One aspect of the euro area’s debt crisis that hasn’t had the attention it deserves is that it might accelerate the decline into irrelevance of the political class.
What I mean is that financial markets have more or less given up hope that politicians will solve the problem. Insofar as they still hope that the crisis will be resolved, such hopes lie in the expectation that the ECB, rather than politicians, will act. All Europe’s “leaders” - the word is increasingly absurd - can offer is mindless slogans.
In other words, the political class seems unable to solve problems that are - in principle - soluble; I suspect one could add global climate change to this. And if they can’t solve the soluble problems, there’s no chance of them solving insoluble ones, such as what to do about the investment dearth, or how to create full employment when demand for unskilled workers is in secular decline in the west; feel free to add to the list.
What policy announcements that are made - such as Cameron’s promise to do something about “troubled families” - usually have more to do with news management than the serious expectation that problems can be solved.
Politicians are becoming meaningless people doing meaningless posturing.
This continues a longstanding one. For years, voters have increasingly recognized politicians superfluousness by not voting. Since the 70s, turnout in parliamentary elections has declined from over 80% in Germany to under 65% at the last election, from 70%+ in France to under 44%, from over 90% in Italy to under 80%, and from 70%+ to 61% in the UK. I suspect that these numbers are only as high as they are because of a combination of force of habit and the desire to self-identify with a faction, rather than our of any expectation that politicians matter much.
One reason why "technocrats" have been able to take charge in Italy and Greece is precisely that orthodox politicians no longer offer much.
I suspect that politicians recognize this only instinctively. One reason for the increasing bitterness of political disputes - be it the vicious factionalism of much of American politics, Francois Baroin’s absurd swipe at the UK or the Europhiles attacks on the Eurosceptics - is that impotence and irrelevance makes people angry. National politics is becoming like academic politics; it’s so vicious because the stakes are so low.
Though they see it instinctively, however, at least three things - on top of their self-regard and self-importance - stop politicians seeing it intellectually.
One is simple self-denial. This post at Labour List gives a good example of this. It draws five lessons of the Feltham and Heston by-election without noting the important one - that seven in ten people didn’t vote. Instead, the low turnout is brushed off as something “invariable” rather than as what it is - a large and growing indifference to politicians.
Another is that the media continues to give politicians more attention than their social impact would warrant. Politicians mistake this attention for public interest, when in fact the media is another faction of the political class.
There’s a third thing. People confuse politics and politicians. Politics - the question of how public life should be conducted - will always matter. But it does not follow that politicians matter - especially when they have only narrow and inadequate answers to this question.