Thursday, September 3, 2009

Crisis? What crisis?

A few months ago I watched the film "The Baader-Meinhof Complex" with someone who knew of those events only by hearsay, being too young to remember. The film was not bad at all, with brilliant acting and a very clever script. There was no sympathy at all for the terrorists and for that one must be thankful nowadays.

It could have been better, though. In particular, it could have given a clearer idea of the international aspect of terrorism, of the role of the Soviet Union and East Germany and of how frightening the situation in the seventies was.

This has been something of a refrain of mine: yes, things are bad but are they really as bad as they were merely thirty years ago, not to mention seventy years ago? Yes, we need to deal with the problems we are facing, with many of them intractable and with very few allies, especially not in the Conservative Party. But are things really as bad as they were thirty years ago?

I was, therefore, delighted to read John Fund's article in the Wall Street Journal, which began with the paragraph:
You call this a crisis? Think back nearly 30 years ago. When Ronald Reagan took office the ­country's economy was in a shambles—inflation was running into the double digits, growth had ­stagnated and the top marginal tax rate was 70%. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union, bristling with imperial designs and ­nuclear weapons, had recently invaded ­Afghanistan, installing a puppet regime, and Iran had ousted a pro-Western leader in favor of a ­fervently ­anti-American cleric. The White House tenure of Jimmy Carter, known for hand-wringing over ­"malaise" and a botched hostage-rescue mission, had led scholars to conclude that the American presidency, as an institution, was too weak to govern in the ­modern world.
Things were even worse over on this side of the Pond when just over thirty years ago, in May 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Most of us had no idea what she really stood for, unlike Americans who, roughly speaking, knew about Reagan's ideology.

Incidentally, the best book on that period remains John O'Sullivan's "The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister". (Full disclosure: John is a very good friend of mine. But the book is still excellent and astonishingly exciting.)

The article is really a review of a new and very interesting sounding book about President Reagan. Both the book and the review are fair and admiring of the man's achievements. But, as John Fund says, Reagan and America with him faced two enemies: the Soviet Union and big government. The first proved to be weaker and was defeated. The second stands still and getting stronger under President Obama.

The same can be said here. Maybe the economic ideas of the free market did become acceptable by all (though at a time when banks have been nationalized and railways re-nationalized, that argument sounds a little weak) but the notion that government is not the solution but the problem is little favoured.

None of the main political parties accept it, none of the main-stream media, very few of the opinion formers and only a small proportion of the population, though the last of these is growing. We have a long way to go.

1 comment:

  1. History isn't linear progress and the past can easily be glorified as much worse than now. John Fund sounds like a grandfather who upon hearing his grandson complaining exclaims that in his day he had to walk 10 miles a day to work, in the snow without a coat and work 25 hours a day, and that you kids don't know how lucky you are!

    But i do agree that there has been a self-indulgence that this is the worst crisis we have ever known without a real consideration of former struggles. It's the exaggerations that make me wince

    P.S. Coincidentally I watched the Baader-Meinhof Complex just last night and thought it was excellent.