 'wake up' - it will because governments didn't listen - AKA hubris.
Reader: I hate to say this, and to deflate WM's general diatribe, but his headline recommendation is exactly what Martin Wolf has been pushing for the last 8 years - rein in the financial sector, address inequality, abandon misguided austerity programmes etc. MW warned inter alia that the failings in the financial architecture of the euro would create prolonged problems and threaten the EU project itself, and so it has proved. Most of the macro-economists I know were and are of exactly the same opinion. The fact that macro-economists don't get everything right does not mean they get nothing right
The problem with WM's analysis, and yours, is that you are conflating a large number of disparate trends, reactions and opinions, some of which are absolutely correct, but not all of which are mutually consistent. The bigger problem is that the proud "know nothing" backlash, exemplified by Gove, Brexit, Farage, Trump et al, is almost certainly going to make everything considerably worse. The elite will survive.
MarkGB: I’m sure you're right, the elite will survive - they'll spend the next 5 years rewriting history. It will become increasingly apparent that most had 'grave concerns' all along. The ones who have spent months demonising large proportions of the electorate, will of course, have been 'taken out of context'.
Some may even have the courage and the character for mea culpa. And those that do - will get my respect.
Epilogue: On the last point about the rewriting of history – I once took my kids to visit ‘The Cavern’ in Liverpool – the legendary venue where the Beatles first broke on to the scene. I remarked to the curator how small it is (it’s tiny). “Yes he said…but given how many people have told me that they were here the first night the lads played, it used to be the size of the Albert Hall”