Are “monsters” self-created?

Opinion

This current government is only the legacy of previous failings in governance. Our previous governments were not more competent, they were rather less bad. Anyway public disillusion has started building up for a long time. It is this vacuum that has fostered the emergence of “monsters” in all its forms

By Samad Ramoly

Generalised demotivation seems to be one the main symptoms of our existential crisis. It emerges through its own channels of resentment, namely unhealthy lifestyle when it is not repressed. Let’s try to read through the pattern that led to this unbearable situation while striving to avoid the slippery ideological track.

The political establishment and Big Business feed each other. As long as we do not factor in this fatal attraction as the primary source of our misery, not only will we contribute to maintain the mass deception, but no matter how vigorous our protest we will merely reap a flash in the pan and satisfy a feel-good sentiment provided by the self-therapy for ‘at least doing something’…”


Globalisation and capitalism count among the buzzwords that have stirred so much heated debates for at least three decades. With the ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA) doctrine, which sanctifies the all-out deregulation and privatisation of markets, Margaret Thatcher has greatly contributed to boosting the rat race. With over-consumption acting as a catalyst and key driver.

Pro-market, at all costs please!

First of all, let’s dispel the confusion between private enterprise and (predatory) capitalism. The latter is based on parameters that misrepresents what Adam Smith, one of the icons of socio-economic thought, contemplated. Indeed, when he spoke of the “invisible hand,” he insisted that it would only be efficient if it was supported by an enlightened force which would not harm the general interest. By upholding greed and the pursuit of mindless material possessions as virtues, the dogma of the self-regulating market has been instrumental in the drift we are experiencing.

To contain inevitable market failures, on the one hand, a competition watchdog is expected to intervene and impose a level playing field where healthy competition reins in the quest for rent seeking. In return, such market rewards innovators. On the other hand, the state also becomes a market player when Big Business (understood here as large shareholder-centric conglomerates and multinationals bent on whitewashing stakeholders’ concerns and rights) does not have the necessary resources to operate in a specific sector or when fat rents and margins are not in sight.

In contrast, a corrupt state is a pro-big business agency that applies arbitrary policies to facilitate the expansion of Big Business. This to the detriment of small and medium-sized enterprises which are more likely to boost the market and generate jobs. When, for example, we were heading towards the end of preferential agreements and the transformation of the sugar industry began to occupy the “national” agenda, the cane industry was promoted as the win-win formula.

In reality, it was a sneaky lobby to support its conversion to the concrete industry (or property development for foreign buyers) and harness the energy industry which portrayed itself as green but is mainly powered by coal. All accompanied by generous, direct and indirect subsidies imposed on citizen-taxpayers. Who are the real “assistés”? As a matter of fact, the impact on food sovereignty and home ownership is overwhelming.

Reversing this modus operandi is an imperative that is as economic as it is social and ecological because it holds back productive energies, the source of effective competitiveness.

Massenbetrug

Massenbetrug (mass deception) is a phenomenon deconstructed by philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer to describe the commodification of popular culture and its dissemination to distract citizens, without the constraint of sublimating the work. Meanwhile resource-grabbing is unleashed. Professors Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman later delved into how the mainstream media relate to this situation in the book ‘Manufacturing Consent’.

It is no coincidence that mainstream media today is so disapproved as their operation depends much more on market-dominant advertisers, than paid readership, who shape the contours of the system. Thus, many journalists internalise codes that tend to inhibit the expected nobility, even if passionately desired.

Internationally, eyes are often directed towards Donald Trump, the “jihadists” and so on. That they could embody the traits of a “monster” capable of doing great harm is undeniable, but would they have been headline-grabbing if previous governments have not been Big Business puppets?

This current government is only the legacy of previous failings in governance. Our previous governments were not more competent, they were rather less bad. Anyway public disillusion has started building up for a long time. It is this vacuum that has fostered the emergence of “monsters” in all its forms.

Governments and Big Business lamin-dan-lamin

The street and social media protests are a convergence of citizens’ various frustrations against the political and economic establishment. Anger is directed at the wealth captured by this establishment, a reality translated into staggering inequalities. In a sloppy bid to reverse this setback, Mauritius was offered its TINA moment in the 2000s. France is now making up for it with Emmanuel Macron, after Nicolas Sarkozy’s failed attempt.

A system inherently undermined by decades of deception can never be saved by further deception revamped in an ivory tower. True salvation will come from a straightforward diagnosis, a well-defined destination, an integrated, glocal and intelligently communicated action plan. The course will have to be resolutely driven by a synergy between all the stakeholders. All inspired by leaders setting a good example, credible guardians of institutions and regulators that bite for real without get figir.

The United Kingdom characterises a country doomed to survive the backlash of massive deindustrialization and the excessive financialisation of its economy. By foolishly replicating a similar accident-waiting-to-happen in our tiny territory, the resulting invasive gentrification can only be more devastating. Other utterly absurd decisions further strained the landscape, including:

• the abolition of the Ministry of Planning;
• the dismantling of the railway;
• the simultaneous launch of the offshore platform with a floating exchange rate regime (validation of even more slippery exchange rates);
• the incentives to grab “waterfront” sites and, simultaneously, the consecration of the Zougader temple.

The usual suspects, that is the Scandinavian countries as well as Germany, Estonia, Canada and Singapore, are trying hard to overcome this rat race, if only less painfully, because their captains have never been really infatuated with TINA. Their foresight and their vision have generally prevailed over navel-gazing and the blame game.

Dire straits

The time has come, according to Andy Haldane, the Bank of England iconoclast, to end the tyranny of “experts” and listen to popular wisdom. Unfortunately, this will not be an automatic transition because many Millennials, like many of the celebrated “experts”, have not benefited from sufficiently sharp cognitive tools to navigate the systemic links with an interdisciplinary and sophisticated approach. In addition, social media is not necessarily conducive to the revival of participatory citizenship: the information circulating there is heavily filtered by algorithms that are not always benevolent.

For bigots still advocating predatory capitalism, name calling any other alternative, however credible, is their lifeline. But the usual suspects have shown that labels do not matter in building a viable project. Fortunately, promising vibes are being released here and there. Ironically, or not so much, women are mostly the ones flying high the anti-TINA flag.

Namely, Mariana Mazzucato for scholarly research; economic thinkers Rana Faroohar and Gillian Gett within the Financial Times, the voice of global capitalism; Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand. Behavioural findings by Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler, among the most cited, are contributing to relieve orthodox economics from its one-track mindedness. In South Korea, the chaebols (conglomerates) are being brought to heel. Pope Francis is constantly demonising the rat race. Popular socio-economic thinker Thomas Piketty has demonstrated how wealth concentration has hurt nations. By ignoring this reality, proponents of global (predatory) capitalism risk their own credibility.

The political establishment and Big Business feed each other. As long as we do not factor in this fatal attraction as the primary source of our misery, not only will we contribute to maintain the mass deception, but no matter how vigorous our protest we will merely reap a flash in the pan and satisfy a feel-good sentiment provided by the self-therapy for “at least doing something”.


* Published in print edition on 13 October 2020

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