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Euphemisms and the Crisis

, by Pablo Baez Guersi

Politically correct language usually carries the wicked effect of confusion. That is the reason why we should pay attention to facts and not only to words. This article aims to show what stands behind two terms: “markets” and “sovereignty”.

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Politicians have always been great masters in the use of euphemisms. We all know how it works: we replace a truth we do not want to hear with a lie that sounds better. We call it political correctness and thanks to it there is no conflict between Israel and Palestine but a peace process, the military intervention in Libya is just crisis management and instead of crisis and recession we have economic deceleration and credit crunch. This politically correct language proves to be specially helpful in troubled times, when politicians decide to take unpopular measures and even want them to be popular. With these small deceptions they achieve to cast reality and present it in a certain way. Sometimes it is necessary to take some distance to appreciate what is hidden beneath the words

The Money:

One of these euphemisms is “markets”. It is a wide word, obscure for the majority of the people, and can easily have many different meanings. When I read about the “markets” I cannot help recalling the metaphor of the “invisible hand” coined by Adam Smith. It has always seemed a fairly disturbing metaphor. After all how can we monitor something that is invisible? However, Smith’s idea was rather encouraging: if everyone chase its own profit we all stand to gain, we obtain the common benefit.

In his Toulon speech on the December 1st, Nicolas Sarkozy stated that “in reducing our deficits, we are loosening the grip the markets have on us”. I do not intentd to discuss financial matters in this article but to call the attention to the importance that our politicians and many analysts draw to markets. For some time we have observed that decisions are taken on the basis of how markets will react, if we will achieve being convincing, if we will succeed on reducing markets pressure. But what is even more worrying is that the “markets argument” has become more and more frequent and natural to the extent that doing what is best for the markets seems to be beyond discussion. That said, these markets have barely even the semblance of the old liberal market where the invisible hand worked.

When we speak today about markets we refer to the big investors, the rating agencies, the banks. In short, we are referring to the financial elite. When a European Prime Minister explains that he is going to introduce new economical measures in order to reassure the markets, what he really means is that he is going to try to get Standard and Poor’s not to reduce his country’s rating. At this current time there are clearly visible hands in the markets and it becomes obvious that in most cases the search of self-profit by some operators do not lead toward common benefit but quite the opposite.

The turbulence of an economical crisis constitute an unbeatable field to make large profits for those who know how to exploit it. The financial disaster offers lucrative opportunities. We know that speculation can grant incredible benefits thank to instability and the operators of the markets know it too. Nevertheless, we all hope that the markets will give us the recipe to successfully cope with the crisis. We believe that if we do what markets demand we will recover stability. This whole process looks just like paying a ransom to free our economies.

While dealing with the crisis, the Governments plan their measures in order to please the financial operators, the international institutions, the other States, but not the people. The problem lies in the fact that sometimos these measures go wrong when we try to apply them to a society, formed by real people with real lives. It will only be logical to ask ourselves if there are mistakes in the plan. Strangely enough, some seem to think that it is the people that contains errors.

The Power:

On December 2nd Angela Merkel promised the Members of the Bundestag that her government will never reduce the sovereignty of the Parliament. It goes without saying that this is little more than a graceful way of promising the Parliametarians that they will not lose power. It is remarkable how the word “sovereignty”, deep and complicated as it is, can sometimes be such a useful euphemism. I especially like the way it makes the mundane power ambitions of our leaders look elegant, and we all know how important keeping the power can be for those who already have it.

Now that European leaders, or at least most of them, seem to have agreed on the necessity of a fiscal union, debates will focus on deciding if this means a cession of the sovereignty of the States to the European Union. This way the lack of practical relevance of the concept of sovereignty, unless it goes along with real power, will become more evident than ever. Did not Greece give up its sovereignty by putting into practice a number of economical measures that were imposed by the other European countries? Did not the members of the Eurozone lose their sovereignty when they let France and Germany take all the decisions?

The mistake lies on the European leaders determination, made clear on December 9th, to continue walking the intergovernmental path. Europe will not be democratic unless the decisions that interest us all are made by all the European citizens as a group. Regarding the issues that affect the European citizens, the Governments of the member States have no democratic legitimacy. This is because these matters do not affect people as they are Irish, Germans or Greeks but as they are Europeans.

Money and Power.

Many would say that they are the same and maybe they are right. Nevertheless, it is precisely in periods like the one we are living, when money and power intertwine so closely, that we must claim the supremacy of a political power heavily reliant on the the will of those who are governed.

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