The dangers of recession

I recently came across a political pamphlet which had been distributed at a mass rally. A key passage in the pamphlet ran as follows:

“The end of capitalism is imminent. It has been caused by the natural greed of the owners of capital, and by the reckless behaviour of the banking system, pushing people and firms into excessive debt, and seeking unearned and scandalous personal benefits for the bankers. Capitalism is dead, and we will help to bury it. “

The whole pamphlet was full of righteous indignation about the unacceptable nature of the capitalist system and the pain that its troubles were inflicting on working people; it ended by advocating a popular uprising that would take financial institutions into public ownership and force them to work for the people, rather than for greedy businessmen.

It may be interesting to say a little more about the origins of this pamphlet. First of all, this was not written as a response to current events, it was dated October 1932. Secondly, it was written in German (the above is my translation). And finally, right on the front cover we learn that it was published by the National Socialist Workers Party of Germany, the Nazis. And of course we know that whatever they wanted to do about the events they described, within about three months they were in a position to do it, and much more besides. What followed were some of the most horrific years in human history.

I am of course not suggesting that all those have been attacking capitalism in response to recent developments are in reality fascists. But dramatic economic crises bring all sorts of dangers in their wake, particularly where these crises are accompanied by an erosion of confidence in the key organisational structures of the economy and the political establishment. The conditions today are still, thankfully, nowhere near what they were in the late Weimar Republic, but it is still worth remembering that the risks we run are not just economic and financial.

What is worrying right now is the continuing growth of cynicism and anger, and the strong desire evinced in various public commentary to see someone ‘punished’ for the mismanagement that has been evident. Of course we need a vision and a plan. But as I have suggested before, this needs to be effectively communicated to the wider population. There is much to do, and the time for doing it is now.

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2 Comments on “The dangers of recession”

  1. ultan Says:

    Confidence in the key organisational structures of the economy and the political establishment eroded? Untrue.

    This confidence wasn’t eroded, but thrown away. It takes years for trust to be established truly, it’s lost a lot more quickly. Note the marked difference with how the FBI located up Mr Stanford.

    There is a need for a vision and a plan sure, but punishment must also be part of that too, as well as the regulation and enforcement to prevent it again.

    However, we’re not likely to see anyone punished, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that part. There’s already been an effective subversion of processes and transparency, but it wasn’t by the ordinary people in the street. If you think the real threat is from marchers instead of what’s been going on behind closed doors, then that’s very naive, and even more dangerous.

    • No, I don’t think the real threat is from the marchers, whose concerns I well understand. But marches aren’t the answers either, and can sometimes create a setting in which people with less desirable motives (hence my Nazi example) take advantage. In Britain the first such demonstrations had clear racist undertones. We’ve avoided that in Ireland, but we can get on the slippery slope easily enough.

      As for punishment, I do of course believe that those who committed crimes or who did things that were in violation of the law should be punished. But while that is the right thing to do, it won’t actually solve much or make anything better.

      One of today’s papers quoted one of the marchers as saying that it wouldn’t all be so bad if we knew where we were going, and what was facing us, and what our aims as a country were now. And that is now the critical thing. Much more important – and I mean *much* more important – than anything else.

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