Monday, 28 February 2011

Europe's leaders scuttle into austerity to appease "the markets."

An interesting commentary on the current situation by Tony Judt, author of "Postwar":

….. So Europe's leaders today scuttle into austerity to appease "the markets."

But "the market"—like "dialectical materialism"—is just an abstraction: at once ultra-rational (its argument trumps all) and the acme of unreason (it is not open to question). It has its true believers—mediocre thinkers by contrast with the founding fathers, but influential withal; its fellow travellers – who may privately doubt the claims of the dogma but see no alternative to preaching it; and its victims, many of whom in the United States especially have dutifully swallowed their pill and proclaim the virtues of a doctrine whose benefits they will never see.

Above all, the thrall in which an ideology holds a people is measured by their collective inability to imagine alternatives. We know perfectly well that untrammelled faith in unregulated markets kills: the rigid application of what was recently the "Washington consensus" in vulnerable developing countries—with its emphasis on tight fiscal policy, privatization, low tariffs, and deregulation – has destroyed millions of livelihoods.  Meanwhile, the stringent "commer­cial terms" on which vital pharmaceuticals are made avail­able has drastically reduced life expectancy in many places. But in Margaret Thatcher's deathless phrase, "there is no alternative."

It was in just such terms that communism was presented to its beneficiaries following World War II; and it was be­cause History afforded no apparent alternative to a Communist future that so many of Stalin's foreign admirers were swept into intellectual captivity. But when [Czeslaw] Milosz published The Captive Mind [in 1953], Western intellectuals were still debating among genuinely competitive social models—whether social democratic, social market, or regulated market variants of liberal capitalism. Today, despite the odd Keynesian protest from below the salt, a consensus reigns.

Tony Judt: “The Memory Chalet”, 2010, pp 179-181

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