Three Cheers For The System

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From top:A protestor throws confetti at European central bank President Mario Draghi during a press conference last year; Derek Mooney

We have come terrifyingly close to global depression and are drawing nearer to a 21st century form of fascism.

But just as we avoided one we can escape the other

Derek Mooney writes:

Three cheers for the system. Hip hip…. No? Nothing…?

This comes as no surprise. After the tumult and turmoil of the past few years it would require a hopefulness that bordered on the foolhardy to expect to hear anything even vaguely complimentary said about the system.

At so many levels, it failed us. The institutional accountability and oversight that we thought would prevent bank and financial crashes proved inadequate at best, and downright mendacious at worst.

It is a failure that reaches beyond the crash and extends right up to the present day with so many people seeing the present recovery as something that is happening in communities and areas other than theirs.

This feeling that is not unique to Ireland. We see echoes of it in the Brexit result in the UK with the high numbers of people in the former industrial heartlands of the midlands and the north of England voting to leave the EU.

We see it too in the support for Trump among blue collar workers in the “rust belt” states of the U.S. and in the support for Marine Le Pen’s Front National last December, particularly in the formerly industrialised areas of the North of France.

These were the parts most badly hit, not just by the crash, but by the advent of technology and globalisation before it. They have seen factories closed and jobs moved overseas. Not only that but it has all happened so fast, without time to adjust.

So, the lesson is straight forward: those most badly hit by the changing world and global financial crash are understandably those most likely to have lost most faith in the political and economic system.

So far, so logical. But there is a school of thought that suggests that the system – by which I mean economic and political systems – has not failed us as much as we might think.

Step forward political scientist and expert in international relations Prof Daniel Drezner. In his book: “The System Worked: How the World Stopped Another Great Depression” Drezner maintains that the Global system worked, albeit inelegantly.

He says that the efforts of central bankers and other policymakers within the G-20 IMF, WTO and other global institutions prevented the international crash becoming a full-fledged depression, like the 1930s Great Depression.

Indeed, he argues that while the global economy remains fragile (his book was written in 2014), that these global institutions survived the “stress test” of the crisis, and may have even become more resilient and valuable in the process.

This is not much comfort when you have lost your job and are struggling to find another. Knowing that the global system stopped the crisis toppling into a depression doesn’t make it easier to accept a big reduction in a living standard that was not all that high to start with.

Nonetheless, Drezner has a point. He reminds us how close we all came to falling into the abyss of another great global depression.

His comparisons with the 1930s crash, and how we narrowly avoided it, are important as that economic and social collapse contributed to the collapse of trust and confidence in the systems of government then and the consequent rise of fascism in Europe.

So, just as we came close to another great depression, have we – or are we – coming perilously close to a similar political drift?

Many commentators see it in the global rise of populism. They see that Brexit vote in the UK, Putin’s reign in Russia, Le Pen’s progress in France and, most significantly, the rise of Donald Trump as evidence that populism is on the march, and a goose stepping march, at that.

They see it in the demagoguery, the inflated rhetoric and – above all – the rejection of facts, evidence and expertise shown by Trump, Putin, Le Pen et al.

Doubtless, as we have come terrifyingly close to global depression, we may indeed be coming close to the return of some 21st century form of fascism, but just as we avoided one, I suspect we are also about to narrowly avoid the other, but only if the centre ground of politics holds and is not complacent.

While Marine Le Pen will almost certainly make it through the first round of voting in the French Presidential election next year, she is likely to be well beaten in the second round, a head to head contest between the top two candidates, especially if she is pitted against Alain Juppé.

As for the US, as the Trump gaffes and buffoonery of the past few weeks have shown, Donald Trump is less Benito A. Mussolini and more Rufus T. Firefly. (Firefly was Groucho Marx’s fictional leader of Freedonia in the 1933 movie Duck Soup).

This is not to say that Trump is a joke – far from it. But just as he is no joke, neither is he the Devil incarnate.

Comparisons between Trump and Hitler are not just over the top, they miss the important point that his rise represents: a deep dissatisfaction and disillusionment among a large swathe of blue collar voters with the prevailing system.

This is something I explored here in early June: Trump is riding a zeitgeist that he didn’t create, but that others have missed.

In France, in the U.S., indeed just about everywhere, the political centre ground is being tested and it must come up with solutions that are not just a return to business as usual.

As Michéal Martin observed in his John Hume Lecture at the recent MacGill Summer School:

“…for us to rebuild levels of political trust and engagement with the public, the path of a more reflective, expert and centre-ground politics is the only credible way forward”.

Maybe then, as EM Foster remarked in the introduction to his 1950 collection of political essays: Two Cheers for Democracy,

“We may still contrive to raise three cheers for democracy, although at present she only deserves two.”

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil led government 2004 – 2010. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Top pic: Getty

26 thoughts on “Three Cheers For The System

    1. Neilo

      It’s the merest scintilla of balance in terms of centrist contributors and I appreciate the effort by Broadsheet.

      1. Cot

        I wouldn’t call Fianna Fail centrists. Opportunists, the people who, along with the Green Party, bankrupted this country, yes; centrists, no.

      2. classter

        If the best we can come up with in terms of ‘centrist contributors’ is a FF PR man & advisor to Ahern/Cowen, then we really can throw our hat at the whole enterprise.

  1. PhilJo

    The dearth of ideolody (or even ideas) in the centrist parties, their move to the right to accommodate their financial backers and the PR driven drivel that the parties mouthpieces spout has the effect of deadening discussion so anything else seems like an option.

    I have met lifelong Labour voters who voted SF last time out, they don’t believe that SF represent a genuine social democratic option, but neither do Labour anymore, FG have drifted further to the right and FF still stand for nothing in particular as long as that doesn’t offend anyone…

    Those communities that have lost their livelihoods and are sinking into a despair of zero hour contracts where someone in the same job over a decade cannot afford to house their family are justifiably angry.

    They want a route out of this where people can go to work, come home and have a life, nothing fancy just a normal life like their parents had instead they get told to donate their labour through internships and Fu(king JobBridge… So if a decent life isn’t available expect them to cut up rough…

    1. DubLoony

      in 2011 election, majority voted for conservative, right wing FG and only 19% of people voted Labour. That is the government people voted for.
      That we can indulge a 70 day government formation, a do nothing Dáil shows how much was accomplished by previous government in face of massive challenges from all sides.

      1. Tish Mahorey

        “majority voted for conservative, right wing FG”

        No. Only 25% voted for FG. So 75% did NOT vote for FG.

    2. some old queen

      People are being screwed in Ireland and it is not just ‘blue collar’. There are 1.5 mil people living in the north’s 6 counties and only 5 mil living in the south’s 26 and yet, primarily because of the incompetence and/or greed of FF, professional people are commuting for up to three hours a day to make a living. More free market ideology. Is Bertie still chairman of the IFF Derek?

      So they switched to FG and look what happened then. Irish Water and the single biggest act of civil disobedience (non payment) in the history of the state. The logic was sound but clowns like Hogan and Kelly were guaranteed to grind it into the ground and that was without the two grand a day bluffers inside.

      There is no new 21st century fascism, just people looking for alternatives. If the middle ground wants to hold then they need to step up to the plate. USA, Europe, Britain and hopefully soon Ireland all under pressure because people know the story before it even breaks.

      And the information age hasn’t even started yet Brigid. Brace yourself.

  2. DubLoony

    Its a bit like being in a car crash and doctor tells you they had to amputate a leg, but look on the bright side, it could have been both legs.

    People have had the lives pulled asunder. They did what they thought was the right thing – they worked hard, tried to put a rood over their heads, looked after their families. but even those basic things were shredded in the biggest recession we’ve witnessed.

    1. classter

      Yes, but the question being raised is whether it is sensible to cast-off modern medicine completely on the basis that they could only save one leg rather than two.

      That is, there have been failures in our liberal, western order but Trump/Brexit/Le Pen/even Corbyn aren’t solutions to the problems revealed by the Crash.

  3. ...........

    Unfortunately for Mr Mooney his article while particularly well written, is polluted with sounds from his career past.

    Those whom commented before echoe the truth about the middle earning real life world.

    I bought a home, nothing fancy four walls, roof and windows. Unfortunately, life took a different turn. I am self employed the last ten years, pay all my bills, never defaulted on anything, not even a toll bridge. Except last week, while I have been paying the mortgage for the last 36 months I was told the bank will not sign the mortgage to me.

    Now only 48 months the same bank offered me €250k to buy a similar business on a PERSONAL LOAN………………. Today, I am paying a very dear price for the mistakes of the Sean Quinns, Anglo Irish Bank, Leehman Brother, Sean Dunne’s…… etc. etc. etc.

  4. MoyestWithExcitement

    “the political centre ground is being tested and it must come up with solutions that are not just a return to business as usual.

    As Michéal Martin observed in his John Hume Lecture at the recent MacGill Summer School:”

    ‘The world is going crazy, lads but FF know how to sort it out.’

    And people whine about posts from people in the SDs.

    1. DubLoony

      FF know how to sort it out? Bit like Trump saying he knows all about debt, he can sort out national debt in US.

  5. Mé Féin

    The system failed us. Bah hah, the bad system.
    Maybe Bertie Ahern, Biffo, Lenihan and the rest of the Fianna Failures failed us. Then that dopey eejit Enda Kenny promised to reform the system and he failed us too.

  6. nellyb

    I looked at Dezner’s Fletcher school – About page – out of curiosity:
    “Our extensive network of graduates today serves in every venue in the global milieu – heads of state and government, political leaders in power and opposition, judges, diplomats, senior military officers, corporate leaders at every level, international bankers, and development officials. The Fletcher School not only “knows the world,” but is part of shaping it through the global work of our graduates.”
    Amen.

  7. Truth in the News

    Are FF on the rise again and have the people dozed off, Micheal Martin up in Glenties on about building “political trust”, well while Martin was up around
    Donegal, did he ask his organisation about all the skeletons hidden away for
    generations in relation to policing and justice, thats where you will build “political
    trust” Derek

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