The house is on fire
I overheard someone the other day, speaking about a willfully oblivious person: “The house could be on fire, and he would sit there and burn up unless his son told him to get off his ass and get out the door.”
In that sense, Walter Russell Mead seems to believe that the US political and media class is the oblivious homeowner in the face of the global economic situation. Excerpt:
It is almost as if on December 8, 1941, the press was filled with speculation about whether Franklin Roosevelt’s chances for a fourth term were helped or hurt by the attack — and whether GOP hopes to pick up more seats in the 1942 election would have to be put on hold.
The political speculation is worse than useless at this point. Global economic events are moving so rapidly that we have no way of foreseeing the economic environment for next year. It will probably not be very good, but how bad it will be and how it will look to voters cannot yet be foretold.
More to the point, we need policy discussions more than we need political ones. This is not just about how big the deficit should be; it is about whether the international financial system will survive the next six months in the form we now know it. It is about whether the foundations of the postwar order are cracking in Europe. It is about whether a global financial crash will further destabilize the Middle East and, if so, what we and the Europeans are going to do about it. It is about whether the incipient signs of a bubble burst in China signal the start of an extended economic and perhaps even political crisis there. It is about whether the American middle class is about to be knocked off its feet once again and indeed whether the middle class as we’ve known it will survive. It is about whether sovereign governments can still underwrite economic performance and financial stability in the leading economies of the world.
I have written many times on my blog about how the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last decade is epistemological: that is, how susceptible we humans are to confirmation bias — that is, to believing things that confirm what we wish to believe, and to disbelieving data that do not fit the narrative we prefer. In my own case, I tend to be a pessimist, and even a catastrophist. Knowing that about myself, I try to guard against it when interpreting news and events. Nevertheless, it really does seem like the wheels are coming off, and that nobody knows what to do. This is partly our fault. We have fallen into the habit of electing leaders on the basis of pandering to our special interests and ideological hot buttons. A man (or woman) who happens to be wise, but who is a heretic on particular issues, has a steep uphill battle in our current political culture. Wisdom and prudence is too often cast aside if it stands to get in the way of the pursuit of power.
Orwell, as usual, said it best: “Power-worship blurs political judgment because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue.” Our leaders — and I’m thinking specifically of the leaders of the GOP, because they call themselves conservatives — don’t seem to ask themselves, “What is best for our country?” but rather, “What can we do to stick it to the Democrats?” (In fact, Mitch McConnell, from the heart of the GOP DC bubble, pretty much said this a year ago.) But this is where we are today. A weary liberal friend said to me recently that he keeps getting scare propaganda from the DNC, warning him that if he doesn’t send money to stop the Republicans, Armageddon will be upon us. When the history of this tumultuous era is written, the folly and fecklessness of our political and media class will explain a lot of our travail, or rather, our inability to meet the grave challenges of the day with something like wisdom and statesmanship.