The recent dramas over Britain’s approach to EU negotiations exposes a fundamental problem facing the west. The financial crisis will get worse, not better in 2012, because no-one – not David Cameron or Angela Merkel or Nicolas Sarkozy or Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or anyone else in a position of power – is willing to acknowledge the real cause of the problem. As a result, I think we’re heading to a new feudal system.
Where did the money go in 2008? It didn’t just evaporate. It simply flowed to places from which it could not flow out. It flowed directly to the mythological ‘job creators’, one of the most inappropriately named groups in the world. The global financial system became constipated. What we need is not ‘more’ money but to fix the system so that the existing money becomes liquid once again and flows. If we do that, we can get back to where we were before 2008 – if that’s what we really want.
We could live with a system that doesn’t have this liquidity. We’ve done it before. In the middle ages, it was called the feudal system: the rich held onto their wealth, and the peasants got by as best they could. The feudal system didn’t last. It passed because it was seen as deeply unfair, because the rulers lost their collective grip on power, and because all systems have a finite life before people start pushing for something better. I think we’re heading back to something like that, even if we dress it up as something more modern.
I don’t think human society is designed to move towards a single pinnacle of organisation and then stay there. I think it’s designed to swing wildly from one extreme to another, to lurch like a drunk between the lamppost and the gutter. In the 20th century, we lurched towards a kind of liberalism, and we are now lurching away from it. The patterns differ, depending on whether you look at things in the short, medium or long term. If the latter, then it looks very much like four or five centuries’ worth of movement away from the concentration of power in the hands of the rich will now be undone.
We will probably retain the political terminology of today as we move into this new era. We will get to vote for one of two candidates, ranging from the extreme to the centre right. We will call this democracy and assume that the name justifies the means. What’s the alternative? Do you think the powerful will willingly let this power slip away? No. We vote because we’re allowed to vote. It’s a way of managing us. And it works, sometimes.
If that sounds radical, it shouldn’t. I’m not calling for change. In fact, I like things the way they are, and I’m calling for things to stay pretty much the same. But I think we’re going backwards, even if we’ve turned around in the wagon so that it looks like we’re still going forwards. That’s a cheat. But don’t worry. This neo-feudalism won’t last forever either. Wait four, maybe five hundred years and thing will change again.