Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Irish Crisis

The crisis that did not happen, will possibly be the way history will remember this. Indeed, if there is a history to be written still, and if the events of last two years are to get a place in the usual boom-and-bust ride of the market capitalism. I say this because this may just be the end of history, no return to life as usual may be around the corner; or, may be that's just too pessimistic, we will just be unleashed in a brave new world where such things won't matter.

One would love to think the Irish crisis, which didn't happen, won't matter. After all, we have now learned to be prepared. The lessons were learned when one had to get Greece out of water, and we almost always knew Spain and Ireland were coming. It is after all, just a monetary thing, which can be solved by pumping money in. And, it was.

The trouble is, it does not end there. When you pump money in, you are plugging a whole today by taking away the wealth of the future generations. Or of people's of other nations, who already do not have much. This mechanism of bail outs are about giving money to wealthy bankers and builders and protecting pensions of people who already have quite a bit, and in turn, turning the day's labour worthless for an Indian clerk or a Chinese Factory Worker or of efforts of a future day of an unnamed yet kid in Russia. The bail-outs are part of a crisis, not its solution: It is a mechanism of spreading, exporting, the crisis rather than rooting it out.

So, Irish crisis did happen. And this may still fundamentally alter the course of the economic crisis that we are in. We have learned lessons from the previous crises and we are so far applying the formulas to the current one: But in a game of so many actors and factors, doing more of the same old thing may not mean getting out of the crisis. In fact, it may mean sinking deeper into it.

I am so gloomy on an otherwise cheery Sunday evening is because I see even more burdens being passed on. I see that the 'money economy', the capitalist one we know of, is increasingly diverging from people's aspirations and daily lives, and while the economic boom in the first few years of the new millennium came out of integrating new geographies and people into the money economy, the bail-outs and emerging inward-looking political arrangements will soon make people withdraw from the system.

Let me clarify this. Participating in an economic system is a voluntary activity, somewhat. Indeed, there are cultural and social inducements spread around us all the time - in terms of what you should own or do - as well as harsh penalties to those who wish to drop out. The system is a well-planned, structured activity, with a structured education inducting people in the system, the popular culture sustaining the expectations and driving people on during their productive years and finally, a sort of pension/ social care system taking care of those who have done enough and can't do any more. However, it is so far a voluntary system - one joins in after being persuaded, not forced. However, if participation in the system means giving up a bit of my rewards (and culturally, my rewards come first I am taught) for a distant Irish landlord I don't know or care for, an increasing number of people will opt out. And, they are opting out.

This is of course not seen kindly. The governments are trying to persuade the NEETs (Not in Employment, Education and Training: The drop-outs from the society) to get back to work, for their own good! The pension age is getting further stretched. An increasing number of people are deciding every day not to participate in the production-consumption cycle that keeps going. We may mock the kids in Madrassahs, and think of them as terrorists, but they are possibly the biggest single chunk of the population dropping out of the Production/Consumption cycle.

So, the biggest threat to our way of life does not come from hurtling missiles, but people withdrawing from our way of life. Indeed, if the problem gets worse, which it will, we have to leave our democratic pretensions and force people. Voluntary unemployment is the surest step to bring in fascism. I would like to think that the days of big national wars are over; but they can make a comeback. But I have put my money whether it will be a China-India contest this century, I shall rather not: I would think we are shifting away from national wars and getting into an era of conflict of participants/ non-participants in the economic system.

Such conflicts can start with the bail-outs such as this. A bail-out simply means a national government has given out more than it could afford, and they must depend on other people's generosity to make ends meet. The funny thing is that this generosity comes easy, as those other people have already trusted your banks to keep their money (which is equivalent to doing the work today and voluntary accepting a chit for a later payout) and you can use the money for the moment to pay your bills. Indeed, you will have to pay back, but you may not later on, because you can change the rules. Till the time the other party throws up their hands and say that they won't play, you can go on.

If the end of history has to arrive, it will arrive in this way. Fukuyama imagined it to be happy ending, and it may still be happy ending, depending on who you talk to. It may not be how he imagined it, though: Happiness is usually defined in terms of your ability to consume but you can be happy by consuming less. History has moved on the back of the economic man - a rational human being, who toils hard in office and goes crazy in the shopping malls - and he may just be abdicating (if he ever existed). The Irish crisis may be one more step towards that more general crisis, a step further down.

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