Winter of discontent followed by glorious summer?

We are now well launched into the year two thousand and eleven – eleven years after a change of century. As the infamous 20th gradually diminishes in our memory, with its two World Wars, the tentacles of Socialism and the mostly blind grasp of Capitalism dulling our minds, it is satisfying to know that according to U.N. statistics, 200,000 persons will be lifted out of extreme poverty during each day of 2011. What is classified as extreme poverty? Living on $1.25 or equivalent per day. Which is all very well for the rest of Europe and the world, but what about a country where more than a million and half people have no income whatsoever?

The United Nations committees tell us that this enviable pace of worldwide movement will probably move even faster as the year progresses. Please do not be fooled by any softly-spoken politician: this improvement is not due to any government development goal or bright promises made by large charities. It is driven by the motor of world capitalism, which Marxists in Russia genuinely thought would destroy the planet. All the more ironic therefore that one of the two great communist states, China, is (with India) at the forefront of the transformation, while Russia, freed from the yoke of Leninism and Stalinism, has become once again a country bedevilled by oligarchs, just as she was before 1917.

The mystery is that though we are actually living in ‘a golden age’, we do not hear about it very often. The press ensures that we hear black news – of drugging and rapine and robbery with violence and terrorism as daily nightmares. Politicians and the world press tend to concentrate on the problems, perhaps because good news doesn’t sell very well. But this can mean that not enough attention is drawn to what is going right . . . for a change.

In England, still icebound but after a traditionally happy Christmas, a toff from Eton and another from Westminster are surprising everyone, even with some unpopular cuts. Chancellor of the Exchequer Osborne is trimming public expenditure by 3.3% over 4 years, and cutting government jobs by 330,000. But (again we are told) 1.5 million new jobs may well be created in the wider economy, leading us to the conclusion that the general outlook is one of growth, greater employment, and a return to the kind of prosperity most Brits enjoyed for more than decade – a prosperity our great-grandfathers would have deemed utterly impossible. Yet the pundits insist that 2011 looks set to be the third most prosperous year in British history. Can it be that going against the grain and voting for the two toffs just mentioned has done the trick? The same applies, we are told, to the rest of the world, but those of us who live in Spain know that this will not be the case where we live, unless by some miracle the Opposition in the Congress awakens from its fairytale sleep and forces an early election. In Spain, harried by the European Union, there are an impossible number of unemployed, and several Ministers with less experience and intelligence than a mushy pea. There are also eighteen months more to go of the present government’s mandate.

In Spain, the President of the Government appears to have come on a visit from another galaxy. Nothing disturbs his equanimity, even being uproariously booed by angry crowds whenever he leaves the safety of his luxurious and expensiove limousine to stroll into a government building. When you see this daily event on your television screen, watch the faces of his bodyguards. They, at least, seem to know what they are doing. Smoking, we are informed by our ‘Health Minister’, is bad for you. There are those of us who think that Zapatero is bad for the country as a whole.

This prosperity in the United Kingdom, Germany and France does not come at the expense of the environment, though fervidly green campaigners would have us think otherwise. If you look at air quality statistics, you can see that British air is becoming cleaner. Equally, the level of disagreeable chemicals in the atmosphere has fallen by one ¼ in the last ten years. Carbon itself, as any scientist will tell you, is not pollution, but if it were, the average person in Britain emits 20% less of it than fifty years ago, according to the World Bank. Most of Europe is using cleaner and greener technology. Less fuel is used because consumers prefer low running costs.

Globalization is no longer a bad word. The prawns you just bought may have been peeled in Malaysia, your shirt was made in Bangladesh, most of the parts in your car were manufactured in South Korea, but this is the kind of globalizing that brings prosperity to countries whose poverty rates are falling, as their economies expand. We are told that the proportion of the world’s population seen as malnourished has been cut in half over the last forty years. The United Nations remind us that 925 million persons are still suffering from malnutrition, but also that this appalling quantity also fell by 98 million in 2010.

Most of this improvement is not of course in old Europe, but in India and China. The latter will be more productive and richer than the United States by 2020.
In medicine too, advances have been extraordinary. Across the world, life expectancy is rising inexorably, much to the chagrin of government departments in charge of the pensions. Some governments, like Spain’s, see fit to deal with this by raising retirement age to 67 from 65, thus brilliantly preventing even more younger people from getting jobs. Infant mortality, which used to be one of humanity’s chief scourges, has halved over the last ten years and continues to fall. The least noted progress in recent years has been the undoubted success in the fight against the HIV-virus. United Nations data shows infections have fallen by one fifth over the last decade, with directly HIV-related deaths falling even faster, though this is partly due to developments in medicine and care allowing people to live with it longer.

And then there is the Weather. In the year 2000 experts were telling us that snowy winters were a thing of the past, almost Dickensian, and that ‘our children are not going to know what snow is’, tell that to the hundreds of thousands of Brits who have just spent December snowed up inside their villages, and even if they managed to escape to drive to an airport in order to fly to Tenerife for Christmas, they couldn’t because their aircraft could not take off.

So the world (except Spain) is becoming wealthier, cleaner, healthier and more just. When the British Queen spoke to the United Nations recently, she remarked how very few of the sweeping advances she had personally witnessed during the last half-century had come about from ‘governments, committees or central directives’. There is not much that she misses. She added that ‘by and large, improvements have tended to come about because millions of people around the world have wanted them’.

So it would seem that, contrary to Marxist thought, capitalism is not a vicious dog-eat-dog situation. If you can have faith in capitalism (and a job – unlikely if you live in Spain) you have probably got some faith in mankind. Successful governments have plenty of faith in mankind. They will create jobs at home, fight poverty abroad, be inventive, and nurse innovations. Capitalism means no more of a threat to Nature than communism does, probably rather less, since communal farming, for instance, has generally proved useless, expensive and unfair.

Of course, being mankind, we will go on having wars, famines, floods, fires and plagues. If our friendships and our faith in each other are strong enough, we will survive, perhaps even enjoy 2011, and all the others years to come.

Dean Swift

2 thoughts on “Winter of discontent followed by glorious summer?

  1. John Smith

    I agree with everything you said apart from the comment about young people being prevented from working by the extension of working life. THere is not a set amount of work to do in the economy – a finite resource to be shared out. There is no zero sum game. Work creates work – the more 66 year old work, the more they earn, they more waiters, cinema attendants, retail assistants, gardeners (etc.) they indirectly employ. Go over you economic theory again. Othenr than that, a fair article.

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  2. Dean Swift

    Thank you Mr Smith. I will stick to my guns though: I firmly believe that extending retirement age from 65 to 67 in Spain will prevent even more young people from getting jobs, though there should, if things were properly organised, be plenty of work for younger people as waiters, or other professions you mention. Your phrase ‘go over you (sic) economic theory again’ is patronising. I won’t have it. Go over your Comment again and correct the five grammatical errors. I can be patronising too.

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