New Internationalist

Whatever became of the Age of Possibility?

Fear of the dark has haunted the rich world for four years too many already. The shadow of free-market fundamentalism still hangs over us, including those of us who imagine another possible world.

Relatively rich liberal democracies have encouraged an almost subliminal popular perception that in a grossly unjust world you have to cling on to whatever you’ve got. The collapsed financial architecture will be rebuilt - ‘recapitalized’ - in much the same shape as before.

Those of us who advocate anything else can be dismissed as devoid of popular support, if not actively welcoming the rise of unemployment and despair. Even if there is no shortage of credible fresh ideas, no ‘realistic’ means of acting on them exists.

Well, four years of recovery have yet to return us to where we were in 2007, at least in terms of economic growth. Worse, the cure is killing the patient. Austerity feeds on itself, holding out no other prospect for the foreseeable future. Even Paul Krugman, a rare breed of influential economist who is halfway sane, asks: ‘Is it possible to be bored and terrified at the same time?’

Terrified, certainly. The latest Eurozone scam suggests pledging not just billions but trillions of Euros to a fantasy - apparently dreamed up by technocrats during a financial war-game - of such impenetrable weirdness as to outdo even the algorithms of credit default swaps. Its purpose is not to rescue the people of Greece from penury, or the youth of Spain from unemployment, but to pursue the hopeless task of salvaging financial markets from themselves - yet again.

Neoliberals now openly suggest that the crisis is more political than financial - but their own salvation depends on a form of pointless tyranny that liberal democracies simply cannot withstand.

For a generation or two corporate globalization promised what it could not deliver - a sustainable world economy for all. So it turned to financial markets and debt, initially in the Majority World where the deceit was easiest and most cruel, but eventually in the Minority World heartland itself. Whatever it gave, it now needs to take away.

The result constantly compounds debts of such enormity, complexity and toxicity that no-one has the faintest idea what they are, where they may still be lurking, how they can possibly be repaid or to whom they are justly due. Nothing of any consequence has been done to find out or put it right, because no neoliberal knows.

It’s only money; money is only what people believe it to be; people will believe it has worth only if they have confidence; that confidence has never, ever, rested on financial markets - which do not even have confidence in themselves - but on the common or public interest, more or less well represented by governments.

Neoliberal democracies granted to financial markets the right to create - or ‘lend’ - virtually unlimited amounts of money themselves. This was not a matter of mere ‘deregulation’, but of deliberate political intent. As a result, confidence has now gone. The debts are effectively worthless, along with the financial markets that created them. Offloading them onto governments, extorting regressive taxation and destroying public services, makes democracy worthless as well.

In the Minority World, the realization has already dawned on Greece. It dawned much earlier on the Majority World, through debt campaigns and in places like Argentina. Bit by bit it is dawning on the rest of the world too.

Daylight is now breaking over a world where ‘economic growth’ pure and simple is no longer there. Another world is not just possible but the only one there is. Its landscape may still be hazy, but plenty of fertile potential still lies in such things as a Green New Deal or Great Transition.

I have seen too many liberal democracies overtaken by violent tyrannies to enforce neoliberalism in Latin America not to fear for anywhere else. But then, I have lived to see the demise of those tyrannies too. And, because I now live afloat, I know that if water comes in more quickly than you can bail it out, the time has come to bail yourself out - and fast.

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About the author

David Ransom a New Internationalist contributor

David Ransom joined New Internationalist in 1989 and wrote on a range of issues, from green justice to the current financial crisis, before retiring in 2009. He was a close friend of Blair Peach, once worked as a banker in Uruguay and continued to contribute to New Internationalist as a freelancer until shortly before his death in February 2016. He lived on a barge on the waterways of England’s West Country.

His publications include License to Kill on the death of Blair Peach in 1979 and The No Nonsense Guide to Fair Trade. He also co-edited, with Vanessa Baird, People First Economics.

Read more by David Ransom

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