Strange things happen to countries’ establishments after serious crashes. Before the 2008 crash, it was deemed patriotic to talk up the economy and paint Panglossian scenarios about the future.
Back then putting on the “green jersey” meant cheerleading the credit/housing boom and vilifying the doubters. The disposition of the establishment was cavalier; these insiders could see the runway and a “soft landing” was imminent.
Today, chastened by experience, the preferred position of Ireland’s insiders is one of caution, probity and rectitude, at least in the tone of public statements. Putting on the green jersey isn’t half as much craic anymore.
If Boris Johnson is the answer, what the hell is the question? Perplexed? Who isn’t? Not for the first time over the past few months, the revealed nature of England, a country we thought we knew, confounds us.
To understand the dynamics at the top of the British government, and to guess what might be the question to which Johnson is the answer, we have to dig a bit.
It is individuals – rather than institutions – who make the big decisions, and therefore personal testimony and first-hand experience of those individuals can be useful in teasing out that which has rendered logic and analysis redundant.
Great political parties can and do disappear. It is a fact of history. The Irish Home Rule Party disappeared in 1918. Around the same time the Liberal Party, the party of Gladstone, began to atrophy, and was ultimately eclipsed by the Labour Party.
In both cases, great events – the 1916 Rising and the first World War – changed politics forever in their respective countries. In the UK the Liberals were destroyed by the Labour Party, who reframed 20th-century politics as a battle between workers and capitalists.
These big events change the rules, and it looks like Brexit is one such event for the current crop of British parties.
One of the most essential, but least well-understood aspects of macroeconomics is that economics is counterintuitive. This is because macroeconomics, unlike accountancy, is more concerned with the collective than the individual.
The rule of thumb that dominates economics – again, as opposed to accountancy – is that what is good for the individual is not always good for the collective. When things are going really well and demand is very strong, like now, the Government should, counterintuitively, act to dampen it.
When demand is strong and people and companies are spending, the State should save and build up a surplus. Because, as night follows day, there will be a downturn, when people stop spending.
As the China-US trade war sends international stock markets reeling and threatens to escalate, economic history can help us make sense of it.
For example, recently in Russia, during an inevitable conversation about the UK and Brexit, some Russian friends compared the much-loved (in the West), Mikael Gorbachev to Boris Johnson.
To our ears, Gorbachev is the brave hero who brought democracy to the Soviet Union. Comparing the great Russian reformer with the buffoonish Johnson appears unfair and harsh, but many Russians dislike Gorbachev intensely. They accuse him of having – like Boris Johnson – no sense of responsibility.
The Berlin taxi driver was a bit groggy on Tuesday morning. The night before, Union Berlin, the East Berliner football team – used to playing second fiddle to the more celebrated West Berliner Herta Berlin – won promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in the club’s history. Next year, Union will be lining out against giants such as Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund. It had been a long night in the city.
After the essential few minutes on football and a quick natter about Berlin in springtime, when this tree-lined city turns green, we switched to politics. He was proud to tell me that Berliners know how many trees are in the city (430,100) but don’t know how many immigrants live in the city.
In one sentence he framed German politics on the day after the European election, when the big story was the surge for the Greens in what was West Germany and the dogged gains for the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) in the old East Germany.