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PostCan We Compare Today to the 1930s? Not Really (Angel Vinas, Belgium, 07/09/23 4:00 am)
John Eipper asked for my historian's perspective on parallels between the 1930s and today.
John is right in stating that I don't like commenting on the present. This is so because I don't feel I have enough authority. I'm not an amateur, nor commentator, nor political scientist, nor sociologist, nor journalist. I'm simply a historian.
However, I'll try my hand.
1. Today's world is completely different from the 1920s and '30s. This is the case in economic, political, social, technological and institutional terms.
2. It's quite normal to look to the past to draw inferences about the future. Alter all, to a certain extent the future is a prolongation of the past or a result of the past.
3. However, societies learn from the mistakes of the past, which undoubtedly haunts us all.
4. After WWII Western societies, fearful of the spread of Communism, learned how to bridle the workings of runaway capitalism and reinvented in a new mold the social state whose beginnings go back to the 19th century in certain countries, notably Germany. This led to mixed economies where state power was combined with market power. It lasted until the collapse of Communism.
5. A new kind of semi-unbridled market-oriented societies in the American and British models evolved. I confess having been exposed to this kind of thinking (but really an old one) in my last years at the European Commission under a British cabinet. I got fed up with it.
6. However, time goes by. The younger generations have no idea of what the 1930s were. No recollections of Wall Street collapses. No global economic crisis.
7. The problem is that the new economic (and social, and environmental, and political) crisis is back and the broad masses of people in the West have become accustomed to a high standard of living. This is something which is a really unprecedented phenomenon.
8. Therefore I think that we have to go back to a new kind of market-oriented economies where the heavy hand of the State (that is, politics) has to be renovated with a vigor adapted to our present circumstances.
My perplexity is why so many citizens don't recognize this. Their search for solutions has become a very simple endeavor, enervated by political and media power, many delusions and remembrance of past grandeurs.
JE comments: Ángel, an excellent synthesis, especially (in my view) your points 4 through 7. I'm less sanguine about your claim in #3. What surprises me is how little we tend to learn from our past mistakes.
May I pry a bit and ask what the proverbial last straw was for you in point 5?