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A mighty wind?

Updated: May 8


Christopher Guest's wonderful faux documentary about the folk music pandemic that swept the world in the 1960s was titled A Mighty Wind. (You can find Christopher Guest himself in the picture above. He's the third red shirt on the right, in the centre of the picture, part of a lunatic parody of The Kingston Trio.) The folk music craze of the 1960s was central to the zeitgeist of that optimistic decade, when Bob Dylan sang through his nose that the times they were a' changin', and Pete Seeger invited everyone to join him singing that great Civil Rights anthem We Shall Overcome. Stirring times!

From memory, the mighty wind that was sweepin' cross the land promised to sweep the entire bourgeoisie before it. The LSD guru Timothy Leary invited anybody who would listen to him to turn on, tune in and drop out. The Beatles sang about Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and only the most corrupt and perverted minds would connect this with LSD. And where did all this lead? Without passing 'go' and certainly without collecting £200, it led straight to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, not to mention a string of their paler imitators.

So what's all this got to do with today, you ask? With trembling hand and quavering voice, I'll risk an observation: it's too early just yet to claim to detect a mighty wind about to strike. But I reckon there's a gentle zephyr rustling the leaves, and it could lead to bigger things.

What makes me think this? The biggest and most obvious straw in the zephyr is the verdict in the George Floyd case. Almost exactly 25 years ago (April 1996) a bystander filmed four cops savagely beating a black man called Rodney King, at night in Los Angeles . Mr King suffered a fractured skull, broken bones, missing teeth and brain injury after he was kicked and attacked by four baton-wielding cops. Yet despite the clear evidence of the film, a majority white jury (nine whites, one black, one asian, one mixed race) acquitted the four cops of using excessive force. This led to five days and nights of looting, rioting and arson across the United States, and a widespread feeling that justice had not only not been done, but had clearly been seen not to have been done.

I've written about this before, but I believe one of those tectonic shifts in public opinion is taking place all around us. In the developed world, the zeitgeist is saying that we can't go on like this. Every night television news of fires, floods, droughts and hurricanes convinces the middle class that climate change is real, and that if we don't do something about it then we are handing a disaster to our children and grandchildren. (This is a vastly more serious threat to future generations than, say, debt.) Similarly, we can't continue to turn a blind eye to manifest injustice and hope that nobody will set fire to our house, or the local Town Hall, or the nearest police station.

Why do I focus so much on American politics, you might well ask? The answer is odd: when I was a literary agent in Australia one of my favourite clients was Donald Horne, who was as near as Australia came in those days to having a public intellectual. Donald leaned slightly right in politics, and he was contemptuous of the Australian left, whom he accused of getting most of their ideas from Time magazine. In other words, in Donald's view, new political ideas originated in the United States and then caught on throughout the world. It would have been no coincidence to Donald that liberal ideas like gay marriage, legalising marijuana and fighting climate change have drawn most of their momentum from the United States. (The news isn't all good, of course. Donald Trump seems to have spread his malign style to the leaders of both the UK and Australia.)

I devoutly hope that the election of Joe Biden and his new administration is a sign of these new times. You can also put a mark on this page and remember that you read the following here first.

What are the Republicans up to in the US? It seems to me that Mitch McConnell is placing a huge bet on an old economic orthodoxy: if you print money or (same thing) pump borrowed money into the economy, the inevitable result is runaway inflation. In other words, Mitch McConnell is betting that Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion for Covid relief and $2 trillion for infrastructure will lead to massive and unpopular inflation, and that this should become apparent around the time of the mid-term congressional elections in November 2022. So the reason no Republican legislator will put his name or signature to one of these highly popular spending bills, is that they think it will all fall apart.

Will it unravel? We can't know for sure. But an awful lot of money has already been pumped into the British economy, into the European economy and into the US economy, with none of the predicted catastrophe. I remember 15 years ago a right-wing friend in Britain told me that Gordon Brown's injection of printed money into the UK economy would be 'Zimbabwe all over again'. Needless to say, it didn't happen. Nor, I would venture to suggest, will it be allowed to happen in the US while Janet Yellen is Treasury Secretary. So if I'm right, you read it here first.

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