Monday, September 14, 2009

Left or Right wing — what difference will it make?

Our government in my state — Victoria — and federally is Labor, nominally left-wing. Will it matter in the longer term whether right or left wing parties dominate politics? Supporters of both sides hope that it will matter and hope their side will win, which is perfectly natural. But I wonder whether it will make a lot of difference in the long term. I'll concede it does in the short term. I was very glad to see the end of John Howard and his gang. I wish the new lot were less like him than they are. I'll admit it — I'm a soft, left leaning libertarian who wrote letters to the papers deploring the treatment of asylum seekers and the rush to support George W Bush in whatever international adventure he was involved in. But in the longer term, maybe it doesn't make as much difference as we would like to imagine.

Politics is the froth and bubble on top of society. It is the way power and resources, which are scarce, are apportioned to an infinite demand. Underneath however are the hidden trends which really control our lives and most often they are not the product of politics. Politicians of all stripes are "successful" when they surf the wave of prosperity, the way Maggie Thatcher surfed the wave of growth which resulted from the huge bonus North Sea oil gave to the British economy. In Australia, Malcolm Fraser and the Liberals (conservatives to you non-Australians: we're upside down here at the bottom of the world) reaped the whirlwind of the recession of the late seventies, while Labor under Bob Hawke were the beneficiaries of the boom brought on by a world awash in cheap energy in the eighties. Dmitri Orlov has it that the same cheap energy destroyed the Soviet economy which was dependent on oil exports to maintain the system, thus leading, at least in part, to the collapse of the Soviet system at the end of the eighties.

Peak Oil is not a political issue, it's a geological one. The same goes for all the looming shortages which nature is shortly going to impose on us freely breeding humans. Politics may matter to you and me in our immediate time and place, but in the longer term, which is not much longer these days, these larger, hidden issues are going to take charge of our lives in uncomfortable ways.

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