January 7, 2012

2012, Tipping Point

How much time do we have left and what will 2012 bring?  The uproar in the middle east has great potential to bring a massive Tsunami of turmoil all over the globe. Meanwhile, the EU continues to deal with major economic uncertainty and it is only a matter of time before Greece or Italy files for bankruptcy. 

From the UK Telegraph:

The dawn of a new year is usually a time of hope and ambition, of dreams for the future and thoughts of a better life. But it is a long time since many of us looked forward to the new year with such anxiety, even dread.

Here in Britain, many economists believe that by the end of 2012 we could well have slipped into a second devastating recession. The Coalition remains delicately poised; it would take only one or two resignations to provoke a wider schism and a general election.

For the most chilling parallel, though, we should look back exactly 80 years, to the cold wintry days when 1931 gave way to 1932.

The ultimate warning from history: If our political leaders fail to provide adequate direction the results, as demonstrated 80 years ago, could be catastrophic  
The ultimate warning from history: If our political leaders fail to provide adequate direction the results, as demonstrated 80 years ago, could be catastrophic 

Then as now, few people saw much to mourn in the passing of the old year. It was in 1931 that the Great Depression really took hold in Europe, bringing governments to their knees and plunging tens of millions of people out of work.

Then as now, the crisis had taken years to gather momentum. After the Wall Street Crash in 1929 — just as after the banking crisis of 2008 — some observers even thought that the worst was over.

But in the summer of 1931, a wave of banking panics swept across central Europe. As the German and Austrian financial houses tottered, Britain’s Labour government came under fierce market pressure to slash spending and cut benefits.

Bitterly divided, the Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald decided to resign from office — only to return immediately as the leader of an all-party Coalition known as the National Government, dominated by Stanley Baldwin’s Conservatives.

Like today’s Coalition, the National Government was an uneasy marriage. Sunk in self-pity and spending much of his time flirting with aristocratic hostesses, MacDonald cut a miserable and semi-detached figure. By comparison, even Nick Clegg looks a model of strong, decisive leadership.

As for the Tory leader Stanley Baldwin, he had more in common with David Cameron than we might think. A laid-back Old Harrovian, tolerant, liberal-minded and ostentatiously relaxed, Baldwin spent as much time as possible on holiday in the South of France, preferring to enjoy the Mediterranean sunshine rather than get his hands dirty with the nuts and bolts of policy.

Meanwhile, far from offering a strong and coherent Opposition, the rump Labour Party seemed doomed to irrelevance. At least its leader, the pacifist Arthur Henderson, could claim to be a man of the people, having hauled himself up by his bootstraps from his early days as a Newcastle metal worker.

Not even his greatest admirers could possibly say the same of today’s adenoidal, stammering Opposition leader, the toothless Ed Miliband.

And in the last days of 1932, after the technocrats and generals had failed to restore order, President Paul von Hindenburg began to contemplate the unthinkable — the prospect of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany.

We all know what happened next. Indeed, by the end of 1932 the world was about to slide towards a new dark age, an age of barbarism and bloodshed on a scale that history had never known.

Eighty years on, it would be easy to sit back and reassure ourselves that the worst could never happen again. But that, of course, was what people told each other in 1932, too.

The lesson of history is that tough times often reward the desperate and dangerous, from angry demagogues to anarchists and nationalists, from seething mobs to expansionist empires.

Our world is poised on the edge of perhaps the most important 12 months for more than half a century. If our leaders provide the right leadership, then we may, perhaps, muddle through towards slow growth and gradual recovery.

But if the European elite continue to inflict needless hardship on their people; if the markets continue to erode faith in the euro; and if Western politicians waste their time in petty bickering, then we could easily slip further towards discontent and disaster.

The experience of 1932 provides a desperately valuable lesson. As a result of the decisions taken in those 12 short months, millions of people later lost their lives.

Today, on the brink of a new year that could well prove the most frightening in living memory, we can only pray that our history takes a very different path.

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