‘The graduate with no future’

Pic: Jobeda Ali

Paul Mason has written a sweeping post here based upon some notes he made in preparation for a Newsnight package that didn’t go out in the end: It’s his analysis on why 2011 is starting to take on the hues of 1848 and 1989 with it’s gathering storm of insurrectionism. Like the very best blogging, its worth reading because it’s a scratchpad rather than an article. It doesn’t lead us to a conclusion – it just dumps a pile of subjective observations (filtered through a very well-read mind) and then offers the antidote to anyone who has been swayed towards a concrete conclusion at the end: He lists the flaws and don’t-knows that apply to many of his observations.

I’d rather not get in the way of you reading the whole thing (really – please do, it’s worth it), but here’s a few tasters:

“Horizontalism has become endemic because technology makes it easy: it kills vertical hierarchies spontaneously, whereas before – and the quintessential experience of the 20th century – was the killing of dissent within movements, the channeling of movements and their bureaucratisaton.”

… and

“This evaporation of a promise is compounded in the more repressive societies and emerging markets because – even where you get rapid economic growth – it cannot absorb the demographic bulge of young people fast enough to deliver rising living standards for enough of them.”


I’m finding it common among non-politicos these days that whenever you mention the “Big Society” there’s a shrug and a suppressed laugh – yet if you move into the warren of thinktanks around Westminster, it’s treated deadly seriously. Dissing the Big Society has quickly become a “meme” that crosses political tribal boundaries under the Coalition, yet most professional politicians are deaf to “memes” as the youth are to the contents of Hansard.

… and (most interestingly IMHO)

“I can’t find the quote but one of the historians of the French Revolution of 1789 wrote that it was not the product of poor people but of poor lawyers. You can have political/economic setups that disappoint the poor for generations – but if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection.”

Mason sees a perfect storm stretching from Dublin to Cairo, combining dashed expectations, the sociological changes brought about by social media and the new impracticality of supression and censorship. As an oblique illustration of his point, the pic I’ve used here is from a Facebook friend of mine – a very non-hierarchical Asian-Londoner who – the moment I met her – struck me as the sort of person to run towards the gunfire. She headed off to Cairo as soon as she could once she heard what was brewing….

, , , ,


    It’s an excellent essay but some points are missed. Governments are no longer the sole sources of power. Multinationals exercise as much economic and political power as nation states yet are are not subject to the scrutiny that nation states are subject to under international law. Nation states are like boulders. Big and identifiable but corporations are like hurricanes, powerful but amorphous and within current constructs, impossible to pin down and take to account.

  • wild turkey

    “but if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection.”

    let us make a few simplifying assumptions to bring it closer to home

    1.ignore the age demographic
    2. chose “lawyers” as an example profession
    3. with respect to morality and ethics and any exhibition of simple human decency, the legal profession is quite similiar throughout the north and south of ireland.

    Now, let us chose two subsets of the population.

    subset one is that part of the population who, for whatever , reasons, has had to avail themselves of solicitors, barristers and the wisdom of justices; be those justices magistrates or law “lords”

    subset two is that part of the population who reads that a single mother who steals a £10 pair of jeans is sentenced to a three month custodial sentence, and also reads that a drunk driver is fined, “with regret”, by the judge, 1p.

    question. if the agm of the law society or a meeting of the law library was bombed, with the subsequent tragic loss of many lives, who would laugh the loudest?

    subset one or subset two?

    or might there be a realisation that dublin, or belfast, will not be cairo, will not be tunisia, until the scum of the legal profession is wrestled to the mat once and for all.

    has it ever occurred to others on this blog; regardless of the topic; stolen art work, the soap opera which is NIW, the missing x-ray notes from Altnagelving, that there will be no meaningful change, just judicial reviews, and generally excessive fees till such time as the legal profession, who after all are mere zipper lickers for the status quo, are brought to, uh, Justice?

    lawyers and the legal profession essentially attempt to suck us dry and destroy our simple humanity. they twist the language like pretzels. let us be better than that…. and wiser

  • pippakin

    The young will leave. Its said that that helps financially but I have never really understood the maths of that. Amongst the young will be the entrepreneurs, inventors, builders and even the bankers. All of whom were meant to be our future. The further away they move the less likely they are to return. The graduates do have a future, just not one in this country.

    All that’s left will be a country for old men and the insolvent, and the EU will try to get blood from this stone? Ireland will default and if it takes a few unaccountable, unelected multi nationals with it, tough.

  • Orwellspen,

    Indeed. I think that a lot of the forces that Mason identifies aren’t as focussed upon the more intangible hierarchies of monopolistic corporations as they are on the evident ones (management in their own workplaces, intellectual and political ‘elites’). I think they should be – and evidently so do you – but I don’t see much evidence that they are … yet.

  • Cynic2

    Is it that the graduate has no future or realise that waiting for the state to give him one wont work anymore – he has to out and create his/ her own?

    In Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy Douglas Adams suggested that at one point Earth’s society had got together all those who provide ‘services’ like lawyers, beauticians, accountants, management consultants, etc, persuaded them that life was about to become extinct and blasted them off into space in a giant rocket. It was a ruse to get rid of them.

    They then spent eons travelling across space spending their time in focus groups and meetings until crashing on the now uninhabited future earth where they re founded civilization – but not as we know it.

    Perhaps the problem for the lawyer in the attic is that we have too many lawyers. We also now have to compete with the Chinese and other countries for work. Getting those moving into work to understand those truths may be the key to a real future revolution


    Wild Turkey – Here Here. How many legeslatures in the western world comprise say 60%+ lawyers. Not so much government of the people by the people but government of the barristers by the barristers (my spell checker suggested ‘bastards’ there. )
    I have no interest in the fall of Mubarak. He will be replaced by someone who is on favour of the Bildeburg group.

    However, when there is a revolt against Shrll and Walmart etc which topples their evil management from power, then I will prick my ears up

  • Am I the only one who finds these thoughts deeply unconvincing? Take the start of it. A few people talk about the need for a second republic in the south, and this is somehow equivalent to what is going on in Egypt or Tunisia? Sounds good, but doesn’t stand up for a second. There is some vailidity to the rest (although the idea of the “archetypal” leader being an educated young woman seems to me to be a gross exaggeration), but I find it very strange that you would write an article about what has been going on in parts of north Africa and not mention the price of food, which is what kicked things off in Tunisia. Which brings us back to 1789. If it weren’t for the poor people taking the Bastille and overthrowing fedualism, those “poor lawyers” would be nothing but footnotes in history, crushed underneath an authoritarian state reaction. Something to think about regarding this whole theory offered by Mason too methinks.

  • DC


    I agree with your first post – my instincts are the same as yours on the power of multinational companies. I think there needs to be stronger legislation and regulation on markets (especially financially markets) – a regulatory environment which favours investment and long term development over ruthless vulture capitalism and silly shareholder short-termism (which can be followed by collapse). Remember, multinationals are only so powerful because they are permited to be so due to the money pocketed as a result of favourable taxation regimes and access to developing economies that have and are opening up to capitalism – allowing such companies entry into low-wage economies. (On corporation tax – the republic does NI no favours and is forcing this region to compete on similar terms. Incidentally I am in favour of a similar being introduced in NI as eventually the sharpness of such a policy will be blunted in the republic if NI adopts same.)

    But do not despair entirely on multinationals as in contrast China for instance isn’t neo-liberal and runs its economy in a post-socialist but neo-statist manner – hence the grip it has over its financial and market economy and also its wider statehood development, now challenging neoliberal America.

    In terms of ‘horizontalism’ – I recall a chat I had with my brother-in-law at christmas – who works in the legal profession in london – I said it wont be long until prices must come down in legal services and fees due to the way that the internet makes it so much easier to pinpoint certain cases of relevance, meaning people can become more knowledgeable on certain points of law much faster – removing the need to be so widely read in law. So the common lawyer and even the layman could bone-up on the law relatively cheaply too. In days gone by those old stuffy members-only libraries used to hold such cases etc. In response he quipped that that was why the legal profession attempts to wrap itself up in a lot of Latin so as to prevent such widespread take-up! Protectionism is still alive and well!

    In essence what Paul Mason hits on is the collapse of the middleclass and it not settling for relative decline nor putting up with a drop in living standards – or as Jim Fitzpatrick highlights over on his Politics Show blog – ‘BMW syndrome’ – where there will be hell to pay if the pinnacle of ambition is denied to them – that of getting a decent car in the driveway.

  • Sometimes it’s just back to basics:

    News Letter, Belfast 1886: “strewn over the road by a number of vicious young women who carried them in their aprons…and when the stone-throwing waned for a moment girls and women came to the front and uttered the most desperate threats to the men who desisted.”

    Jerusalem Post, Cairo 2011: “Some used torn canvas to carry the rocks to the front, others stood on the army tanks and directed the demonstrators, and still others brought water to the front lines or carried the wounded to the back. This is how mankind used to fight before we had guns – raw, unbridled anger, using stones and brute force.”


    True revolution will only happen when our fat soft bovine bottoms don’t have a sofa to sit on anymore. But it will be nothing but a middle class revolution. It will lead to middle class beurgeuisie values and the cycle of short termism begins again

    I think we should accept the victory of fatalism over idealism. In all our attempts to make things better, we only make things worse and rancourous

  • Cynic2

    ” A second republic”

    The problem in other states is that the constitution is broken and elections are rigged. none of that applies in Ireland as FF are about to find out.

    We dont need a revolution. We need change …..but will we get it? I dont see anyone – fringe parties included – who have any credible alternative


    We should take a long hard look at where power resides. It’s no longer in Dails, Parliaments or Congresses but multinationals and banks. Elections are a charade, a pantomime of the illusion of power. Until we realise this, smash corporatism and control the banks, nothing will change. I’m not against business only exploitative multinationalism and globalism for all the obvious reasons.

    I see Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness usher in more call centres and Tesco stores and bleat about job creation and ignoring the fact that they are turning NI into a playground of cheap labour where workers are treated like dirt.

  • Secret Squirrel

    Isn’t it the case in The Hitch Hikers Guide, referred to above by Cynic2 that one of the professions deemed unnecessary was the
    telephone sanitisers ?

    And after they left their home planet everybody died after contracting a deadly disease from a dirty telephone receiver ? 🙂

    P.S Are the italic and bold tags broke ? My italics won’t work and yesterday I noticed someone’s tags were reproduced in their post.

  • JAH

    The French revolution is an excellent analogy for the current economic climate, but not because of a few lawyers will lose Legal aid funding.

    George Rudes seminal work The Crowd in The French Revolution (online at http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=54349404) analysed the people arrested or taking part in 1789.

    They were mostly better off artisans and craftsmen who had done very well under the Bourbons until the court money ran out (due to backing the Americans in their war against the Brits) and they started facing penury. In other words the same group who followed the house buying dream and are currently totally maxed out on debt and facing utter ruin if they lose their jobs.

    This group also see their children well educated and unemployed and their older kids can see no future. How many are unemployed in the UK?

    Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian protester who really did light a flame, is representative of a generation across most of Europe as well. As the cuts really bite, as people see no future, the revolt will be by lorry drivers, teachers, small shopkeepers and everyone else seeing their future dying.

  • Quote: At the heart of it all are young people, obviously; students; westernised; secularised.

    Just wait to the young people who have no education, hate the decadent West, and have spiritual values join the game.

    oh they have already, they quite often double job as suicide bombers.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The majority of graduates come from middle class or even upper class backgrounds where the mantra that Education insulates a person from the worst economic hardship is o longer working.
    Those of us from working class backgrounds who graduated will possibly remember our mothers obsession that we had a job “inside” or our fathers obsession that we lifted nothing heavier than a pen.
    When Thatcher attacked working class communities, none of her voters really cared. When she started attacking “her own” (banks and post offices in small villages closing…and middle class redundancy) that was the point wher she “lost” her own (the poll tax being a major factor).

    The poor are always “supposed to be poor”. The graduates are not. And in a competitive market the “connected” (daddy is a doctor/solicitor/stockbroker) will have a bigger advantage over the unconnected graduate.
    And while I fully take the point that Dublin is not Cairo……there is a similarity. In Dublin despite welfare cuts the working class are maybe not as vulnerable to losing status such as losing a job or a home. Its probably the wrong time to tell the Dublin middle class that they brought this on themselves. The wrong time to tell them that they believed they were as insulated as the billionaires. The reality is that they were closer to the working class they despised than they realised.
    Theres no revolution out there……the students, the English Defence League or fuel protesters. No revolution. Just animosity. Even sullen hatred.

    Having “something” to lose is different from having “nothing” t lose.

  • Articles,

    Actually suicide bombers come disproportionately from the educated, especially when it comes to attacks outside one’s native country. Which is only logical when you consider the necessity to be able to fit in outside your own culture.

    As for the people who overthrew the old regime in 1789. Certainly it was the skilled working class in Paris that stormed the Bastille. Although the day the Bastille fell, bread prices were at their highest ever. We need also to remember that it was the peasantry that smashed feudalism in the countryside off its own bat. So I repeat my objections to the characterisations offered by Mason.

  • Cynic2

    “The majority of graduates come from middle class or even upper class backgrounds ”

    Where is the evidence for that? I agree though that the problem is that some graduates have a strong sense of entitlement that often cannot be sustained by their degree in English, Media Studies. Archeology, etc

  • Those who have don’t like it taken away by the haveyachts as was demonstrated in Derrykeighan in 1758 and by their kith and kin about a generation later across the Atlantic. Just in case you were wondering, the yachts were probably moored in Seaport aka Portballintrae 🙂

  • Antoin Mac C.

    “The majority of graduates come from middle class or even upper class backgrounds ”-The whole lot of the poor,come from poverty.Proletariat an Beurgeoiseyolagy is an invention that is now officially out of date.The biggest class in ireland is 450000 unemployed.The problem for the unemployed is a lack of employment.The problem for 1,000,000 workers is shit wages.Biffo-Gis A Bottle Of Vino So I Can Have A Laugh.

  • Cynic2

    Antoin Mac C

    On the other hand you could get off your backside, grab life and set up your own business

    You could even help your fellow citizens by employing a few of them and not lying about waiting for the state to do everything for you

  • “We should take a long hard look at where power resides.” …. ORWELLSPEN,
    6 February 2011 at 9:56 am

    Quite so, ORWELLSPEN. But the power no longer resides in anywhere you mentioned ….[It’s no longer in Dails, Parliaments or Congresses but multinationals and banks.]….. and it has those who would have had you doing their bidding in the past, more than a little frantic and extremely worried, for they do not possess the intellectual wherewithall/ the savvy to deal with that which is going to teach them a hard landing lesson or three or four or more. In fact, as many as they rightly deserve.

    The medium we use here, in the manner that it is used here, …. the free spreading of ideas and information aka intelligence and memes …. is that which they fear beyond compare, for they cannot control it and also cannot do without it, for their own command and control and wealth systems are inextricable linked and fully dependent upon its smooth running operation.

    And if you want further proof of that, to support that inkling that you might have that it be so, voila …… http://cryptome.org/0003/nsf020711.pdf

    Does anyone know if Belfast International is off limits :-)…. “Travel expenses will be paid for selected participants who live more than 50 miles from Washington DC, up to the limits established by Federal Government travel regulations and restrictions.”

    Anything meagre is going to deliver a very incestuous work-shop, and haven’t them there folk heard of virtual networking, or is the knowledge that their every word and master mouse movement is tracked and recorded, putting them off spreading their wings and learning how to conquer and harness this novel space place, even whenever everything you might intend to do may be known. Although to imagine that being possible when phishing in deep intelligent waters is quite delusional, and indicates possession and exercise of the mind of a fool, easily fooled and used as convenient tool.

    “P.S Are the italic and bold tags broke ? My italics won’t work and yesterday I noticed someone’s tags were reproduced in their post.”…. Secret Squirrel, 6 February 2011 at 10:17 am

    I don’t think they’re broken, Secret Squirrel, as much as the preview pane doesn’t render the text formatted whenever they are used, which is a little annoying whenever everything was working so spiffingly well before. Bloody gremlins …. they get everywhere. 🙂 I imagine Mick has someone working on it, to fix it.

  • Secret Squirrel

    Ah ha ! Thanks for putting my wee mind to rest. 🙂


  • pippakin


    We are the same generation and whilst I agree that the odds are still loaded against the working classes getting to university those odds have shortened and the number of working class students has risen considerably.

    I can remember when someone wanting to train as a nurse had little option than to go to England to learn since she/he would be unacceptable to the major teaching hospitals who were very class conscious.

    Times have changed, many of today’s ‘middle classes’ are in fact yesterdays working class, they have a great deal more to lose than their jobs and are consequently very angry. I think revolution here is unlikely but not impossible. It may be that the fear of it is one of the reasons the, to me unacceptable, idea of mass emigration is not only acceptable but, almost, normal.

    It is as though emigration is somehow in our genes. It is not. It is a conscious recognition of the complete failure of the state to build a nation. As though all we have is the land (what isn’t mortgaged to the hilt) and that alone is not enough.

  • FuturePhysicist

    I remember hearing these scare studies of a “skills shortage” in the computer industry, as employers feel ICT does only Excel and Word. Meanwhile there are thousands of unemployed computer scientists, software engineers, on top of other engineers, mathematicians and physical scientists, who have the hard skills, who have the ability to learn the soft skills with a little mentoring and perhaps the initiative to develop an understanding of programming.

    Similarly I remember a career’s teacher telling me about a company looking for a Structural Engineer for a person to fix a load bearing structure in her company, when he said there wasn’t a huge supply he suggested she should ask the current person what degree he got at university … needless to say it wasn’t Structural Engineering.

    Perhaps the impracticality of their recruitment methods should be as much in question. It stands to reason for me that social mobility after all isn’t being practical what working is all about?


    Without mass emigration, there would have been no Irish diaspora, Irish America nor all the influence that that achieved. Without it, Ireland would have become as insignificant as Wales. The Irish punch above our weight and long may it continue

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Looks like a message I posted didnt get thru. The gist of it was that the 11 plus in 1940s/50s onward eventually produced graduates from the working class…teachers, social workers, nurses (rarely actually graduates in the fullest sense as now), middle ranking civil servants. These graduates produced a second wave of graduates including Law, Medicine and Academia……but the nature of some of these degrees is that they require “contacts/networking” and graduates who are children of solicitors, doctors etc will have an advantage as the economic crisis takes hold.

    Therefore it will be the “new” middle class who will suffer adversely. Those people themselves in their late 40s, early 50s would have been hopeful that they would have seen their kids advance further. That optimism has gone.
    Perhaps its generational…..things might be better in 15 years but against a background of more limited expectation…. those people graduating now 22, 23……are not going to see any benefit in a degree.

  • pippakin


    “Without mass emigration, there would have been no Irish diaspora, Irish America nor all the influence that that achieved. Without it, Ireland would have become as insignificant as Wales. The Irish punch above our weight and long may it continue”

    Previous generations emigrated for reasons that were outside Irelands control. The famine for eg, left few with any choice and the ongoing lack of work in previous generations meant that mutual deprivation gave people a reason to come together in a different country. This time there has been a boom and great wealth which has been squandered.

    In addition the Diaspora does not last. The offspring of emigrants become the nationality of their host country. I have seen this in my own family and in my neighbours. Oh we all keep in touch but the Americans and Australians are just that, their parents, the ones who maintained the links are almost gone. This new generation of emigrants will not have the same political reasons to maintain an interest. Who will they blame for their situation.

  • Garibaldy,

    I take your point about prices, but the interesting thing about Egypt has been the sustained pressure – that looks to me more like a bourgeois revolt than a proletarian one.

    I saw this post a while ago:

    It seems to me that so much of the post-partisan political struggle is about middle-class activism – driving down taxes and getting lumps of welfare out for themselves in the cases where they have to actually fund it. It can be ‘pushy parents’ or NIMBYish ‘active citizens’ getting politicians, regulators and welfare ministers dancing to their tune.

    As a lefty, I’d like to think it’s all about a resurgent angry working class but I just don’t think it is this time.

  • Paul,

    Part of the reason it looks like a bourgeois revolt I would suggest is that the people we see on the TV or twitter or whatever are middle class because they speak English. I’m not trying to deny that the middle class is involved in what is going on at all, or say that they are not providing leadership.

    I am just questioning Mason’s suggestion that this is a revolt mostly of the middle class with those less well off pracitcally irrelevant. If you want to see an example of a revolt of the middle class without the poor, look at the attempted coup in Venezuela, which failed precisely because the working class stayed loyal to Chavez. It seems now that the Muslim Brotherhood is involved. Surely an organisation that draws its support more from the less well off?

  • Meanwhile there are thousands of unemployed computer scientists, software engineers, on top of other engineers, mathematicians and physical scientists, who have the hard skills, who have the ability to learn the soft skills with a little mentoring and perhaps the initiative to develop an understanding of programming. “…. FuturePhysicist, 6 February 2011 at 6:16 pm

    FuturePhysicist, Hi, and welcome,

    Thanks for that info. Once you learn how to program Virtual Machines, as are humans, is Control of their Crazy Worlds at your fingertips, for the keyboard which shares with them, code and instructions …. some of which are steganographically encoded and encrypted cryptic constructions …. and words and ideas, easily embeds Sleeper Intelligence for Future Awakenings in AIRemote Controlled Actions …. Virtual Campaigns with CHAOS*, and from Cloud Bases.

    It is Presently the Establishment’s, Worst Nightmare come True, in the Phorm of their Perpetually Paranoia and Psychotic Persecution and Prosecution of Population with Panic for Power.

    *Clouds Hosting Advanced Operating Systems

    A Holywood Palace Speciality for IT Barracking, do you think? Or a Private Pirate Sector Intelligence Program in the NIRobotIQs Field for Rogues and Renegades and Wwwild Rovers? Or both, and therefore something else too, in Quantum Communications and Control Systems fields of AI Research and dDevelopment ……. A qubit has some similarities to a classical bit, but is overall very different. Like a bit, a qubit can have two possible values—normally a 0 or a 1. The difference is that whereas a bit must be either 0 or 1, a qubit can be 0, 1, or a superposition of both…. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qubit

    Whom would you ask to find out? MCQ? And what do you imagine of the chances of them being in anyway au fait or even acquainted with what is going on in the real world under Virtual Reality Rule? Apart from slim chance and no chance, that is?

  • Brian Walker

    Paul, it’s your opinion that..

    “Like the very best blogging, its worth reading because it’s a scratchpad rather than an article. It doesn’t lead us to a conclusion – it just dumps a pile of subjective observations (filtered through a very well-read mind) and then offers the antidote to anyone who has been swayed towards a concrete conclusion at the end: He lists the flaws and don’t-knows that apply to many of his observations”

    Up to a point – and who says anyway?

    While Paul Mason is clever enough to keep a broad theme going” “a pile of subjectiuve observations” can incite a bigger pile of junk and provide an excuse to avoid clear thinking.

  • Brian,

    Fair enough. I should have added that this formula also leads to the very worst blogging as well! I think Mason has provided something that got *me* thinking more than any article I’d read for a long time because he chucked out a range of ‘trains of thought’ for me to follow rather than picking out one and trying to stand it up.


    I’d be a bit out of my depth if I tried to disagree with you on this with any authority – my only source is the MSM, ffs! And that means I have to take your point about the warped perspective provided by those who are prepared or able to speak to Western TV journalists. But in Egypt, it seems to me that the Muslim Brotherhood are johnny-come-latelys to all of this. As I say, I don’t know enough to conclude either way.

    I don’t think you can draw too many conclusions from the Venezuelan situation though – middle class insurrection thwarted by national populism – you can use that to argue that working class militancy is conservative.

  • Paul,

    Working class militancy is alas all too often conservative. Although I wouldn’t say that the militancy in Venezuela was conservative. Quite the opposite. It was to act in defence of radical changes being made in their interests.

    Regarding Egypt, we are both talking from the same position of being reliant on what we can find online. But I do think that there has been a tendency in the media to present all these types of protest (whether they were the colour revolutions or Tunisia or whatever else) in a way that covers them as positively as possible, which means concentrating on the bourgeois elements, and ignoring the darker side to them. You could see this in Yugoslavia, where there was a total ignoring of the racist nationalism of some of Milosevic’s opponents who ended up in power. We all know who the biggest opposition group in Egypt is. Without their support, these protests would not be what they are. I suspect though they have been holding back, preparing for what comes next.

  • @Garibaldy

    On Yugoslavia, that’s a very good point.

    Again, not being an expert on the subject, I’d not get into a detailed argument on Venezuela (there are plenty going on elsewhere!) but I’m not convinced that the national populism of Chavez is as progressive or appealing as it looks at first glance.

    I’m with Kautsky and Norberto Bobbio on this one: Liberal democracy, for all of it’s flaws, is the least-worst route to economic equality. The right distort and manipulate it to their own ends, but the European experience has been, on balance, generally positive.

    I’d not agree that it does anyone any good in anything but the short-run for the left to do the same in defence of individual policies, and the approach Chavez has taken to opposition parties and press freedom looks like a fairly destructive bit of short-termism to me.

  • I don’t think Chavez is unproblematic, but he was legitimately elected, and people tried to otherthrow him in a foreign-backed coup. Those involved in promoting it using their media resources have subsequently been penailised for it in terms of broadcast licences etc. Harsh perhaps, but you can see an argument for it given what went in terms of opponents not playing by the normal rules.

    I might be inclined to accept the idea that liberal democracy was the least worst route to economic equality if it moved things in that direction. But as we can see from the last few decades, it has been doing the opposite. As we have seen governments turn to the Victorian era for inspiration, the golden age of social democracy now looks like an aberration forced on capitalism by fear and organised labour, which has been bit by bit through various means, legal and otherwise.

    None of this is simple, but it definitely suggests to me that the minimum requirement for progressive politics and reducing inequality is an organised and class-conscious labour movement. The question being how we can rebuild it.

  • Mark

    Fitzjameshorse1745 – ” its probably the wrong time to tell the Dublin middle class that they brought this on themselves. The wrong time to tell them that they believed they were as insulated as the billionaires . The reality is that they were closer to the working class they despised than they realised ” .

    Snobbery is a two way street Fitz ….. those chips on your shoulder are starting to turn into baked potatoes.

  • Antoin Mac C.

    Cynic2,your oh so cynical.Is cynicolagy a relative of wit?Is wit the lowest form of sarcasism?Is sarcasimolagy a new sciensce that has gone undetected,are clinical psycholagists baffled by the evolution of sarcasmophobia now flutterin in the hearts of da liberal democratizers,who hav now been ‘cast out and left to defend themselves from their previousily prosperous mates in the oirish bankerolagys society,who have split from reality and fled wit da last of the profitoligists to pastures new to spread more,well,eh,manure to b precise.How do the clientele of the bankerolagists feel about the baliff at the door?How can young people possibly rare a family in a community ghost town,populated by approximately 7/8 families?Have the social democrats in the labour party and fellow travellers on the extreme left,got anything to say to the ordinary bob blogs about the price of a ticket to london?Will this diaspora be effective?Will they fail to gain employment in london and return home to a FG/Labour coalition,offering to take more money of the weakest members of society as they sit back and pat their well-rounded bellies for a well cooked meal,prepared and cooked at the minimum wage rate by a shadowy leftie lookin 4 an increase in the meagre amount of money he/she receives as a direct result of the economicsolagy policies of all the different shades of politicalolagists who try and pass as ordinary charlies,berties,eamo’s,and the commonist of all the biffo-
    alergies,maryists.This clique of biffolagists come as a female strain of the political virus known to the working class and unemployed as ALIENolagy.On a lighter note flu-flag and posterolagy is back wit a vengence.I seen a living,walking,talking politican 4 the 1 time,since the last elections today.Vote?I wil indeed me good laird,not 4 u.
    Not Now,Not Ever.

  • DC

    I don’t think Chavez is unproblematic, but he was legitimately elected

    So was Hitler.

    The electorally potent formula is usually a blend of the socialist sentiments and nationalist kinship played out in an environment of economic concern and perception of relative decline for all. Give or take a couple of years – or perhaps decades – till the abuses stack up and become widely known to the populace.

  • DC,

    I hereby invoke Godwin’s Law (Reductio Ad Hitlerium clause).


    Unfortunately your comment not only terminates any meaningful discussion on this thread, but Garibaldy is officially the winner of the argument.

    Sorry about that now (partly because I think you’ve got half of a point…) 😉

  • DC,

    When you find Chavez’s death camps let me know.

  • DC

    Great so because of one little internet ‘law’ comparisons with the Third Reich must never ever be used?

    Garibaldy – what death camps 😉

  • Greenflag

    Thanks to Paul for highlighting Paul Mason’s very informative and wide ranging analysis on the times that are in it . I usually ‘dump ‘ the whole of Mason’s analysis under what I have in other threads termed the ’emisseration ‘ of the middle classes of the western world .

    I read the entire article and most of the feedback responses on the Beeb website. It seems to have struck a chord with a wide audience . And here on Slugger apart from the last few posts invoking Godwin’s (although I think that the invoke was overdone -it has been a good thread on all sides :).
    Although I’m late here and not wishing to ‘open ‘ it up again now -I think DC hits the nail on head with .

    ‘In essence what Paul Mason hits on is the collapse of the middleclass and it not settling for relative decline nor putting up with a drop in living standards ‘

    Here is where Godwin’s is raised again for it was the financial collapse of the German middle and lower middle class-which provided the fuel for the rise of the Nazis . Nobody in Germany never mind outside Germany took Hitler as being a serious contender for power until they suddenly found their opposition voices silenced and their Jewish neighbours assaulted and taken away . Most western leaders other than Churchill did’nt really believe or want to believe that Hitler was going to reduce Europe to ashes on the back of an insane racist doctrine ? Many both inside and outside Germany believed that the Army (Wehrmacht Generals and Officer Corps ) would ‘remove ‘ Hitler before he could get a chance to wreak havoc . But then the little corporal got lucky with a few small victories and an easy Anshluss of Sudetenland and Austria and the Rhineland etc etc and the perceived ‘impotence ‘ of the French and the ‘disinterest ‘ of the British were the cards that kept him in the game .

    2011 is not 1945 nor 1848 nor 1989 but it would be a mistake to assume that what’s happening in Egypt , Tunisia and other countries facing huge internal domestic problems will make no impact on the West or it’s politics and economies .

    If one could return to 1848 and ‘vision ‘ forward from that era would the then ‘seers’ have imagined the Britain that exists today – I mean in terms of rights , equalities , educational access and opportunities (even if now seemingly less than an earlier generation’s ?)

    The speed of change in terms of information access along with all of the points which Paul Mason raises makes forecasting the near political future (10-20 years ) much more problematical than it would have been in 1848 or even in 1968.

    This one (debate ) will I’m sure be raised for it poses and asks the questions that None of the politicians appear able to answer .

    Neither Mr Cameron nor our own ‘alternative ‘ government nor the previous government seem to be able to do other than invent a new ‘buzz word ‘ or spin to help get themselves into power . But once there they seem as powerful as the deckhands on the Titanic -capable of making some noise and affecting activity for appearances sake -but somehow totally oblivious the size of the hole that’s dragging the ship to the bottom .

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Very interesting blog from Paul Mason, just managed to read it today. I sense in there that he finds himself as a 40-something often in the company of contemporaries who “don’t get” the tech-driven changes of the last 10 years – and he may overdo his points somewhat as a result.

    But there’s a lot in what he says, especially in the disconnect in expectations between the digital natives and the societies they find themselves in. But I think that gap is only really explosive in areas like the Middle East. In the UK and most of Europe, the elites have evolved smartly in such a way that they are more aware of and able to work with youth-driven agendas than they may sometimes seem. What is coming from that generation is quickly analysed, adopted and digested.

    This disempowers that digital generation to a large degree – their “threat” is too easily read and dealt with by Generation Xers in positions of power and influence who are smarter, more focussed, more empowered and more flexible than the digital generation sometimes realise. Plus in the UK at least, the generations coming into adulthood now are way too unpoliticised to manage any coherent generational political movement that cuts loose from the already modernising political establishment. I can’t see that changing, apart from perhaps in the wake of some seismic climate event in which the 40 and 50 somethings are shown up.

    I come back to Orwell’s The Lion and the Unicorn on the capacity of people in this country for revolution – it’s not the British way really. We’re too self-conscious and allergic to romantic flamboyance. We’ll tinker and change in a half-arsed, organic way and muddle through. The era of pessimism suits most of us temperamentally just fine. It’s optimism we can’t handle.

  • Greenflag

    mainland ulsterman ,

    ‘it’s not the British way really. We’re too self-conscious and allergic to romantic flamboyance. We’ll tinker and change in a half-arsed, organic way and muddle through.’

    Don’t get blind sided by traditional stereotypes . If they always held true to type then by now the Irish Republic would be in flames and our former government and bankers would be either hanging from lamposts or driven into exile .

    The English ‘revolting ‘spirit did not die at Hastings . It was resurrected by Wat Tyler and Simon De Montfort and by the beheading of King Charles by the upstart Cromwell . There have been a few near misses since . So great was the fear of Chartist Revolution in the mid 19th century that Royalty decamped for the Isle of Wight preparatory for exile and even the Duck of Wellington was dragged out of his inebriated retirement to organise the defence of London against the mob .

    Probably what saved England from revolutionary excess on the continental model was not so much the character of it’s people and their legendary non revolutionary spirit but the fact that Britain had long exported most of it’s homegrown , malcontents , republicans and those who favoured not the status quo for centuries . These were the people who led the American revolution against their former ‘mother country’ and it’s German King .

    Nowadays there is nowhere for the dispiritied masses to go unless they’re prepared to learn German or Chinese or take to the antipodes as the new Jerusalem ?

    ‘ Plus in the UK at least, the generations coming into adulthood now are way too unpoliticised to manage any coherent generational political movement that cuts loose from the already modernising political establishment.’

    That may be but given modern technology the ramp up time for ‘politicisation’ has been speeded up immensely . Just look around the world at ‘slower ‘ societies than the UK .

    ‘apart from perhaps in the wake of some seismic climate event in which the 40 and 50 somethings are shown up.’

    It’s happening already in Ireland in the wake of the banking fiasco and from what I’m reading from Ken Clarke that double dip recession may yet swamp the eh ‘big society ‘ dream ‘

    While we may not see heads rolling in England’s green and pleasant and moribund land events may prove more exciting than timid English souls might care to see ;)?

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I certainly hope you’re right about exciting events. Mason’s right that this is a time of potentially massive change globally. I agree with a lot of your comments, the pacificity of the British people can be overstated and I do think the escape valve of emigration must have had a calming effect on the societies left behind in Old Europe. God knows what NI would be like if some of the nut-jobs we exported to the States in the 18th and 19th Centuries had stayed.

    You’re right, British people are fairly typical of long-affluent societies generally in this alienation from politics; though I do think beliefs about who we are and our self-image as “reasonable” and “calm” has prevented us from French-style “manifestations”.

    I wouldn’t dismiss all cultural differences as down to stereotypes. We are not all the same within a country but nor are countries uniform either. There are patterns and national groupings are one of those patterns that tell us something about a lot of people within them. If we take 20 French people and 20 British people, are they going to react to the same things in the same way?

    Part of my job involves comparing responses to advertising across several countries and devising communications that will more or less work across cultures. I have to report regularly on why something that’s a winner in Britain has bombed in Italy and so on. There are lots of factors explaining the overall patterns but cultural / national differences are inevitably highly significant among them.

    But as a British republican (more or less) who wants to see a radically different, genuine meritocracy develop in this country, I hope you’re right that that vein isn’t moribund yet.

  • Greenflag

    Mainland Ulster,

    ‘God knows what NI would be like if some of the nut-jobs we exported to the States in the 18th and 19th Centuries had stayed.’

    There would’nt have been an NI or at least not as in it’s present format . Apart from United Irishmen there were also clandestine societies of United Englishmen and Scotsmen who were a thorn in the side of the ruling establishment at the end of the 18th century . The threat of French invasion and Napoloeon’s ‘modernisers ‘ helped to solidify the then British establishment . Ireland being ‘offshore’ and because of other historical factors became more ‘revolutionary’ in spirit and later in action.

    More important for the world is what would have happened in the USA had the Scots Irish not left for the states in huge numbers in the 18th & 19th centuries ? The American Revolution has been called by some historians the ‘Scotch Irish ‘ revolution . As the ‘result’ was a close call (1776) and would not have even got that far without the major French naval blockade which cut off supplies for Cornwallis one can only surmise that without the Scotch Irish the American ‘revolution’ might have failed – and the USA might have become another ‘loyal ‘ Canada or Australia etc ?

    I’m not dismissing all cultural differences as being down to stereotypes . Here’s a link to that Korean Air crash of 2009 in which 228 people lost their lives probably due to ‘culture’

    On a lighter note a second or third generation family in Dublin of Italian extraction decide to transplant their business ‘Traditional Fish and Chips ‘ back to Italy -Naples if I recall correctly . Alas it ‘bombed’ in Italy .

    Those who want to see a radically different genuine meritocracy develop in the UK or Ireland or elsewhere should take account of the economic and political history over the past couple of centuries -for it was based on that ‘history’ that we have come to enjoy what limited democracy we have today . And even that is taken far too much for granted . The Marxian analysis that ‘economics ‘ drives politics is largely true even if it’s not always and everywhere the sole or major influence .

    In today’s western world the prospects of ‘meritocracy ‘ in the developed west are being squeezed by the economic pincers of globalisation on the one hand and what is called the bi polarisation of the new ‘job ‘ market as increasingly new jobs are being created (in the west ) at both extremes of the economic pyramid -high paying high tech jobs at one end and more low paying service jobs at the other . The ‘middle ‘ income jobs are being wiped out through a combination of technological advances in communications , flat hierarchical structures in company organisations and global competition .

    The political ramifications of the above factors are currently in flux and you would want to be more than a skilled ‘oraclist’ to predict the future . But if the past is anything to go on -societies which have huge and growing income differentials between a small minority at the top and a vast majority at the bottom are not destined for longevity.

    The ‘economic and financial ‘ sophistication of the markets has gone very far ahead of the capability of elected politicians to do much more than seem to act as bystanders. .

    The ‘breaking point ‘ may be reached when a critical mass of the electorate ‘gives up’ on the politicians ‘acting ‘ as bystanders and instead demands they do something to reverse the longer term slide to corporate serfdom and oligarchic rule by the world’s banking sectors.

    Just as ‘communism ‘ ultimately proved incapable of addressing man’s predicament in respect of his ‘nature ‘ then so too the ‘failing model of anarchic capitalism ‘ may see it’s end in a world which wakes up one fine day and realises that we can’t ( 8 billion ) all be equally competitive -equally low corporation tax – and equally low unemployment and equally American or European sized in terms of resource consumption etc.

    So in the midst of the above ultimate impossibilities the question remains how to create a sustainable society worldwide before somebody somewhere decides it’s all just too much and we’d better press our red buttons before they press theirs ?

    If communism has failed and anarchic capitalism is going the same way then what ? Chinese Authoritarian capitalism and one party quasi fascism with a leading role for the eh People’s Army’ pulling the strings when push comes to shove ?

    Free markets indeed :(?

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I know, the options aren’t great. I’ve just finished re-reading John Gray’s fantastic work of social philosophy, Straw Dogs. If he has it right, the Russian model of quasi-democratic gangster-influenced authoritarianism is closer to what we can expect to develop around the world than Western parliamentary democracy.

    He is bleak but he gets a lot right.