Monday, April 06, 2009

Nice comment by Martin Johnson in yesterday’s Times. Talking of the bravery of the Grand National riders, he wrote:- “You have to hand it to these jockeys, some of whom took terrible tumbles yesterday, and yet most of them got up in about one twentieth of the time required by Cristiano Ronaldo after being propelled to the turf by a passing breeze.”

In his wonderfully incisive book “Our Culture, What’s left of it”, the social commentator Theodore Dalrymple contrasts the bureaucracies of Britain and Italy. In a nutshell, the former is large and incorruptible, whereas the latter is just large. This, he claims, explains why Italy’s economic performance has far outstripped Britain’s in the last 50 years and why Italy is much richer than bare GDP statistics suggest. Not to mention more aesthetically pleasing. As Dalrymple puts it, “The use of personal influence or bribery by a petitioner at the bar of bureaucracy may actually represent an increase in efficiency.” Britons, he says, regard their state bureaucracy as honest and therefore benign and so misguidedly rely on it for almost everything. Italians, on the other hand, see the state as an enemy against whom personal initiative must be used on every conceivable occasion. I couldn’t help but think of Spain when reading all this. Regular readers will know I’ve long seen British bureaucracy as corrupt in a different way from its Continental cousins – only too willing to feather its own nest at the cost of soaring national and municipal taxes imposed on the supine masses, whose only form of revolt in to vote in another set of similarly-minded rogues every 15 years or so. But perhaps things will change when Mr Cameron and the Tories retrieve power next year. And pigs finally take off. Meanwhile, here’s a final quote from Mr Dalrymple:- “The vast and seemingly benevolent state has completely eroded the proud and sturdy independence of the British population, once remarked upon by visitors. . . . It helps to explain the degradation and lack of self-respect that is so obvious on the streets of Britain and so absent from those of Italy. . . . What can be the future of a country whose government believes that the population needs to be told [in a brochure] that marriage can sometimes result in marital disharmony?”

Meanwhile, as an example of what the British state goes in for these days, here are some of the road signs on a short stretch of road between West Kirby and Heswall on the Wirral peninsula . .
- Don’t phone and drive. Police enforcement.
- Speed kills. Police enforcement.
- Drive more slowly. 30mph speed limit.
- Accident record on the A5504. 83 crashes in 3 years
- 3 deaths in 2 years.

Once wonders whether any accident occurred while someone was distracted by reading one of these. The philosophy behind it all, of course, is that We are entitled to raise and spend whatever money it takes to bring the accident rate down to zero. And to keep ourselves in employment by relentlessly pursuing this Holy Grail inperpetuity. In Spain – and, I guess, in Italy – one would merely assume the mayor had a relative in the sign-writing business. But in the UK, the situation is far worse. There it’s the Age of the Bureaucrat, honest but self-interestedly corrupt.

I guess something needs to be said about last week’s G20 meeting. But, even (especially?) in these difficult times, it’s hard to take seriously a one day-event in which the wives of global politicians are feted like footballers’ wives. Having now read thousands of words on it all, my conclusions are that it was a PR success; that it might just provide a confidence boost – surely what it was all about; and that the Franco-German axis probably got the best headlines, certainly back home because of the Sarkozy-Merkel verbiage. Any suggestion it redefined capitalism is, of course, quite ludicrous. As we ex-lawyers say, an agreement to agree amounts to nothing. And it certainly won’t save Mr Brown’s skin, no matter how many plaudits he got from his grandstanding colleagues. Most notably of all, it did nothing to address the key problem of toxic debts on balance sheets around the world. As the Venezuelan economist, Hernando de Soto has put it, “No amount of fiscal stimulus or new international regulation will get the banking system fixed until we know how much poisonous paper there is in the balance sheets of the banks. The G20 leaders have given the world a blood transfusion but now they need to get on with the operation, if they are to save the patient’s life.” Of course, the EU leaders may be a little distracted by a separate need to stop their political creation from imploding because of unforecasted economic conditions. Just blaming everything on the Anglo-Saxons is surely not going to prove enough. As for Spain, she can only stand and watch while her fate is decided by the big boys in the club. One almost feels sorry for President Z, as he gazes into his crystal ball and sees the spectres of deflation, wage falls, even higher unemployment figures and social unrest. Still, he lied his way back into the job so any sympathy must be decidedly limited.

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