The Global Temper Tantrum
Ferguson, Niall, Newsweek
Byline: Niall Ferguson
Fury is spreading. But the mobs ignore the real culprit behind broken economies.
This is the age of indignation. Politics in the Western world are becoming more emotional--because our problems are so intractable.
Recently a Chilean friend of mine was at a bullfight in Barcelona, where a spectator threw a bottle at one of the picadors. The police duly arrested the bottle thrower. But as he was led away, the crowd began to boo the policemen and to chant "Libertad! Libertad!"
This captures the illogical mood of the moment. Leave aside your feelings about bullfighting, because this could equally well have happened at a tennis match. Throwing a bottle at a participant in a sporting event is a dangerous criminal act. Someone who behaves that way deserves to be arrested. Yet the crowd's feelings of hostility to the police trumped that rational view. The arrested man became a symbol of oppressed liberty, despite the fact that everyone had witnessed his crime.
"The Indignant"--los Indignados--are now a distinct group in Spain. They are the young people who take to the streets to protest against high unemployment, government spending cuts, and anything else that ticks them off. But this is no longer a purely Spanish phenomenon. The Indignant are everywhere. They were in the streets of Athens, throwing-Molotov cocktails at police while the Greek Parliament debated its latest austerity budget.
On July 1 the Indignant were marching and yelling outside my London office, too. What was this lot indignant about? Yes, cuts once again--to be precise, the British government's plan to reduce public-sector employees' pensions and increase their retirement age.
Indignation takes different forms in different places. In Europe it's directed against cuts in public spending. In the United States it's directed against tax hikes, which are anathema to the Tea Party.
What all the Indignant have in common is the refusal to address squarely the problem that nearly all Western countries face. That problem is that the welfare systems that evolved in the mid-20th century are unaffordable under the demographic and economic circumstances of the 21st century. …