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Sunday, 4 January 2009

'Cher Michel. Pouvez-vous m'aider avec un problème...'

X to Y:
Here's the link to that piece. You're very right that we're still only at the beginning of this business. Until Greece elects a Thatcher - and Greeks would have to grow a spine first in order to do that - no-one will be there to tell the hoi-polloi that the happy days of anemelia (Greek for carelessness) are over and we need to radically downsize our expectations. The proletariat are proletariat and no amount of feel-good sloganeering and post-dictatorship populist govts will change the fact that if you work as a plumber you don't get two houses and three cars (except if you were a farmer during the Delors packets in the mid-90s in which case you have that and sex-tourism to Bangkok). Sounds harsh, I know, but it points to the other great danger of our commodified consumerist culture: that the have-nots are not only exposed but full-frontally assaulted by what the haves have. The walls have come down from around the villas, and they have migrated to the corner of our living room inside our TV sets. Again, many thanks for your valuable insight. All best. X
Y to X:
I would be careful about wishing for a Thatcher. She sent inequality soaring to pre-war levels, ruined a generation and was allowed to do so by our rather pitiful trade unions. She created the economic conditions we now face by turning Britain into a giant hedge fund - all financial bubble and no substance. Thanks to her and latterly to Blair/Brown, we are as badly exposed to the crisis as any country in the World. Ultimately, that's capitalism; increasingly speculative booms alongside increasingly vicious and globalized crises. I cannot see anything but despair in the Thatcher road I'm afraid and I honestly think the Greek working classes would have defeated her - as would the French for that matter. She only looked strong because the opposition was so weak. Cheers Y
X to Y:
Of course you're right, and Thatcher is not the way to go. But what I was trying to express was that we need someone of Thatcher's willpower to crush trade unions that are out of touch with where the world economy stands and where we stand with it in relation to our productivity and what we can contribute to the world economy. In the world economy, Greece's tourist sites and energy crossroads geography are its greatest assets. Not much else. The EU has pigeonholed our highly-educated workforce as becoming the economic bloc's middling white collar managers in the Balkans region and maybe even the Levant. But that's about it. The trade unions have nooooooooo clue of where the world is headed and where it's at now. They do not access the Internet even. Forgive me if I sound parochial (they don't access the Internet) :)
Y to X:
The big question is how one conceives of the world economy and what it should look like. Until now, it has been left exclusively to the rich and powerful (including a few Greeks), who have indulged themselves at the expense of everyone else for a generation and they are directly responsible for the crisis now. My question is, if not the trade unions, who will make them pay for their crimes? Put another way, the weaker the trade unions are, the more capitalism will be allowed to run rampant and the greater the eventual cost to the whole of society will be. A 'modernized' Greek economy based on longer working hours and lower wages is a recipe for misery and that is what would happen if the trade unions were smashed. David Harvey's work expresses this perspective most eloquently - his short book 'A brief history of neoliberalism' is well worth a read. Best Y
X to Y:
It's not about Greece though, is it? The average Greek worker has it a hell of a lot better than the average Chinese or Indonesian one. That is the tableau we're now playing on. As for the second juncture of your thinking which I interpret as self-regulation, it is to be hoped that the EU will be better at regulating Greek elite excess (I chortle as I write this, knowing how deeply we're scraping the barrel at this point) than the unions can be. The trade unions have never regulated the Greek elites. They have just sought to get a better deal for their workers. In so doing, they have only constrained the Greek elites minimally. The root of the problem is far far deeper. X
Y to X:
Well, that is true - and the average British worker has a far better wage than the average Greek. No doubt Gordon Brown will remind us of our privileges in that regard when people complain about falling working class living standards. At the same time, he will continue to indulge parasitic bankers and ignore rising relative inequality, which is the real source of misery and alienation in so-called developed economies. So, are we arguing for a race to the bottom, which is what the globalizers have wanted all along? In my view, the answer is for Chinese, African and Indonesian wages to rise and militant trade unionism will have an important role to play there. Contrary to what one might think, Chinese workers are becoming quite belligerent in that regard (see Bill Dunn's work), as are South Africans as ANC hegemony slowly starts to weaken. Re: the piece you sent I cannot honestly claim to be an expert in trade union matters - there's an industrial relations group in WBS who are - but I'll take the compliment and hope they don't see it! Best Y
Me to X: So now Y has said you can't have Mrs T who's it going to be? X: Dora... ;)
Me: Well now. That's interesting. She made a good job of being Mayor of Athens and she's got a feel for international politics. The camera likes her. Do you know something I don't – as to why that might be impossible or possible? Best S
X:...and she's as tough as thatcher. it's no secret that she's been groomed to be PM since she could walk. She's now waiting out Karamanlis to become so unpopular that she can step in and save ND from disaster... or so goes the scenario...X:
Me: I was looking back through my blog. DB came on my radar in November 2007 and she’s neither klepht nor diaspora. Simon
(Her speech at Oxford in November 2007 - about strengthening the capacity of the European Union to govern, rather than rule; a shrewd distinction) * * * European government's are faltering in exercising authority reminding me - painfully - of my flailing inadequacy as a father of teenagers in the 1990s. When our children rebelled I had nothing robust nor central to offer but love and frustration. We struggled to set boundaries, arguing furiously, apportioning blame. Our fragile centre just about held despite our inconsistencies. We'd take it in turn to drive around town waiting outside, even wandering into city nightclubs when they’d gone there under age. I’d threaten, uselessly, to sue managers for allowing under-age entry. Drugs were rife. We got the police out once when one child refused to come home. Then they turned 16 and we lost even more control clinging to the tattered moral authority given at the cost of constant endeavour - supported by regular conversations with equally frustrated teachers (who, oddly, liked them both a lot). From age 16 the banks took them with pressing offers of free loans, plastic cards and gifts for starting an account. To our complaints at this soliciting, bank employees, when you could reach them, would repeat “they’re adults now.” In law they were... Cut to 2009; one’s in the police – and good at it; the other designs websites - well. But talk about a rollercoaster ride – for them and us – and we’re a fairly boring respectable family of means. An unlikely authority on these shenanigans - a gay French intellectual of global fame - Michel Foucault - explored the links between government of self, household and state. He referred to governmentality. I've written about this. Thought about it. But writing and doing can be so separate - and certainly are for me. Foucault's thinking is often used as a way of analysing ingenious mechanisms of state control, but I would have loved to have sought that man's advice on parenting. "Cher Michel. Pouvez-vous m'aider avec un problème..." I like the subversion of seeking guidance from Foucault on family rule. It's too late now. We lost him in 1984. Now I hear my adult children playing piano when they drop round and my heart turns over (treat these revelations with discretion says the bourgeois in me – for their sakes. They never read my blog which is fine). So I suppose this was what I'm on about when I wrote ‘parents of Greece could stop this’. I suspect the Greek education system lacks the openness needed to even begin to deal with the ugly rebellious transition to modernity that is now the ordeal of growing up. For every enfuriatingly childish action by immature adolescents there's a counter reaction in the soulless world of turbo-capitalism (see Luttwak). How do you arm a young person with the personal and authoritative capacity for judgement that will enable them to navigate the moral wasteland that surrounds them, undermining them, undermining parents, schools and all those delicate linkages that make up Foucault's ideal of a robust connection between self, household and state? I'm not seeking scapegoats - they're everywhere. I'm searching for ways to hold the centre. Self-improvement is not of itself enough. There needs to be a domus - a household. And that household needs a firm link to the idea of a state. Each levers the other. Each can weaken the other. But what is the state today? From whence comes it's legitimacy and its contract with its citizens, and what do citizens do to confer that legitimacy when they struggle to exercise authority over their children? For me, for us, this is a storm part weathered - but at no small cost in wear and tear, and the horizon's got a cold sharp edge to it.
'I would now like to start looking at that dimension which I have called by that rather nasty word "governmentality". Let us suppose that "governing" is not the same thing as "reigning", that it is not the same thing as "commanding" or "making the law", let us suppose that governing is not the same thing as being a sovereign, a suzerain, being lord, being judge, being a general, owner, master, professor. Let us suppose that there is a specificity to what it is to govern and we must now find out a little what type of power is covered by this notion.' Michel Foucault. (2004). Sécurité, Territoire, Population. Cours au Collège de France. 1977-1978. Paris: Gallimard, 2004. p. 119

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Simon Baddeley