Exit, voice, loyalty and – something else

by niamh on December 13, 2011

I’ve been thinking about the size of the gap that has opened up between human suffering and politics as usual, which I think makes this crisis unlike anything we’ve had for quite a long time.

Albert Hirschman, in his classic 1970 book, suggested that there are three responses to failure in states, firms, and other organizations: exit, voice, and loyalty. If you are alienated enough, you leave (if you can). You can protest. Or you can stay and put up with it. But these are not mutually exclusive options. You might, for example, use the possibility of exit to amplify the power of protest (he thinks this applies to marriages as well as to states – nothing if not theoretically ambitious). Similarly, you might increase the effectiveness of protest, and delay the need for the exit option, by professions of loyalty.

I’m looking around me at the damage to the Irish social fabric caused by austerity measures to date, and wondering how to think about it, using these categories. Ireland is still a developed economy. But unemployment is now over 14 per cent, half of it is long-term, and it’s worst for young people. The domestic economy is below water, and emigration rates have surged. There are many forms of personal misery – the special needs children who can’t keep up at school because the budget for their personal assistants has been axed, the mental hospital patients who are to be moved into a locked ward for five weeks over Christmas because of staffing shortages, the formerly comfortably-off families seeking help from charities to keep afloat. We can see all the signs that economic activity is faltering – the rash of ‘To Let’ signs on office space, the closing-down sales on high streets and in shopping centres. We listen to the myriad stories told by family and friends of families trapped by unrepayable mortgages; of desperate small businesses running at a loss, hoping their accumulated reserves will buffer them until there is a recovery. We witness the increase in suicide rates, devastating for all affected.

People can put up with austerity for quite some time, if they believe it is necessary and unavoidable, and if they think that there will eventually be some improvement. But it’s becoming clearer that things are more complicated this time round.

We need the loans the Troika disburses, so our government has no choice about the size and scale of the austerity. More fiscal oversight is now on the cards, and it may well be a good idea in its own right. But the ECB is wrongly treating a gathering financial crisis as if were solely due to fiscal imbalances – treating consequence as cause. And our government is chained to the enormous rock of failed bank debt, which the ECB insisted needs to be repaid in full ‘to save the Euro’. Well, we’re sinking fast and it still hasn’t saved the Euro.

So what can we say about Hirschman’s threefold response options?

[click to continue…]

The UK after the EU summit

by Chris Bertram on December 13, 2011

David Cameron’s use of the veto in the recent EU summit opens an era of deep uncertainty (and possible catastrophe) for British and European politics. Two things seem to be true: Cameron is an incompetent opportunist in thrall to his backbenchers and the proposed treaty is a disaster for the Eurozone countries themselves. The fact that it is a disaster (a fact recognized by Francois Hollande’s declared intention to renegotiate) might seem to give some support to Cameron. But of course it doesn’t, since the remaining 26 countries will just go ahead without the UK. All Cameron has done is isolate and exclude himself. As one MEP is reported as saying today, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Cameron vetoed the proposed EU treaty on the basis, or pretext, that other countries wouldn’t agree to “safeguards” for the City of London. The reason he was asking for these was essentially just because his backbenchers had demanded he show the “bulldog spirit” and, since EU treaties need unanimity, he thought he could extract some symbolic gain to satisfy them. He didn’t clear this with Merkel or Sarkozy in advance and would have been inhibited in doing so because the British Tories withdrew from the mainstream Euro conservative grouping in order to hob-nob with a bunch of extreme nutters and anti-semites. Sarkozy, who wanted a more integrated core Europe without Britain in any case, took the opportunity to call Cameron’s bluff. All very good for Sarko in the run-up the the Presidential elections. Exit Cameron stage right, claiming to have stood up to the EU – and getting praised by the UK’s tabloid press and an opinion-poll boost – but actually exposing the City to further regulation under qualified majority voting. He’s also chucked away decades of British policy which favoured EU expansion with the new accession countries serving as a counterweight to the Franco-German axis. Where are the other countries now? Lined up with the French and Germans.

The Euro treaty itself, assuming it goes ahead as planned and is enforced, mandates balanced budgets and empowers the Eurocrats to vet national budgets and punish offenders. Social democracy is thereby effectively rendered illegal in the Eurozone in both its “social” and “democracy” aspects. Daniel put it “thus”:https://crookedtimber.org/2011/12/09/euro-kremlinology/comment-page-2/#comment-391547 :

bq. a takeover of Europe by the neoliberal “permanent government” who failed to get their way by democratic means. All of the nationalism and anti-German sentiment is a distraction from the real scandal here. The ‘technocrats’ (which is apparently what they want to be called, although frankly I am seeing a lot of ideology and not much technical ability) want to reorganise the whole of Europe on neoliberal lines (ironically, to basically replicate the Irish economic transformation

One might think, then, that the left should be happy to be well away from it and that Cameron has inadvertently done us a favour. However, the short-term consequences in British politics could well be awful. My worst-case fantasy scenario has Cameron calling a snap General Election on nationalist themes, getting a majority dominated by swivel-eyed propertarian xenophobes and dismantling the welfare state, the Health Service, the BBC etc. Riots and civil disorder would be met with force, and those driven to resistance or crime would be incarcerated in giant new prisons. The Scots would then, understandably, opt for independence, and England and Wales would be left at the mercy of the crazies for several decades. Texas-on-Thames, in short.

And Nick Clegg? Well I wonder if even Daragh McDowell will make a case for him now.

American Criminal Justice System B0rken, Film at 11

by Belle Waring on December 13, 2011

This excellent article from Mother Jones’ Beth Schwartzapfel details how a guilty rapist tried repeatedly to confess to a crime of which another man had been convicted, only to succeed after the innocent man had died. The ensuing exoneration was so complete that then-Governor Rick Perry had to issue a pardon to the dead man, not something Texas governors are generally inclined to do. Rick Perry’s faith in Texas’ system, however, remains serenely unshaken.

A string of devastating stories has put Texas justice, in particular, under a cloud. In addition to Cole’s postmortem exoneration and the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, chronicled in The New Yorker in 2009, there is also the case of Anthony Graves, who served 18 years for a gruesome murder while the true killer confessed again and again. Graves was finally freed in 2010 following a Texas Monthly exposé.

Cole, Willingham, and Graves were all convicted under prior Texas governors. But Perry has done little to improve the state’s criminal-justice system, which has almost a million people in its grip. In 2001, he vetoed a bill banning the execution of the mentally disabled. In 2003, he cut the prison system’s budget by $230 million, slashing education programs, drug treatment, and food; when an independent auditor warned that was untenable, Perry cut the auditor’s office too. In 2007, his administration backed a bill making some child sex offenders eligible for the death penalty. While Perry has signed legislative reforms covering eyewitness identification and access to DNA testing, the system still offers scant options for the many people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

Radley Balko’s blog The Agitator remains an indispensable source of information on cases like these, as well as the uncountable cases in which the War on [Some People Who Use Some Kinds] of Drugs* has metastasized into a cancer that gets untrained local law enforcement rolling out in surplus military gear to perform ill-advised and pointless SWAT-style raids. (With tanks. No, really.) And shoot everybody’s dog when they get there. And maybe their grandmother. Seriously, don’t read the blog if you don’t want to hear about the cops shooting someone’s dog every goddamn day. His recent coverage of the OWS movement has been…how shall I say this…not all I would have hoped from a lover of liberty, but no one’s obliged to agree with me all the time, and it’s not as though it’s rendered the blog unreadable or something.
*Courtesy of Lawyers, Guns and Money. Like Sadly No!, we are aware of all internet traditions.