12 December 2008

Riots in Greece

The riots in Greece are, I fear, a dismal portent of what is to come. Governments have consistently drifted away from what should be their real responsibility: to look after the interests of ordinary people. The logic of incremental adaptation has seen them make policy on behalf of big corporations, their own agencies, or abstract (and manipulated) economic indicators like Gross Domestic Product. Aware at some level of consciousness of their policy failings, they have responded with a blizzard of meaningless micro-targets. But they have lost sight of the big picture. And that is looking more alarming by the day.

By making self-perpetuation their over-arching goal, governments have, I believe, helped bring about the current crisis. They have sacrificed social cohesion and the environment on the altar of economic growth. Now that growth looks unlikely to happen, and the glue that holds our societies together - the expectation of an improving quality of life for ourselves or our children - is vanishing. Perhaps it was an illusion anyway.

My suggestion, and I have been making it for years, is that governments realign their policies in favour of outcomes that are meaningful to ordinary people. This does not mean bailing out the auto or finance sectors, or indeed maintaining any other of their corrupt, insane, perverse subsidy programmes (to agriculture, for instance, or the fossil fuel industry). Government has a legitimate role in shielding people from the consequences of disaster. Bailing out its chums in the large corporations has nothing to do with that. Instead government should target goals like the eradication of poverty, the maintenance of peace, law and order, and a decent physical environment. What else is government for?

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