Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Fall of Giants

I recently finished Ken Follett's historical novel "The Fall of Giants."  It is the first of a trilogy that he is writing on the twentieth century.  It is, as expected, completely absorbing and it brings the history of WWI alive. 

I think we are at a time similar to a hundred years ago, when WWI was looming on the horizon.  Big changes are coming as institution after institution fails, the "Giants" falling today go from the tyrannies of the Middle East, to Berlosconi in Italy, to some of the financial giants of Wall Street (more to follow I am afraid as their over-leveraged, high risk ways have still not ended), to the legitimacy of government regulatory agencies, to so many things.  I actually think that in America both political parties are at risk of committing suicide and may fade into oblivion.  

The change that happened as a result of WWI was the end of the rule of aristocracy in Europe.  The Communist revolution overthrew the aristocracy in Russia, of course, but I think that the days of the aristocrats was over for the rest of Europe as well by the end of the war, especially after the terrible mismanagement and bumbling of the aristocratic leadership had propelled the European nations into the war in the first place, and the management of the war was so inept in the second place, and the negotiated peace was so destructive in the end.  The aristocracy lost their ruling power as a result of their demonstrated incompetence and inhumanity.  

And the world was never the same.

The terrible price that the world paid for this liberation from the inherited, landed aristocracy was 37,446,904 casualties, with total deaths of 8,528,831. It's hard to even imagine.

Now, we are in the grips of another group of aristocracies that are badly mismanaging their responsibilities and are causing real hardships for the people of the world.  The financial collapse has put millions out of work, and entered the developed world into an era of financial pessimism.  

The left blames Wall Street and the financial institutions of the world for their reckless risk taking and seemingly bottomless greed, and they are right.  The right blames government for their being in bed with political benefactors and they are also right.

The entrenched aristocracy has become the unholy marriage between finance and government, and the result is fortunes for the super wealthy, power for the politicians, and hardship for the majority.  Both the Tea Party, who rail against the overpowerful government, and the Occupy Wall Streeters, who rail against the 1% are expressing pre-revolutionary angers.

I hope and pray that we don't end up with millions dead and economies that are totally destroyed by the time that the institutions that are being overthrown are finally finished.  I don't think massive wars are needed, but big changes are coming.  

The end of corrupt aristocracies is ultimately a good thing.  Let's have it be fairly smooth and elegant.