Beyond any of that, though, the wedding was probably the first in the city to be held as a kind of TED conference. After the ceremony, in which chants were chanted and vows, written by the couple’s friends, were exchanged, guests sat down to a series of talks, with PowerPoint presentations, on subjects of interest to the couple — ecological efficiency, neuroscience, holistic healing. Those who did not care to listen wandered about eating dumplings and popcorn, which made up the entire nuptial meal.
The evening’s keynote speaker, more or less, was Graham Hill, a TED alumnus — Technology, Entertainment, Design, that is — the founder of the Web site Treehugger, and Mr. Friedlander’s employer at LifeEdited, where the groom works in marketing and communications. LifeEdited is a commercial enterprise and a movement, one that aims to get people to rid themselves of many of the excesses that industrial living has caused. Mr. Hill gave a talk about the importance of personal downsizing, which was largely a talk about his life.
When he moved to New York he settled into a small apartment. Soon he will move into 420 square feet of sleek, economically designed space in SoHo with a Murphy bed and movable walls. The purpose of LifeEdited is to develop more apartments and buildings like his and to get people to live with fewer things of higher quality. The motto of the movement is “the luxury of less.” (Mr. Hill did not seem aware of how unnerving it can be to hear rich people talk about the pleasures of not spending money.)
The rich are different from you and I — more obnoxious for a start.
Politicians and socalled objective media both have been pushing hard the idea that the Euro crisis can only be solved by spending cuts and spending discipline, but luckily there’s the Washington Post to spell out the real reasons behind this:
“If adopted by other nations in the union, the deal would mean drastic cuts in European budgets. It would also spell the end of three decades of overspending that helped finance a cozy social protection system envied by much of the world.”
It has nothing to do with solving the crisis, it’s needed to destroy what remains of social democracy in the EU, by attempting to take away the power to set budgets from elected national politicians through hard spending limits and fines if these are breached. There already are some such agreements in place amongst the countries who have the Euro as their currency, but in practise these turned out to be not as hard as they were supposed to be in theory, especially not when you’re called France or Germany. The proposed plan would make it difficult to “blow the budget” even for those countries, but it will of course still be the weaker countries that will suffer more under these plans. Introduction therefore would inevitably lead to more spending cuts and more structural budget cuts even in the richer countries.
It would have been much easier to sanction the decade’s violators of the Stability & Growth Pact – Germany and France. Of course they got sanctioned anyway, but perhaps they would have had to pay a fine. Let’s be charitable for a moment and assume that this would indeed have caused them to run a lower public sector deficit. This would have changed what, precisely? Had it depressed internal demand in Germany, all other things being equal, it would have caused Germany to increase its trade surplus. A bigger trade surplus implies a bigger deficit elsewhere, and it also implies that German and French banks would have lent the private sector “elsewhere” the money they needed to buy the additional exports. An additional problem might have been that, had German bonds been in shorter supply, investors would have sought other AAA-rated assets and piled up even more bubbly mortgage-backed securities, which the banks would have been delighted to sell them.
But one thing this proposal would categorically not have done is to stop Italy or Spain or Ireland running up more public debt. Public debt fell in these countries from 1995 to 2007. Even Portugal and Greece didn’t exactly explode. Ireland would still have a budget surplus if it hadn’t massacred itself to save the banks (in part because the ECB wouldn’t help). Greece, well, perhaps, but it seems to be clear that just yelling at the Greeks is insufficient to fix Greece’s problems.
Meanwhile the chart above (From ToUCstone) shows what really drove up government debt in the four largest EU economies and it ain’t “a cozy social protection system”.
It neatly shows how little has changed in the past seventyfive years, doesn’t it? You can find the same attitudes Redfield documents only thinly disguised in government policy and “market” attitudes all over.
The last ten years have been a very disappointing decade for the Netherlands, politics wise. We started the decade with a clapped out coalition of neoliberal technocrats completely failing to respond to the rise of the first charismastic, populist, Islamophobic demagogue the country was blessed with. He promptly got shot, the backlash catapulted his party into government but their incompetence doomed them almost immediately. Their legacy lasted much longer however, collapsing the vote of the traditional big parties, with a large part of the electorate becoming swinging voters, going for the party that most satisfied their gut instincts this election, opening up space for more populist parties. In itself this was not a bad thing, was it not fueled as much by a healthy dose of xenophobia as a visceral hatred of politics as usual, with various politicians trying to make lightning strike twice. This is not without dangers, as a national firebrand is stabbed to death for his views on Muslims
Fast forward a few years and governments and we’re back into a much worse economic crisis and an even worsely fractured political landscape. We’re now ruled by a rightwing minority coalition of neoliberal technocrats who use this crisis as an excuse to sell of everything the state owns not yet sold by previous governments, as well as ram through all the ideologically driven spending cuts it had been wanting to see through for years. To do so, it has to depend on a racist party, throwing them a bone every now and again, which doesn’t help make the country any nicer to live in. Both developments on their own are bad enough, but acting in concert as they do makes them incredibly dangerous.
Several stories coming out this week underscore how bad things are getting. First, there’s the ongoing saga of the ban on ritual slaughter of non-stunned animals, which has now been passed by parliament, which uses the guise of animal welfare to taunt religious Jews and Muslims. Then there was the minister of interior affairs who stated that the multicultural society was finished and would no longer be subsidised, followed by a colleague of his own party saying yesterday that “the fear of many Dutch people for foreigners is justified”, followed by the xenophobes overtaking him on the right by stating that third generation immigrants, the grandchildren of the people who actually immigrate to Holland, are still dirty foreigners and not to be trusted. Meanwhile the first wave of spending cuts have moved effortlessly through parliament, as arts funding is slashed and the public broadcasters see massive budget cuts as well.
It all doesn’t make for a nicer country to live in.
“There are absolutely no policy reasons for the €200 million of cutbacks. This deal was struck with the PVV in exchange for its support in parliament of the minority cabinet. The intention is to inflict irreparable damage on an entire profession. Zijlstra is striving to decimate and eliminate this professional group’s creative, innovative and critical potential. Not a single member of his own party (VVD), or anyone from its coalition partner, the CDA (Christian Democratic Party) has opposed him. As far as they are concerned, traditional art is merely the superfluous ornamentation of a society. Contemporary art is labelled as alienating, and even, although no one actually says it out loud, as ‘degenerate art’.
The notion of “entarte kunst” does fit in well with the rightwing “populism” of the PVV and Wilders, as I also noted yesterday, but as Bruce Sterling indicates, the betrayal of the art by the supposedly respectable CDA and VVD is just as nihilistic. This is something that would not have been possible twenty or even ten years ago, but a decade of relentless rightwing philistinism in which everything had to be reappraised solely for its commercial potential has eroded the sense of social responsibility these parties used to hold. Obviously, there have alwas been disagreements over the arts and funding thereof; what’s new is the idea that they shouldn’t be funded at all, apart from very respectable high culture institutes like the Rijksmuseum or Concertgebouw. This is an ideologically driven attack, one that wants to make art safe for the rich and only aimed at their tastes.