24 February 2010

A Little Bit of History Repeating?

At last the blackout on any discussion of the radical potential of running a massive public debt has been overturned - but only because the debt in question happened 200 years ago. For those who missed The Long View on Radio 4 last night, you might enjoy listening to it in the next six days.

Interestingly, all the commentators were pretty right-wing, Will Hutton representing the radical voice. This was not true of the historical figures who were cited, with William Cobbett's outrage raging across the centuries, its heat undimmed.

Niall Ferguson took the high-Tory opposition, seemingly unaware that he was arguing against his own position as a self-proclaimed Cameroon by simultaneously delighting in the inevitability of either a default or a revolution as the possible outcome of the sort of public-spending position we currently find ourselves in. But what a delight to hear this view from the lips of a capitalist apologist such as Ferguson.

The commentators agreed that the reason we are not seeing bricks flying through the windows of Downing Street, as they flew through the window's of Wellington's Apsley House is that we have not yet had to pay the price for the deficit accrued last year. They also shared the view that the major difference between this deficit and that following the Napoleonic Wars is that public opinion supported fighting the French (Cobbett was also the exception here) whereas bailing out the banks is universally unpopular outside the square mile.

What chance history repeating in the next decade or so? If you trace the consequences of the 19th century public spending crisis you end up with Chartism and huge democratic renewal. We live in hope. . .

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