I suppose that, very roughly, the world in which I grew up was divided in two. On the one hand there was the democratic Free West, with the USA as primus inter pares. And on the other hand there were the one-party state-controlled Soviet Union and Communist China. An Iron Curtain divided the two. Proxy wars were continually fought, first in Korea, and then Vietnam, and elsewhere.
The political argument between the two sides was essentially between bottom-up free market capitalism and top-down state control. In Britain we had a compromise between the two, a “mixed economy” with nationalised state-controlled industries side by side with private enterprise. And there was a robust political debate between the statist Labour party and the free market Conservative party, which eventually resulted in the the Thatcher Conservative government in which most (but not all) state-owned enterprises were sold into private ownership, with the NHS as the principal state-controlled industry.
And at about the same time, the Soviet one-party state dissolved, and Russia became a free-market economy with multi-billionaire oligarchs. Something similar happened in China. After decades of top-down control, the Chinese economy began to boom. The Cold War came to an end. In both Russia and China there remained a remnant one-party state.
It now seems that the two sides may have simply changed places, and exchanged ideologies. For as Russia and China liberalised their economies, the formerly free-market West began to show more and more signs of becoming a top-down-controlled one-party state. For while Europe had long remained a family of democratic nation states, it now began to metamorphose into something akin to a Soviet one-party state, with an unelected Central Committee issuing innumerable rules and regulations. The resulting sovietisation of Europe unsurprisingly began to stifle the European economy, which began to sink into a similar bureaucratic stagnation as the Soviet Union, with mounting unemployment.
Something similar seems to have happened in the USA, which also began to suffer from increasing state regulation under presidents who seemed to exercise greater and greater personal power, and experienced less and less restraint by the houses of Congress. And the US economy – once the locomotive of the free world – has become stagnant like the Soviet Union.
In Britain, the formerly robust debate between the parties gave way to an almost complete uniformity of opinion. The Labour and Conservative and Liberal parties all became slightly different flavours of The Party. You could still vote, but The Party would always be elected, whoever you voted for. And the mainstream media – the BBC and all the other TV stations as well as the newspapers – all became mouthpieces of The Party.
Nothing expressed all this better than the 2007 UK smoking ban. This appeared as an overnight edict from on high, backed by a propaganda campaign in the mainstream media that Soviet propagandists of the Stalin era would have envied. Numerous other edicts followed, replacing perfectly serviceable incandescent light bulbs with dim and short-lived ones. Useless windmills appeared everywhere. Carbon dioxide was demonised. Gay marriage was rushed through by supposedly conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.
And so we now have a world that has been turned completely upside down. The formerly free West has become replica of the Soviet Union, and the formerly one-party states of the Soviet Union and Communist China have become plausible replicas of the formerly free market West. It would seem that while the communist East was learning how to become capitalist, the capitalist West was learning how to become communist.
The current US election might best be understood as a power struggle inside the Soviet Union, with Donald Trump playing the role of Boris Yeltsin, and trying to overthrow a US Communist one-party state which, much like in Britain, comes in two flavours – Republican and Democrat. If he wins the election, stifling top-down control will give way to deregulated free market capitalism, much as happened when the old Soviet Union disintegrated. If he doesn’t, stagnation and corruption will continue.
It may simply be that power always tends to become concentrated in the hands of single individuals, who may in different eras be despots or tyrants or kings or emperors or party chairmen or presidents or prime ministers. The absence of any restraining power on these individuals results in increasingly arbitrary and ill-considered and in many cases completely crackpot decisions. The resulting misgovernment eventually becomes unendurable, and the despot is overthrown, either in a bloody revolution or a bloodless election which hands power to a number of people, perhaps even the entire population. And with that, the cycle repeats itself, with power gradually becoming concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, until the next despot emerges.
In this respect, the Eastern and Western cycles are completely out of sync with each other. The Eastern world in 1950 was dominated by two despots – Stalin and Mao -, while the Western world had power dispersed in parliaments and assemblies. Over the subsequent 50 years, the despotic East gradually liberalised, and the liberal West gradually became despotic. We have come almost full circle.
I’m not a betting man. I place bets on average once every 10 years or so. But last Friday I went into a betting shop and placed a £10 bet on Donald Trump to be elected as the next President of the United States, at odds of 4 to 1. Because I think we have arrived at the point in the cycle where power has become too concentrated in the hands of unaccountable and slightly mad individuals at the top, and needs to be returned to the plurality of commonsensical people at the bottom. If the US electorate doesn’t manage to do this in a bloodless election in a couple of weeks, I fear they will do it in a bloody revolution a few years later.
If Trump wins, top-down state control will be slashed, the US economy will be deregulated and begin to boom, and the current absurd new Cold War will end. And also most likely Britain will leave the top-down-controlled EU, which will disintegrate back into a diverse collection of self-governing sovereign states. If he doesn’t win, I would expect both the USA and UK and Europe to become even more despotic (quite possibly with the equivalents of Stalin or Mao emerging), and their economies even more stagnant, and the people ever more angry. And Britain forced to stay in the EU.