The rising tide of global pop­ulism to­day is a di­rect re­sult of the Great Re­ces­sion

New Straits Times - - OPINION -

MUCH has been writ­ten in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia about events ex­actly 10 years ago with a global fi­nan­cial cri­sis (which, hav­ing orig­i­nated in the West, was nev­er­the­less cu­ri­ously never re­ferred to as the “Western” fi­nan­cial cri­sis) that led to the Great Re­ces­sion.

The causes, scary im­pli­ca­tions and con­se­quences are all well doc­u­mented and re­quire no rep­e­ti­tion here.

It was a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence for the Amer­i­can-led world of global fi­nance, the likes of which we have never wit­nessed since the end of World War Two.

The con­se­quences, not least po­lit­i­cally, are still re­ver­ber­at­ing through­out the world.

It is no hy­per­bole to say that this may one day come to be re­mem­bered as the prox­i­mate point when the rest of the world, and most no­tably China, lost its in­no­cence about the long-per­ceived in­fal­li­bil­ity of Western ideas on how so­ci­eties or­gan­ise them­selves eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally.

As Do­minique Strauss-Kahn, who headed the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund at the height of the 2008 fi­nan­cial melt­down, now noted, the rising tide of global pop­ulism to­day, in­clud­ing in the once-thought-to-be ma­ture democ­ra­cies of the West, is a di­rect re­sult of that cri­sis.

What has par­tic­u­larly struck me is how John Authers, writ­ing in the Fi­nan­cial Times, owned up to sur­pris­ing self-cen­sor­ship a decade ago amid the cri­sis.

As Authers wrote: “The mo­ment came on Sept 17, 2008, two days af­ter Lehman de­clared bank­ruptcy.

“That Wed­nes­day was, for me, the scari­est day of the cri­sis, when world fi­nance came clos­est to all-out col­lapse. But I did not write as much.”

Authers was then in New York City, ground zero of the brew­ing cri­sis. “There was a bank run hap­pen­ing, in New York’s fi­nan­cial district. The peo­ple pan­ick­ing were the Wall Streeters who best un­der­stood what was go­ing on.

“All I needed was to get a photographer to take a few shots of the well-dressed bankers queue­ing for their money….”

“Such a story on the FT’s front page might have been enough to push the sys­tem over the edge. Our read­ers went un­warned, and the sys­tem went without that fi­nal prod into panic.”

Authers jus­ti­fied his partly self­in­ter­ested non-ac­tion then as akin to the right to free speech not in­clud­ing the right to shout fire in a crowded cin­ema.

A fire, of course, might have been started not by a hu­man hand but it is hard to imag­ine a fi­nan­cial firestorm not hav­ing be­ing sparked by one.

Pop­u­lar re­sent­ment about the con­tin­ued lack of full ac­count­abil­ity for who­ever caused the fi­nan­cial cri­sis and with the me­dia that de­cided that the greater pub­lic in­ter­est lay in such me­dia not re­port­ing rather than re­port­ing what was hap­pen­ing, is thus still cours­ing through the Western body politic 10 years hence.

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