Domestic fury, and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy
– Julius Caesar Act III, Scene 1
As it happens, Italy was not the scene of domestic fury, let alone of fierce
civil strife, this week. Instead, the Italian government and parliament, at the
urgent prodding of its lecherous leader Berlusconi, rushed through more and
tougher austerity measures in an effort to persuade the financial markets that
Italy is not a basket case and to convince the European Central Bank to continue
buying Italian government bonds.
The ECB, seemingly encouraged by this
display of political determination by the Italians – although over the firm
objections of the German members of its governing council – did step up to the
plate and buy both Italian and Spanish bonds, thereby preventing a total rout in
However, even with this support from the ECB, the Italian
and Spanish stock markets lurched from one low to another over the week in a
sickening series of surges and collapses to steadily lower levels. These came as
the markets were swept daily and almost hourly by rumors of liquidity problems
at leading Italian banks and, far worse, major French banks as well. So while
the Italian domino trembled – but did not (yet) fall – the next domino down the
line, namely France, began to shake.
Here, too, the response was
seemingly firm: Not only did the ratings agencies confirm that they had no
problem with France’s AAA rating – despite having knocked the USA down a notch –
but President Sarkozy summoned his senior ministers and instructed them to
prepare further austerity measures for discussion and approval later this
Here, too, the aim is to demonstrate that the political
determination exists to do whatever it takes to stabilize the
Formidable. But there is a problem with tough economic policies.
They are great when you see the Powerpoint slides and the Excel spreadsheets
that show how expenses will be reduced and the deficit trimmed, so that key debt
ratios improve over time. But if these fierce austerity measures are legislated
and implemented as planned, they cause serious hardship to many people and
engender major social dislocation.
Economists will explain, rightly, that
the alternative is worse: the eventual breakdown of government and total
collapse. But that sensible line still doesn’t play well among the people who
actually bear the brunt of the budget cuts, the public-sector firings, the
elimination of welfare programs, etc.
Just how problematic it is to
impose severe and prolonged austerity on a large country became abundantly,
painfully and shockingly clear in the UK this week. The Conservative- LibDem
coalition that came to power last year had a mandate to cut government spending
and raise taxes, so as to prevent Britain from reaching the parlous financial
state that Italy, France et al are now facing. The Cameron government has gone
ahead with massive cuts in public spending.
These measures have been
fiercely opposed, as might have been expected. There have been major
demonstrations by students and others, and some of these have turned very
violent and very nasty. But that was to be expected; in Athens, the austerity
measures were worse and the intensity of the opposition was greater.
the protests and demonstrations seen hitherto in the UK were in no way similar,
nor did they in any way prepare people for the events of the last week. These
were not demonstrations or protests against anything specific.
there has been a wave of wanton vandalism, perpetrated for the most part by
kids. Wild, vicious, nasty kids – but kids nonetheless.
wave of violence has not cost lives, except for one incident in Birmingham.
Unfortunately for its perpetrators and their would-be imitators, it did
something even worse in the British scale of values. It attacked property. If,
in earlier times, it could be said that “an Englishman’s home is his castle,” in
the current secular age in which real estate is the national religion, his home
is also his church and sanctuary – and shopping centers are the social
cathedrals. By attacking and burning shops and homes, the stupid, greedy kids
have declared war on the middle class – and will pay dearly for their
They are smart enough to know that playing the role of
disadvantaged victim – “you shouldn’t ignore us,” as some of the thugs explained
– is the politically correct path to a rap on the knuckles, rather than a prison
sentence. But they are not smart enough to realize that they have just helped
consign that liberal mind-set to the garbage can of history.
now facing up to the consequences of five decades of social engineering and
family collapse (in the developed country with the highest rate of teenage
pregnancies, how many of the vandals have two parents, let alone functioning
ones?) perpetrated by left-liberal ideologies, together with three decades of
economic Darwinism perpetrated by right-wing ideologies. These consequences are
not abstract concepts; they are the “feral rats” (as a middle- class lady in
Croydon termed them) that emerged into full view this week.
But as the
rest of Europe is forced to rapidly dismantle its welfare state in an attempt to
avoid bankruptcy, it will expose itself to the same consequences. Each country
has its own brand of poisonous racial, ethnic, religious, national, and/or class
hatreds bubbling beneath the surface. As the crisis deepens, these will spill
over into domestic fury, fierce civil strife and the rest of Mark Anthony’s