A Partnership Between the Generations

Edmund Burke’s words quoted by Niall Ferguson in the first of his 2012 Reith LecturesThe Rule of Law and its Enemies – #1 The Human Hive“.

Glorious vs inglorious revolutions in the light of the Arab Spring. Revolution against “extractive” rule, but for what ? Representative democracies that allow the current generation to vote for its own needs, at the expense of the needs of multi-generational institutions, are doomed to degenerate. Long-lived institutions, and the laws that enforce them, have credibility in terms of liability for debt, unlike easy-come, easy-go elected governments – which represent a positively reinforced death spiral.

The eminent economic historian Professor Niall Ferguson argues that institutions determine the success or failure of nations. In a lecture delivered at the London School of Economics and Political Science, he says that a society governed by abstract, impersonal rules will become richer than one ruled by personal relationships. The rule of law is crucial to the creation of a modern economy and its early adoption is the reason why Western nations grew so powerful in the modern age.

But are the institutions of the West now degenerating? Professor Ferguson asks whether the democratic system has a fatal flaw at its heart. In the West young people are confronting the fact that they must live with the huge financial debt generated by their parents, something they had no control over despite the fact that they were born into a democracy. Is there a way of restoring the compact between different generations?

The problem is with the complexity, dysfunctionality, opacity and even fraudulence of economic governance and regulation – not the existence of such institutions. Historically these are the source of sustainable growth and the evolution of wealth – ie it’s not individual entrepreneurism per se, but the institutions that support their functioning. Sustainability involves true valuation of sovereign assets as well as true liability beyond accounting debts, including environmental and natural resources. Populations confuse real grievances with symptoms for underlying problems and causes, and consequently left / liberal groups are exploited to misguided ends. It’s just not cool to be conservative. Who knew the Tea Party was right ? (Funny, I made this comment before, about the superiority of conservative values. And here, Daniel Kahneman pointing out that individual freedom of choice needs the guidance of conservative governance.)

Need to listen to the remaining 3 of 4.

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