Come for the Politics, Stay for the Pathologies

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Fin de siècle Finally Arrives

Unexpected busy this week. But here’s one of the month’s best reads so far: Bubbles bursting.


"Atoms or systems into ruin hurl'd, / And now a bubble burst, and now a world."

Richard Fernandez  provides insights on uprisings all over the globe and concludes that they are all driven by a common thread:

What is in the way are the institutions and attitudes we’ve accumulated over the second half of the Twentieth Century.  What is in the way are all the things we wanted and now find we can’t afford unless we change our institutions or modify our wants.  We have accumulated, along with our entitlements, a vast pasture full of sacred cows which we have declared immortal. The 21st century was peculiar in that many regarded it as the permanent extension of the 20th, that End of History. All future time was dedicated by definition to the perfection of the 20th and the grazing of the sacred cows.  The world had enumerated its rights in the hundred years just past and was going to devote the eternity following to enjoying them. But there was one problem.

Beyond the notions of “collective bargaining” rights, or “the right to food”, “right to migrate”, “right to carbon credits”, “right of return”, or the “right to welfare” or whatever rights people thought they had, was the crass question of whether the society on whose transfer payments were going to underwrite it  could afford it.  The unrest that is sweeping the world is underlain by a struggle between the core idea of market economics that you can’t get something for nothing and the fundamental promise of every statist politician that of course you can.

… All the problems now besetting the EU, the Middle East, the US and Asia will find their basic settlement when those who can’t hang on to their rent-seeking arrangements finally let go. Their titles may vary: military men in Egypt, Ayatollahs in Iran, the dictator and his cronies in Libya, Eurocrats in Brussels, public sector unions in the United States.  What they share in common is an attachment to a way of life that has now become unaffordable. They can try to hang on, but the handwriting is on the wall. It will all come tumbling down, and soon.

Like an extended adolescence, the fin de siècle has been a decade in the making. And now, the pain of birthing a new one.


h/t larwyn and vanderleun