Monday, 22 March 2010
What change should look like
This is what change looks like. Said Obama.
Yes we can. Said the Democrats.
And lo and behold, the healthcare bill passed.
Was it simple? No.
Was it fast? No.
Was it everything we had hoped for? No.
No. No. No. But it was something. Both a practical solution to America's oldest social responsibility deficit and a symbolic move that change is not always for the worst. And many had said it can't be done.
That made me smile.
I haven't smiled at the news in a while.
But the smile didn't last long.
A text message flashed up on my phone a few minutes ago 'factions fighting on the streets, tourist organisations declaring Greece unsafe'. Thanks for shattering my zen. You know who you are.
'It is unthinkable that Europe won't support us' said the Greek prime minister.
No 'this is what change looks like' grandeur in our neck of the woods.
'We consider it unthinkable for the European Union not to give us the assistance and political support we are asking for' said our Premier.
And that is the extent of his policy.
And although it is most probably true – joining the euro didn't come with a withdrawal clause as such, you didn't keep your old currency in the attic 'just in case things didn't work out'. Failure was not an option. That was not the general idea. We were in this together from now on and whatnot.
So of course Europe will help. But Europe will be bitter and difficult about it every step of the way. In the middle of the current crisis, on the back of Germany's strop, the last thing Europe wants to do is help the destitute relative. The last thing they are prepared to do is be gallant about it.
And if the extent of our policy is 'sit back, have another mushroom vol-au-vent, they'll help us, what else can they do' then we need to be prepared for quite a bit more abuse from Germany.
Not that I think that the German press's puerile hate campaign is ok. But then again I don't think the way we've been running our affairs is ok either. And as two wrongs don't make a right, I wish the global press paused long enough to realise that the people mopping up the mess, picking the tab, suffering the cut backs, shouldering the extra tax and suffering the shame of this prolonged press campaign actually have no way of changing their fate. Never did.
And spare me the crap about democracies and the responsibility of the electorate. Procedural democracies with entrenched party systems tend to be stable Polyarchies with limited choice for the electorate whose participation only occurs every five years and in-between civil society is dormant, transparency wanting and accountability faint. Add to that Greece's deep-seated paternalistic venality, favouritism and clan mentality and what you have is a system of extremely qualified access and representation by numbers. Short of a revolution, there is very little 'the people' can do and the Commission wouldn't want a revolution within the eurozone now would they?
So go easy on us because we don't like our leaders any more than you do but we are the ones who have to pay the bills and live with the corruption and the shame.
And before you quote myself back at me, I know that I always bang on about public responsibility and I do not intend to go back on that now or ever. We are responsible writ large for our own society. And we are responsible for our lack of collective action, for the lack of civil society mobilisation. And for the lack of revolution damn it.
But one thing we cannot be held responsible for is our inability to get ourselves out of this bind right now. Social change does not occur fast enough. And global fiscal systems are interlinked with corporate power structures and government, not civil society actors and citizen associations.
Pointing out the obvious? Perhaps.
But as I keep telling my students at the university, the one thing that most political theories forget is real people. As I keep telling my colleagues in the City, the one thing most fiscal systems forget is real people.
But it's real people who die in wars and real people who represent that strange and wonderful animal that is 'consumer confidence'. And it is real people that are living in fear, insecurity and shame in Greece now. And none of them are in government or in a position to do anything right now other than suffer.
And what good is that doing anyone?
If the Commission went straight to the culprits I'd scream off with their heads and accept any stringent regulations that were thereafter imposed on our society. Do we need to up our game? Absolutely. Us the people need to do more. Need to be more.
But to do that we need to be able to stand up. If our backs are broken we are no good for growth and future prosperity.
News coming out of Greece at the moment is the exact opposite to the wonderful feel-good victory feel of news out of the USA. Yes they can and they did. And we cannot and did not. But we could.
Bear with us, is what the Greek government is telling the EU.
We will tax the Church (at last). What else will we do? We don't know. But bear with us.
The EU need to see more.
Damn it. We need to see more. Because we are tired of paying and being mocked by everyone, our government included. And there is little we, the citizens, can do right now. So.
That's what change looks like said Obama.
And why did that matter?
Because he made things happen. Because not only did he remember the real people. He actually made policy for them.
Mr Papandreou, it's your turn to show us what change looks like or face the consequences. Real people are watching.