Saturday, April 05, 2008

An absence of government

I was particularly taken by the title of John Page’s post over at Purple Scorpion, where he expresses the view that, "Good governing is hard and unglamorous".

That is very much the truth of it, which makes for a huge gap between the political fluff that we read in the media and – as John observes - in the right-wing blogosphere, and the reality of ordinary living. Too often, we have written about the great divide between what is actually important and what the political classes believe to be important, the gap being so huge that we have difficulty in believing that the politicians actually inhabit the same planet.

That "reality gap" emerges with full force today as Gordon Brown today attends his "Progressive Governance Conference" - in Watford of all places - with The Times telling us that his keynote theme is a call for "an overhaul of international institutions to cope with the twin threats of global economic turmoil and climate change."

Organisations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Nations (UN), said the prime minister, needed to be reformed in order to meet the challenges of the modern world. "We now have to reshape our global rules and global institutions for this new era."

What brought on John Page's cri de coeur, however, was the news of the hike in rice prices, flagged up by The Financial Times. This paper reports that rice prices rose more than 10 percent on Friday to a fresh all-time high, making 50 percent in two weeks. This, unsurprisingly, threatens upheaval and has resulted in riots and soldiers overseeing supplies in some emerging countries, where the grain is a staple food for about three billion people.

The FT also reports that the increase also risks stoking further inflation in emerging countries, which have been suffering the impact of record oil prices and the rise in price of other agricultural commodities – including wheat, maize and vegetable oil – in the last year.

This same theme is taken up by The Guardian which notes that, two years ago the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation expected biofuels to help eradicate hunger and poverty for up to two billion people. Yesterday, it says, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon raised real doubt over that policy amid signs that the world was facing its worst food crisis in a generation.

Putting these issues together, if there is a dominant factor exacerbating the emerging food crisis, it has to be the tranzie class obsession with climate change, which has done more than anything to distort the world market in food commodities – not least through the utter madness of the rush for biofuels.

Yet, it has to be said, that this obsession has been driven by the United Nations, one of the very "international institutions" which Brown tells us he wants to see "reformed". They are very much part of the problem and, inasmuch as their obsession with climate change continues unabated, they will continue to be part of that problem, with or without "reform".

Yet, as Professor Philip Stott writes, the "Global Warming" Grand Narrative is in trouble. The paradigm is shifting: the duck is becoming a rabbit. Everywhere, there is the first hint of decay, while the hot air of desperation is palpable. Quite simply, there has been no "global warming" since 1998 – and nor is there likely to be any for the foreseeable future.

Of concern to this blog – expressed in numerous posts – is the possibility of a succession of poor winters, which could have a devastating effect on harvests and stress the global food situation to crisis point and beyond. Not least, this could have a dramatic effect on inflation, at a time when the global financial situation is already under serious strain.

Some commentators, however, see the commodity price hikes as a "bubble" which will become self-correcting as a global recession bites, driving down demand which, in turn, will drive down prices to more reasonable levels. The choice, therefore, becomes one between inflation or recession, although still others argue that we could face both – the nightmare of “stagflation”.

Not being economists, we do not have the expertise to judge which way the global economy is set to go, but we also note that, when it comes to predicting major global economic changes, professional economists have a very poor record indeed. Random predictions divined with the aid of a pin – it seems – have a better track record.

That said, there are certain constants, in terms of good governments, which we could expect from our leaders, which would mitigate the effects of any economic shocks – and would do us no harm in the event that any downturn is not as severe as some are predicting it will be.

And it is there where John Page comes in. There are few signs, he writes, of a Conservative party being any better at governing than the present incumbents. Other countries are having to face up to real issues, rather than abundance of plastic bags, or cynical tilting at the mirage of man-made global warming, but while the UK's energy security and social cohesion become increasingly fragile, we see no sign that the political classes are shaping up to confront these issues in any meaningful way.

Remarkably, The Economist is retailing concerns that, in the absence of new power stations in the next few years, the spare capacity in the British electrical supply industry will have eroded entirely by around 2015. A report prepared for the government estimates, under gloomy assumptions, a 70 percent chance of at least one blackout in 2012, even with new capacity.

By then, given the expected outcome of what will be a 2010 general election, Mr Cameron will be in office – and we will be without power. With food prices by then in the stratosphere, the lack of government will at least be rather obvious.


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