Tuesday, 22 November 2011

What's to be so relaxed about?

It’s sometimes worrying how easily one can be sucked into a superficially plausible view to which normally one wouldn’t give any house room at all.

For instance, like rather a lot of other people I’ve tended to go along with the idea that it’s no bad thing that Greece and Italy now have ‘technocratic’ governments. I’m not quite sure why I should be relaxed about this idea, because ‘technocratic’ only seems to be a synonym for ‘unelected’. I like to think of myself as a bit of a democrat, so how can I reconcile myself to this obvious travesty of accountability?

And yet when I saw an Italian being interviewed on the streets on that heady day when Berlusconi finally fell, and heard him say ‘now, we just need to get things sorted out, there’ll be time for elections later’ I caught myself nodding and agreeing. But what happens to the principle of one citizen one vote?

In the cases of Greece and Italy we seem to have reduced it to 15 or so non-citizens, one vote.

On the one hand, we have Merkozy, one half of which at least has the merit of being relatively civilised, though the other half is just a would-be Napoleon who worries all the time about his physical stature, presumably because any other kind is beyond him. He has all the qualities that won Berlusconi the general admiration he so richly deserves, as well as the career exit he had done so much to earn himself and which, we can but hope, Sarko might soon emulate.

Less impressive half of Merkozy
Then there are two or three international financiers, the heads of the European Central Bank, the IMF, whatever.

And there are the credit rating agencies.

Because let’s not forget that one of the main drivers behind government policy and government changes recently is the need to satisfy the ‘markets’. 

And that means the credit ratings people.

Have you noticed  how people talk about them as though they were impersonal? I heard it last week. ‘Standard and Poor’s are considering downgrading France’s debt.’ Standard and Poor’s? They make it sound like an oracle of some kind, a handing down of tablets of timeless truth from the Lord himself on top of a mountain in a desert.

Just bear in mind that S&P’s is basically twelve guys in suits sat round a table in a board room in New York and voting  - yes, voting – about whether Italy or Iceland or the US itself deserves needs ticking off. If seven decide to reduce the grading, a bunch – which can mean some hundreds hundreds of thousands – of people lose their jobs or their pensions or their savings.

And what qualifies those seven to make these decisions?

They’re accountants. Or economists. Or they’ve spent some years in – wait for it – financial services.

Feeling relaxed about seeing them calling the political shots can’t be right. Surely? 

No comments: