Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Permanent State of Emergency

It is a common feature of authoritarian regimes to institute a permanent state of emergency as the normal situation. Sometimes the state of emergency is linked to the coming to power of the regime, for example after a military coup or in response to invasion or civil war. At other times it's a response of a nominally civilian government responding to mass unrest, a collapsing economy, the threat of external invasion and so on. Of course for these regimes the state of emergency has lots of benefits - constitutions can be suspended or re-written, dissent clamped down, the power of the state massively increased. The permanent state of emergency is the beneficial crisis magnified and extended forever.

And so it is with the Euro crisis. This is the permanent state of emergency in response to a real crisis, but it has become the normal situation now. There are still the external trappings of the emergency - regular summit meetings, dire pronouncements from all and sundry, plans announced and discarded, disaster is always on the horizon.

In those countries were the government really has formally declared a state of emergency, once the initial shock has passed the population adapts to the new environment. Life goes on, eventually. People might disappear from the streets, newspapers might disappear from the news shelves, the public sphere shrinks back. But people can't cope with the exhaustion of living life permanently on edge.

And so it is with us. The Euro crisis has all but disappeared from view. We're back to focusing on the more important issues of the day, like royal breasts bared in foreign climes. Those still focused on the issue, like the admirable Richard North of EUReferendom, has an iron constitution and keeps up with what's going on. But people like him are the exceptions. For the rest of us, even those of us interested in politics and who passionately hate the EU, the permanent crisis has taken it's toll. It's exhausting, even though we know that the EU will never let a good crisis go to waste.

The markets too are suffering from this exhaustion. What the permanent state of emergency does is take away that element of uncertainty. You know that tomorrow will be much like today - perched on the edge of a disaster that always looms large but never quite happens.

Tomorrow we'll wake up to a stronger EU state. Citizens will watch from the side lines as political union progresses further and further. But for most people, attention will stay tuned to royal breasts, sports, celebrities and the minor pantomime that passes for national politics these days.

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