At the End of the Day

Once upon a time, the Anglo-Saxon West (including Australia and New Zealand) shared what might best be called a cultural consensus. My guesstimate is that this lasted from around 1945 until 1963, and cut completely across political Party rivalries.

I would list its main dimensions as: defending freedom made the cost of defeating the Nazis worth it, Communists are very suspect but mixed economies seem to work well, science is good, space travel will be wonderful, like it or not but America is amazing, we’re all going to be better off in the future, I want my kids to have more than I did, banks are tedious but solid, credit is bad, kids outside marriage are to be avoided, Africans are primitive, most people are well-meaning, Winston Churchill is the man of the century, John and Jacquie Kennedy are soooo glamorous, I admire Israel, Potter was a bad guy but on the whole it’s A Wonderful Life, the baby-boom has produced a generation our parents uniquely misunderstand, and blimey, Elvis is singing about doing it.

But in a nutshell, most people didn’t do radical. Steady as she goes was the order of the day. There was an almighty mushroom cloud casting a shadow over all of this: but like all thoughts of death, it spent 99.9% of the time tucked away in the closed part of every brain, bar those of Bertrand Russell and Michael Foot.

In  that context, the job of political Parties and leaders was to offer something sounding more attractive than the other lot, without breaking any eggs. There were these advertising guys on Madison Avenue who were writing books about packaging, and maybe politicos could learn from that. Ad agencies like CPV in London – run by the later legendary John Pearce – were writing ‘Life’s better under the Conservatives…don’t let Labour ruin it’. Kennedy’s team in the same year compared Dick Nixon to a shady used-car salesman. But both suggestions were pretty close to the truth.

Nobody – and I mean nobody – was suggesting anything revolutionary, even with a small r: a little more nationalisation, a little less red tape, a little more roadbuilding, a little less stuffiness, a little more money every year. As late as the 1966 British General Election, the UK’s centrist Liberal Party appealed to the electorate by suggesting that the Tory and Labour Parties were identical twins. The term ‘consensus politics’ gained a familiarity in the media.

But then a stream of events changed everything: JFK’s assassination, Vietnam, the £’s devaluation, the radical counter-culture, the Six Day War, RFK and MLK blown away too, dope, student radicalism, Heath taking us into the EEC, UK trade union militancy, the first oil crisis, Britain’s Three Day Week, and the Iran hostages crisis. Mixed-economy capitalism had come to a halt, the Middle East was rejecting Western influence, and Communism was segmenting its appeal across the globe: Trots, Maoists, Titoists, Dubcekists, Stalinists, Castroists…and various hybrids adapted for Africa. Business for profit, it seemed, was in retreat.

Consensus was dropped as genuinely entrepreneurial wealth creators and shareholder-servant Bourse fans on the one hand fought their corner against wealth redistributors and the last hurrah of Soviet command-economy repression on the other. 

On 3rd May 1979, the radical neocon Conservative Margaret Thatcher was elected British Prime Minister on a 5.2% swing from Labour to the Conservatives – the largest swing since the 1945 election. Eighteen months later, former Californian Governor Ronald Reagan won the US Presidential election in a landslide, receiving the highest number of electoral votes ever won by a non-incumbent presidential candidate.

Ever since that two years of wipe-out sea change, the role of Western politicians has broadened to a frightening degree. Thatcher, Reagan – and every major Western political leader since – has seen their remit as one including the right to overturn the consensus….even if that meant ignoring what I call The Consensus for Decency completely.

This assumed right to effect change has of course been aided by a media and business/banking set supporting all those political Parties willing to support the right of all media and business/banking sets to do WTF they like whenever they feel like it. And before anyone jumps to conclusions, there is no Leftist agenda in my critique. I can prove this by pointing out the following:

* Tony Blair, Harriet Harman and Gordon Brown used that connection to promote multicultural, immigration, and feminist lunacy in diametric opposition to the opinions of the Middle consensus.

* Ronald Reagan used that connection to promote derivatives, fiscal debt and foreign interference in diametric opposition to the opinions of the Middle consensus.

* Bill Clinton used that connection to promote brainless bank lending targets, full gay military integration, and White House intern shagging in diametric opposition to the opinions of the Middle consensus.

* David Cameron is trying to use that connection to promote Newscorp media dominance, City malfeasance, amoral banking practices, and the demolition of the NHS in diametric opposition to the opinions of the Middle consensus.

My point in all this is easy to express.

If the political class genuinely wishes to restore cultural consensus, then it needs to take the pragmatic Majority with it: by applying decent values and creative ideas to a balanced analysis of our problems. It is never going to re-establish stable society by force-fitting extreme polemics into the holes in its own belief systems.

Bonkers feminism, surreal derivatives, votes for criminals, non-dom status for infantile investment bankers…we reasonable realists – forced by your narrow madness into a sensible radicalism – reject all of it. Take us with you – or face the consequences.

34 thoughts on “At the End of the Day

  1. Phew.JW.That was a tirade.As it happens,the UK now has an annual borrowing requirement of about £120 billion,and a welfare budget of £156 billion,as some politico admitted on tele today.See the connection?

    • @william

      Please could you define what constitutes a welfare budget?

      Would your definition include benefit payments to, for example, children of mothers who were prescribed thalidomide during pregnancy?

      Or underwriting the losses of poor/fraudulent banking investment policies?

      The concept of welfare is highly manipulative, and depends on the agenda of those doing the manipulating.

  2. The problem John is that you don’t understand the issue.

    There is a rising middle class in India and China. There are simply not enough natural resources on this planet for them to attain the material parts of the Western lifestyle they see as desirable.

    Now add to that the fact that technology has replaced the need for large chunks of relatively skilled (and well paid) human labour.

    Now add to that the fact that Chinese and Indian workforces are rapidly educating themselves and are working in state of the art factories in many places that can more than compete with Western factories.

    Now add to that the fact that the marginal productivity of a gallon of petrol or diesel fuel or Iron or coal in India and China is at least twice what it is in America. To put that another way an Indian or Chinese farmer can halve his time to market or double his crop by judicious application of a motorised pump or truck with a gallon of gasoline. By contrast an imaginary American consumes a gallon of gas to go and buy McDonalds take away food, Guess which fuel consumption is more productive? India and CHina can do this for at least another Twenty years before they match our profligate energy use. (Translation: India and China can afford to pay much more for natural resources than we can because they get more return on investment from their consumption than we do.)

    What that means John is that the western middle class is dying all over the world. We are going down. Our share of the nations wealth is declining because we cannot command the same wages as we used to, and with that decline so our political influence wanes forever.

    The politicians know it and are trying to manage our decline. We are returning to older days where there is a small aristocracy and a lot of peasants. Crime and violence is going to increase. You want to be living in a small, preferably fortified, village with good neighbours.

    • Dear Walrus
      With respect I think John almost certainly does understand the issues, I think you might have missed the crux of the essay. Although I have to say your analysis of the global economic environment is spot on.

      • @ Walrus
        The Rise and Fall of the Roman (or any other for that matter) Empire.

        Reginald Perrin opined on this 40 years ago if I am not mistaken…like my good friend Iain, I commend you on many parts of your post.

        We are all, of course, still doomed…as JW says.

    • Now add to that the fact that the marginal productivity of a gallon of petrol or diesel fuel or Iron or coal in India and China is at least twice what it is in America.

      I like what you say Walrus but think about this. If the US used petrol as conservatively as China and India it would not need to import any oil. The US can tighten it’s belt can China or India? As you can see from the link below the US produces 55 percent of the oil it consumes.

      http://www.eia.gov/energy_in_brief/foreign_oil_dependence.cfm

    • Well thank god everything is so much cheaper these days thanks to the wonderful automation we have now. Back to the days of aristocrats and peasants? Your average western peasant enjoys a life of phenomenal abundance compared to anything other than the wealthiest aristocrat of yesteryear.

      Come on, a bit of decline in personal expenditure is no bad thing. Beyond a certain level of wealth personal happiness does not go up. We could all, in theory, benefit from working less, spending less money and spending more time doing constructive activities outside the workplace. It’s just a shame our massively indebted economies do not work along those lines.

  3. Draghi and Bernanke are taking the Western societies into the abyss while enriching their banker friends. I reckon it will take a modern storming of the Bastille to begin to clean up this mess of corrupt financiers and politicos. Meanwhile Mr& Mrs Pizza are still somnolent in front of the telly. Truly ignorance is bliss.

    • @Salford
      You have made my day (for making me laugh) and in the same breath ruined my life (for making me realise the horrible truth):
      “Mr & Mrs Pizza” – undeniably brilliant…we can’t afford to buy the food to cook for ourselves so we have to buy pizza…which roughly translates to:
      “Us gets some dough off the gover-meant and we is too fat-butted lazy to go shopping to buy some raw material, like, stuff to eat, and we’s certainly too lazy and stupid to know ‘ow to cook it anyway. But me Mam has shares in Dominos so that’s alright, innit?

      • “Mr& Mrs Pizza are still somnolent in front of the telly.”
        To give readers some idea of what Mr and Mrs Pizza are like, some years back I worked for an electricity supply company and during a power cut I was manning the phones. Mr Pizza came on the line and demanded that we put his supply back on immediately because he was missing Eastenders on the telly, and we were violating his “Human Rights” by stopping him. He threatened to “come round and pull my f*** face off”. (Every other word was an expletive but it would be tiresome to fill the post with asterisks.) On being told we were prioritising power to hospitals and so on, he made it clear that he considered his need to watch Eastenders took priority over everybody, including the sick.
        A few days later, ms Pizza submitted a claim for £52, with a receipt from McDonalds. Being unable to use her electric cooker, she had taken her kids (and half the neighbourhood from the look of the till roll) out to McD’s and expected the electricity board to pay for it.

  4. John, The problem is our politicans don’t truly identify with us and they haven’t for a very long time. They are either sophisticated europeans and wer’e the ignorant little islanders that need to be dragged kicking and screaming towards the light or patricians connected with the banking sector and wer’e the plebs that aren’t paying enough tax.
    Given that fact, I can’t see any party moving towarrds supporting and promoting a majority consensus.

    Finally, I’m not sure I would define Margaret Thatcher as a Radical Neo Conservative. Her raison d’être in 1979 was breaking the unions strangle-hold on our eceonomy. From what I’ve heard she had an idea of the outcomes she wanted but not how to get there, at least not until she’d been introduced to the Chicago school of Economics. Philosophically I can’t see her having much time for the teachings of Leo Strauss.

  5. As so often is the case it is easy to agree with most of what you have written.

    Especially with “It is never going to re-establish stable society by force-fitting extreme polemics into the holes in its own belief systems.” But I am convinced they are quite clever enough to realise this as a fact. Which means they have plans to achieve the necessary control by exercising more control.

    “Bonkers feminism, surreal derivatives, votes for criminals, non-dom status for infantile investment bankers…we reasonable realists – forced by your narrow madness into a sensible radicalism – reject all of it. Take us with you – or face the consequences.”

    Again I agree but I fear it is us who will have to face the consequences. When increased access to instant media and news only results in truth being more widely available but equally widely abused and ignored, the politicos still have the upper hand. The written word seems less powerful than ever in spite of or perhaps because of the new media.

    • Eventually some philanthropic billionnaire (not Murdoch) will see the light and offer the ‘news’ service over the airwaves. Maybe even filling the inbetween news with Pizzaguys type ignoramus programming to get attention (5 Minute slots offering a holiday to be won every 10 minutes with free entry or something). There is always someone waiting in the wings to find a way of enlightening the public……….most of it occurs at the moment through blogs (like this). Not everyone who coud do it is bad and not everyone with wealth is greedy. Not everyone seeks power for powers sake. Even is it takes another thousand years…….someone will say ‘enough !’.
      Slavery was abolished by such men. Martyrs against church corruption came to the fore. The establishment can ‘kill’ those who oppose it but they cannot ‘kill’ an idea.
      I actually think that Mr and Mrs Pizza will rise up once pizzas become unaffordable and TV Plods come knocking at their doors – which will be the change. When the Masses cannot afford to live…..and those times are arriving. It is being ‘managed’ to be a gradual creep………but last months inflation figures are what any Pizza and Pensioner will get for next years increase. Who believes that around 2% is going to cover the cost of living increases over the last year………..(I think it was oxfam’s independent research showed real – normal peoples – cost of living went up 30%+).
      You can tell people ad nauseum what you would like their reality to be. But you cannot change the reality in which they live. When they can’t live they revolt. The current crowd (all over) are trying to sell them cake !

      • Much truth their M’star.

        Extremes are never defeated by measured or minimal or reasonable response, it will only be by another extreme.

  6. Good article John, but 1945 to maybe 1970 was the exception. In the normal course of things 5% set the policy [Rulers, Kings and Oligarchs] 10% put this policy into practice [Barons or Senior CEO's] The remaining 85% just make the best of what they have and get on with life.

    There maybe a tiny movement up and down this structure just to give a little bit of encouragement [and sweeten the Genes] but for millenniums the above was the norm.

    Like you i am a so called baby-boomer and just hope i can get by in the next 10 or so years [hoping the fall is not to soon] after all if you look at the demographics from 2030 onwards the population is expected to go into a rapid decline.

    Still keep up the good work, and most of the replies are well worth a read.

  7. “radical neocon … Margaret Thatcher”: absurdly wide of the mark. She was a liberal, in the old British sense. She was not a Jewish ex-trotskyite, which is (I gather) the common background of US neocons.

    • Yes, they must have been looking the other way while Thatcher made her way up the party, It must have been a shock for our “neocons” to have had a genuine person at the helm. Those who ousted her brought the party back to the “common purpose.”

    • Quite so. If anything she was the personification of Samuel Smiles self-help doctrine. I can’t conceive anything more adbsurdly nonsensical than calling her a radical neo-con. She saw socialism for the evil claptrap it always has been and thanks to her background was resolutely opposed to the Freemason/old-school-tie comfort of the establishment. We could do with her running the show now.

  8. Can’t really agree with your main analysis, John. The cultural consensus you talk about was actually a political consensus, Social Democracy, nor did it stop or change in 1963, it is alive, kicking and here today in all its glory. You could argue that the 1945 Labour administration was more Socialist than Social Democrat but that is a moot point. All governments in the Anglo-Saxon West, including the USA, have been Social Democrat since WW2, even Margaret Thatcher’s government. The essential question is, was the state bigger, more redistributive, more regulatory and a bigger provider of welfare and services after a government ended? If the answer is yes, then that government was Social Democrat. Can you show me a single post war government that actually reduced those things? I doubt it. Thatcher did create a tsunami of change and whole communities were smashed in the wave, but if you look at the elements I use to define Social Democracy, they were all bigger after her government ended.

  9. JW and fellow readers,

    Thoroughly recommend the investment in time to go to the NakedCapitalism blog, today (19/Sept.) and read Michael Hudson on his new book and the problems with rampant ‘Financialization’

  10. Pingback: From the Archives: Thatcher, other extremists, and their legacy | The Slog.

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