I’ve been thinking about an article yesterday by Larry Elliott which introduced me to the concept of the politico-economic trilemma. This suggests that you can only ever have two out of three of the following: democracy, nation state and global integration. I suppose the EU is an attempt in a lesser way to combine two and a half of those elements: democracy, nation state and European integration. Not sure how well or how democratically that is working at present.
From a purely self-centred point of view, which element would I be willing to forego?
Democracy? Well, I despair of it sometimes. Sixty-six per cent turnout in last year’s general election – an election which was obviously going to be close, and which came at the end of an almost unprecedented and certainly unexpected coalition government. Did all that not suggest that further change was possible? Why wouldn’t you vote? And now, with the changes to voter registration, it sounds as if thousands of people can’t get their act together to register. (But – be fair – how often did I register before I reached my thirties?) And as for politicians . . .
Actually, it’s not the expenses and the duck houses that bother me so much as the impression that any competence politicians show doesn’t extend beyond the short-term and self-interested. Do any of them have any idea of how to prepare the country for the challenges of the foreseeable future? Are we to continue coasting down the austerity path while the country gets shabbier and the lack of maintenance becomes more visible? Perhaps the only big idea in recent years has been Iain Duncan Smith’s attempt to introduce universal benefit/credit . . . and look how well that’s doing.
As for local politicians . . . either they haven’t had an idea of their own in years, or they’re admirably hard-working and appear to be regarded by their constituents as unpaid litter-pickers whose job is to sort out the perennial problem of car parking and dog mess. (Yes, I know – gross generalisation.)
So I admit I’m a little disappointed in democracy . . . but I won’t give it up since the alternatives don’t bear thinking of.
Nation state? We all have our blind spots, and as a British Islander one of mine is forgetting that national borders aren’t immutable. I know – of course I know – that that is not the case. On Monday I was looking at a Victorian-era map of Europe; goodness me, but how low Turkey-in-Europe squatted on recently resurrected little Greece! Where was Poland? Alsace was German and Trieste was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. I know that states can take the multi-lingual, federal form of Switzerland or the let’s-pretend-we’ve-existed-in-this-homogenous-state-for-centuries form of Greece. Nation states, however, define citizens and their rights, and in an age of democracy and tax-funded social welfare it would be difficult to persuade voters to put domestic interests behind global ones.
So should we ditch globalisation? But I like only needing Euros when I cross the Channel! Do I want to return to queuing at a Greek customs desk to take a bicycle or a parcel of new books into the country? How many people would be happy to wave goodbye to goods produced cheaply in China? And how can we do without globalisation when it comes to dealing with worldwide problems like climate change?