Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Nurmo municipality in memoriam

The sorry spectacle of the current local government "reform" has now reached my home town of Nurmo which will be amalgamated with the provincial capital by midnight. An efficient service provider with better performance in every key statistic will join with a much bigger, less efficient and more bureaucratic unit. On the national level this so called reform will certainly achieve bigger service organizations - though in quite random and ragtag fashion - without touching the very heavy structures of the services itself. Some haphazard savings will probably be made but the fundamental issues will be left untouched. This is the democratic political process at its sorriest: every main party was driven by its special interests towards a different overall solution with the end result being even worse than any of the proposed individual schemes.

The process in Nurmo was especially repulsive: a strong and active citizen opinion (almost two thirds in a well attended municipal referendum opposed the solution) was overruled by the morally - one hopes only that - corrupt local council which ended up agreeing with the proposal by one vote majority. The amazingly ugly strong arm tactics led by the leading provincial daily ended up successful. The Burkean in me simply detests abstract, arbitrary principles being chosen over actual historical experience, a deeply rooted local identity. But I suppose our Scandinavian governmental system is one of the least Burkean in existance. From that angle it is inconceivable that local identities would be important as such, that the coats of arms, lines and names on maps, shared historical experiences would be just as important to people as the municipalities' role as social service providers. Any more Burkean reform would have respected and kept these valuable symbolic forms while reforming the substance carefully and effectively. Now we ended up with the worst of both worlds: losing the local rooted identity and keeping essentially in place the top heavy service delivery structures. Oh well, the way of the world...

Postscript in Finnish:

Ilkka-lehden toiminta tässä surkuhupaisassa prosessissa hakee vertaistaan. On toki totuttu melkoisen ruokottomaan menoon sen suhteen, mutta tässä silmittömässä kampanjassa kyllä välillä jätettiin väliin ne alkeellisimmatkin ammattimaisen journalismin periaatteet. Toimituksen johdossa on aktiivisia toimijoita ja vaikuttajia Seinäjoen kunnallispolitiikassa ja journalistiset toimintatavat näköjään alistettiin näiden vaikuttajien henkilökohtaisille poliittisille intresseille. Tätä ei mitenkään lehden kommentti-artikkeleissa edes vaivauduttu peittelemään. Uutisointi oli äärimmäisen värittynyttä ja manipuloitua ja prosessista annettu kuva ilmeisesti aivan tarkoituksellisen vääristynyt. Karua on meno Hokkas-slovakiassa. Nurmon valtuuston toiminta on sitten saaga erikseen - toivoa sopii, että romahdus oli sentään vain älyn ja poliittisen ymmärryksen tasolla. Epäilemättä joka tapauksessa tämän räikeän epädemokraattisen enemmistön kirstuun poikii jatkossa myös maallista hyvää erinäisten postien ja arvonimien suhteen. On ilmeisesti poikinutkin jo: hyvä taito osata nöyrästi kumartaa oikealle ja pyllistää oikealle taholle vaikka sitten tämä jälkimmäinen olisikin se jota vaaleilla valittuna olisi pitänyt edustaa.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Keynesian times

A link to an excellent introduction to Keynes in the context of the present crisis by Skidelsky. Certainly a right person for the task: his brilliant biography of Keynes was my first real introduction to this crazily talented, fascinating 20th century figure. Of course Keynes' economics and his quite crucial role in turning back the left and right radical totalitarian tide are of enormous importance, but I do feel that his relevance extends beyond this. For me it was hugely significant that he was much concerned (as Skidelsky points out in the article) with probability, causality and uncertainty as the context of all social and historical action. In an immeasurably more modest fashion those were the very same themes that I was engaged with when coming to a settled understanding of the study of history, its nature, role and scope. I felt that what Keynes said about economic action was universally true of all sectors of human activity. Our historical stage is a very Keynesian stage. So, for me, it is only in this narrow sense of re-encountering a possibly very terrifying collapse of trust in the economic structures that it could be said that Keynes has again become relevant - he never stopped being relevant.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Like swimmers into cleanness leaping

I only too rarely read Finnish literature. I had my fill of the classics very early on and have barely kept abreast of the contemporary scene. Though those books that have made an impression have made a strong one. I’m now in the middle of Sofi Oksanen’s “Puhdistus”. Grim, grim text – the immediate context being the introduction of Stalinism into a civil society, the violence against women, the horrible scars that history leaves. Amazingly well written, such economical, beautiful language. While reading the first pages I was struck by the universal theme of loss of innocence that also began to emerge from the story.

This is of course something that concerns all of us: we all are hardened, at least to a degree, we all get cynical, at least to a degree, we all get callous, at least to a degree. But beyond this ordinary coarsening in this fundamentally harsh world there are whole categories of experience that we modern Westerners have largely escaped, that we scarcely believe possible. This does not mean that we would be immune to them, or that we, or our descendants would have a guarantee of never encountering them. We have been lucky in the blind accident of our historical moment. That is all.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Well, nuncle, this plainly won't do

We would urgently need a coherent theoretical framework to replace the crude market faith that is currently becoming more and more obsolete. Well, actually intellectually it has always been obsolete, it was born obsolete, but immense concentrations of power will support and create belief structures around them. We can see this reflex in the immense cohorts of semi- or partially educated market enthusiasts on the Web. (Not to talk about the hate filled American right wing talk radio whose main role in the world is I guess to keep corporate interests safe, never mind the unborn fetuses or Darwin in the last analysis.) However wrong, power speaks loudly - and in the context of market economy, it is not even completely wrong. Strictly regulated markets do work (and are not too unstable to create overwhelming social backlashes). So, what is needed is a subtle, intellectually flexible approach - a sane middle way. Now should I hold my breath?