I remember the nineties fondly. They were the years before housing bubbles. The years when cricket still had meaning and moustaches were not yet the gimmick of some new age fad. The years when talent still determined who became famous. And the years when the singularity of American might gave the world a moral centre, however flawed.
Indeed, I recall the nineties as a kind of pinnacle in Hegelian history; when the dialectical advance of civilisation had some real hope of permanency. Francis Fukuyama took the spirit to its logical extreme in his work. And Bill Clinton seemed to embody this spirit in foreign policies aimed at liberating people from oppression and suffering in lands barbarous and far flung.
Of course, this was all dreadfully naive. But not contradictory. Hegelian history is the process of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. It is not without conflict. It is conflict, but aimed at civilised progress.
One gets the feeling today that that moment has passed and we are staring at a much less reassuring future, the lineaments of which are apparent in the events unfolding before us and in their coverage.
Greed is the motif of the age and provided Japan does not suffer a radiation catastrophe, global markets will begin to look through the tragedy (as Wall St clearly did last night). Global central banks will breath a sigh of relief because commodities are correcting very nicely, taking pressure off input costs and inflation everywhere. Like the Fed last night, the RBA here, and others to follow, they will ease up on tightening.
Oil too will ease over coming weeks (remember, I said “ease”) . The Arab Spring is whithering as a wintery blast emanates from the West. Washington, Brussels and London are not going to embroil themselves in the folly of foreign wars. Their rhetoric of assistance to the Arab revolutionaries is for the people at home, not the Arabs themselves. It is a political device aimed at covering the amorality of international diplomacy, nothing more.
Bahrain is set to be violently suppressed, but that’s ok because it’s not about democracy of self-determination. It’s about a blood feud between Shiites and Sunnis. Didn’t you know?
The great Libyan tyrant, Muamar Gaddafi is going to prevail. And the West will take his oil just as it did before, even as it blusters about sanctions.
In Europe, Ireland looks to hold all the aces. The EU will have to capitulate, and soon, to a new deal on generous terms. That this is being negotiated whilst Portugal burns is no problem, at least not for Ireland. A Portugese bailout is coming in short order too. The Franko/German austerity axis is defeated.
And poor Japan, its suffering so terrible and so public, is going to boom out of this calamity. Reconstruction will be huge. A quiet transformation in its energy supply alone will be an enormous undertaking. It’s debt problems will be irrelevant. This is war and the regular rules of finance will be suspended. As the surge of patriotic energy coming out of the disaster gathers, it is possible that Japan may even be able to restructure its debt for the better.
The unsavoury scurrying of nuclear apologists that has dominated media comment for the past several days will be seen as a public relations disaster in retrospect. Without even the decency to wait until we understood how many Japanese have been killed and maimed by fallout has, to my mind, been one of the worst publicity campaigns in living memory. You can forget nuclear power in Australia. The Japan disaster has killed it and the apologists are just dancing on the grave. Someone should call Ziggy and give him the news.
The Chinese, on the other hand, won’t stop for a second. Neither will the Indians. Though one has to put a serious question over whether or not the latter will now receive Australian uranium any time soon.
And that is where we come full circle. As long as the Fukushima reactors don’t melt, and render the Japanese capital uninhabitable for 600 years, we’ll be back to the full-bore commodities-competing supercycle of last week before you know it. Only now it will be bigger still, fired by a Japanese reconstruction hungry for steel, cement, oil, coal and gas.
A mad dash for commodities looms. A dash that will have none of the order of the nineties. None of the ballast at the centre. None of the progress that I miss.