On accountability

It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.

Mahatma Gandhi

I would go further than the Mahatma: it is impossible to escape the consequences of one’s acts. But this is is of course not the received wisdom amongst our elites. Of course one can escape the consequences of one’s acts. If you drive a business you are running into the ground, that’s a golden handshake for you. If you are a government minister whose policies are catastrophic for the country, that’s a string of lucrative non-executive directorships for you, and probably a seat in the House of Lords if you are in the UK. (That’s £313 a day just for turning up – $379.48 US at today’s exchange rate.)

There is a depressing video on YouTube discussing the number of bankers who have gone to prison for the numerous corporate crimes of which the banks are clearly guilty. Spoiler alert: that number is very, very small. The entire 2008 global financial crisis ended with one banker in the US doing jail time. One. One. One. Let me spell that out for you:

That’s one. O-N-E.

That banker’s name, incidentally, was Kareem Serageldin, and you’ve never heard of him because he was a very, very minor player. The real villains of the story got a slap on the wrist, if they got any punishment at all. To take one example from the UK, Fred “the Shred” Goodwin, who was instrumental in the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland, lost his knighthood and suffered a reduction in his pension to a mere £342,500 a year (that’s $415,247.00 US at today’s exchange rates, without allowing for inflation). I don’t suppose Fred Goodwin slept under a railway bridge last night.

The sad thing is that this is completely unsurprising. If you are in the charmed circle, nothing bad will ever happen to you. It doesn’t matter what laws you break, which taxes you fail to pay, how many of the little people you abuse in whatever way takes your fancy. Fifty years ago, it was considered scandalous in the UK when Marcia Williams was given a peerage, supposedly for her work as Prime Minister Harold Wilson‘s personal secretary, but as was generally understood as a gift from him to his long-standing mistress. Nowadays something like that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow.

I am not going to get into the metaphysics of whether any of these people are going to suffer repercussions in a future life. What worries me is what repercussions they may suffer in this one, and more to the point, under what circumstances.

Yep, due process definitely observed here, nothing to see, move along…

What we seem to be seeing now in many Western nations, certainly in both the UK and as far as I can judge the USA, is a process of testing the political order to destruction. It’s almost as if the space lizards are running a book on how far they can push people before it all kicks off. I am not at all sure they can push it much further before many industrialised nations start going full Sri Lanka.

Justice is undoubtedly called for, but justice without mercy is not much of an improvement. In an environment in which any person or group can arbitrarily be designated enemies of the people, nobody is safe. Heaven knows I hold no brief for the current crop of idiots who are supposedly running my country, but I don’t want to replace them with Robespierre either.

Accountability and power should be fundamentally connected. If I am not accountable to you, there is no reason why you should grant me any power over you. Indeed, there is every reason why you should not. My accountability to you if the only guarantee you have, or could possibly have, that I will use that power in your interest. Without that, the whole edifice of “democratic” politics collapses, as indeed we are already seeing around the world.

The solution, if there is one, is to concentrate as much power as possible locally. If the people making the decisions have to live with the consequences of those decisions, they are likely to make better decisions. If you are living immediately downstream of a dam, you aren’t going to choose to skimp on maintenance. If you live in an area with low rainfall, you aren’t going to approve a project that will require 2m litres of water daily when you need that water for things like agriculture. (That’s rather more than half a million gallons a day, for those of you who are used to US measures.) If you depend on fishing for your livelihood, you will think twice before you deplete fish stocks below the point where they can recover. And so on.

There may not be a way to get to this point that doesn’t involve people’s heads being displayed on pikes. I don’t want that to happen, even for people who richly deserve it (and we can all name a few of those). If the space lizards are reading this, devolution of power is the way to go if they want to avoid that outcome. But even if they are, I don’t suppose they’ll choose that road. Because where is the billionaire who can say no to another dollar? Especially when it’s tax-free.

Comments are welcome, but I do pre-moderate them to make sure they comply with the house rules.

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