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Asking for it
That crackling sound you might be hearing right about now is hell freezing over. Yep, back at the Guardian after 17 years. All the other career things I’ve tried seem positively phantasmagoric, now that I’m back in the old town. It was either this or Cepep. If my luck holds steady, and my column writing career goes as it has in the past, this column might last as long, and be as merry, as the erstwhile director of the SIA with whom, incidentally, I share initials.
In other words: Hello. But “what” (to paraphrase the goodly gentlemen of business who interviewed me for this gig), “would you write about?” They both smirked when I said things to the effect of “arts, culture, society and media.” Apparently those are not pursuits worthy of manly men.
“Ahm, we already have enough ‘soft’ stuff,” one said. I assured them that this was evident from the pages of the paper, but by soft stuff I mean C4, rather than chocolate pudding. They were sceptical, but here I am anyway. And though, with the PNM out of office, column material isn’t just falling ready-made out of the sky these days, these are interesting times, especially for chronic, recalcitrant naysayers: They (we) who can’t stop whining when everybody else wants to wine and love up de culture.
In fact, the most interesting thing about these times is the fact that many, if not all, naysayers are coming back strong from enforced obscurity—like the German economist Wilhelm Hankel. Along with his three buddies (Wilhelm Nolling, Albrecht Schachtschneider and Joachim Starbatty), who are all economists, Hankel was featured in the German magazine Der Speigel on June 30 last year. Their claim to fame: they had mounted a legal challenge to the institution of the euro (currency) in 1998, saying it was economically infeasible, and should not be undertaken.
They failed, the euro was created, and they were ostracised, ridiculed, and blacklisted for the next 12 years—right up until the European economic union (after the troubles in Greece and Spain) started to crumble. Surprise, surprise, the old boys were right. What does it get them? A whole lot of self-satisfaction, but millions of ruined lives, several ruined countries, and pain enough t0 spread around the globe.
Stories like this abound. In the aftermath of the Bernie Madoff scandal in the US, it transpired that one lone financial investigator, Harry Markopolos, who repeatedly approached the SEC with evidence of Madoff’s malfeasance, was ignored. Madoff himself reportedly wondered how he could be getting away with it, even as he was getting away with it. But he did, and billions of dollars later, well, you know the story.
The same unwillingness to see applies to the collapse of the US derivatives market which, as a little bonus, took down the world economy with it. Several people had seen it coming, or at least seen that America’s “generation of prosperity” was a massive con job. Some wrote books like (from as far back as 1989) Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker, and the economist Hyman Minsky (who died in 1996). There were folks who sounded the warnings against the big banks, especially Goldman Sachs, the firm which has a direct link to the US Treasury, and played the major role in the crash of Greece and so on.
The party poopers’ fates were all the same: ostracism, loss of wuk, derailed careers. (Or as I like to call it, a normal work week.) But had they, and common sense, been listened to, the present would be a lot different. (Now for a moment of angst: in a country where a crazy old coot can put on a costume, call himself “Master” and be taken seriously by government, NGOs and academia, I don’t think I need to feel even vaguely embarrassed to have to point out that I was one of the naysayers, and got my milkshake properly drunk for my trouble. I do feel a bit annoyed at having to be the one to point it out, but I’m sure it’ll pass.)
There is, however, one curious feature of our time that bears mentioning in this screed: the toppling of the authority of facts. One of the people I read regularly and with great pleasure is Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Krugman’s recent columns follow the Republican brand of economics, and how it is sold to the American public, who, it seems, will buy anything.
The Republican plan seems to be to promise no tax increases, efficiency by reducing government size, and prosperity through market forces by increasing deregulation. But none of this is true: the market is not efficient, government regulation protects consumers, and privatising anything means kissing service goodbye. None of these facts seem to matter —even as the world economy still smoulders in Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Spain etc. Clearly, the facts no longer matter, at least not to the people who suffer from lies the most.
On a smaller scale and locally, when reviewing theatre, culture things, and books in the early 1990s, I looked at the arts and culture scene, and realised that if it kept up, we were headed for disaster, and said so. No one took me on, and now, well, take a look. On returning from a brief stint abroad in 1997 and seeing the way “press freedom” was being manipulated by a bunch of very immoral people, for profit and political gain, I pointed this out and got “shellacked” for my trouble. When I said Carnival was PNM campaigning, pfftttt. And when, in 2002, I said the PNM would crash the country, ruin the economy, and cause an increase in crime, and racial hatred, well…
So, apart from the me, me, me, all this is a long-winded way of introducing anyone who might be interested to this column (for however short its time in these pages might be). There’s going to be nay-saying, finger-pointing, and names will be named. The only difference between this round and my previous rounds is that I’m less inclined to be charitable or patient, especially with smug and anosognosic.
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