IT SEEMS we stagger from one crisis to the next. No sooner does one panic subside than another builds up a head of steam, becoming an all-encompassing and existential threat. We lash out at everything with upscaled paranoia.
After many years of this, we have become encumbered with the results of our lack of critical thinking. For decades the UK, along with the rest of the West, has thrown strategic vision out the window in favour of focusing exclusively on transient threats.
After 2008, we refused to take our economic medicine. ‘Too big to fail’ was the watchword, with the untrammelled greed of the financial elite underwritten by those deemed small enough to fail. Quantitative easing and its vast monetary explosion became the crack cocaine of economies uninterested in producing value or increasing productivity. Concerns about inflation and moral hazard were dismissed as bunkum.
In former ages, at some juncture someone might have put us on an even keel. Yet in the modern world where the relationship between actions and consequences has been so rapidly forgotten, the excess was applauded and the madness never stopped.
And so the public finances descended into disarray. We never got our house back in order before the next panic set in: Covid-19. While the initial response was understandable, a government without scrutiny fully absorbed the precautionary principle, underwriting massive economic costs for months on end. If we thought the economy was in bad shape before, there weren’t many reasons to be optimistic after this government-sponsored period of self-sabotage.
While this deranged economic model was being employed, we were forced headlong down the path of energy insanity. ‘Net Zero’ was blithely introduced by the most supine and inept of our post-war leaders in a self-absorbed attempt to create a ‘legacy’. A roster of environmentally dubious and financially ruinous policies were thrown at an electorate never consulted over the monumental changes.
Our energy independence was annihilated on an altar of misplaced moral piety, sacrificing it to world markets and an assumption that, in accordance with the stale end-of-history thinking that has enveloped the ossified West, we’d always be able to get what we need when we need it thanks to just-in-time supply chains, which soon proved too brittle to rely on.
As energy prices rocketed, we blew up our power stations. As we panic about the decency of using Russian gas, we concrete over our fracking sites. Much better that we get our energy from the honest-to-goodness human right advocates of Saudi and Venezuela, after all. When your policy is predicated upon unadulterated optimism and fluffy feel-good vibes, reality can have a nasty way of intruding upon such naivety.
One might think it is the government’s job to make our position as robust as possible. Yet for a ruling class entirely inculcated with the ideas of utopian universalism, this would be a most retrograde step.
It seems that at no point has anyone in power thought more than 30 seconds into the future. Let us take another example: those wanting to come to the United Kingdom. Some are economic migrants, some are refugees. Yet, despite the occasional tough talk, there has been no effort to stem the stream of those illegally crossing the Channel.
Now, thousands upon thousands are put up in accommodation across the land. We have no extra capacity, just at the time where thousands more – many undoubtedly more deserving than the economic migrants of Calais – clamour to live here. The righteous and the good assert their morality once more: we must let them in. But the hard questions of where they will go and how we will support them once again go unanswered.
The whole modern system of government has been created with zero durability in mind. It mirrors the highly precarious just-in-time supply chains that have been adopted in the world of business. Counterintuitively, this works quite well for those in power.
Bouncing from one crisis to the next – invariably of their own making – they are able to present each self-made cock-up as an existential threat to be tackled in the way we would a war. This is why everything today is a ‘war’: the war on drugs, the war on terror, the war on Covid, the war on Russia.
Wartime permits government overreach into every aspect of our life. Nothing can be excluded in the effort to combat the enemy. The problem, however, is that the sheer level of malign incompetence shown by our ruling class means we tilt at an infinite number of windmills, wasting our time on the spurious and inconsequential.
And whilst we do so, those around the world with their eyes on the longer term know that it is only a matter of time before the imaginary world dreamt up by a cossetted and greedy civilisation in decline splutters and grinds to a halt.
Our latest moral panic regarding Ukraine has everyone feeling very positive about themselves. All of the glamour of war but none of the flesh-ripping and bone-shattering side effects as we cheer on the citizens of Ukraine, as if watching a football match.
Trying to crush Putin without resorting to kinetic force, we suddenly feel ourselves to be in a position of strength. I fear it is misplaced. We are at an economic, political, military and social nadir. We are a society that produces little, refuses to be energy self-sufficient and that has destroyed its moral credibility after decades of senseless, destructive wars across the world. Many decades’ worth of unintended consequences are coming back to bite.