Whatever we may say about issues, it would appear that the British Parliament is better equipped in argue its way out of economic crisis than is the United States government. One reason may be that none of the Members of Parliament have achieved their seats by taking a pledge to oppose taxation in any form or by appealing to an electorate motivated only by personal hatred (which seems to be a not insignificant sentiment towards our President). Rather the debate is one over strategies and tactics for achieving a substantive recovery before the United Kingdom finds itself in the same dire straits as Greece.
Thus this morning we have the BBC News report of a speech by Labour leader Ed Miliband that cuts right to the fundamental strategic difference between his party and the Conservatives. As is the case in our own country and in most of the European Union, the prevailing Conservative opinion is that the most important problem is one of a growing deficit than can only be managed by austerity. This is based on the prevailing opinions of economists with close ties to major financial institutions, often called “technocrats” by the news media. The Labour argument, on the other hand, is that those beholden to such financial institutions care only about the success of those institutions, with little concern for that “99% segment” of the general population. That negligence is the primary reason for popular demonstrations that have sprung up not only in the United States but in most other “developed” countries.
The Labour argument is that recovery and growth can only come at a price. Unfortunately, that price can only be paid by that “1%” with the capital to do so. Such spending, however, would look bad on the balance sheets that have to be presented to their shareholders. Thus, we have the technocrat philosophy that a choice between unhappy shareholders and an unhappy electorate is a no-brainer. The shareholders will win every time.
This is a good time for us to watch what is happening in the United Kingdom. Politics is still local over there. Representatives are still elected on the basis of whether or not their own segment of the population believes that their interests will be served. Furthermore, the United Kingdom is not locked into our fixed scheduling of which elections are held when. If things come to a head, a general election can be called, which would lead to a referendum on the public reaction to austerity. True, most voters do not understand economics with the sophistication of technocrats. However, as the saying goes, they tend to be good at recognizing when an egg is fresh, even if they cannot lay the eggs themselves.
The current economic crisis is also a crisis over philosophies of governance itself, and what happens in Great Britain may tell us a thing or two about the future of other governmental institutions.