[digg-reddit-me]Those in power are clearly nervous about what will happen if this crisis continues to deepen. British police are predicting that 2009 will be a “summer of rage” as middle-class anger at the economic crisis erupts into violence on the streets of Great Britain. Protest organizers are claiming that the police are merely trying to prepare the public for more brutal put-downs of protests by the police – but even this in itself indicates a nervousness on the part of the police, a fear that protests will get out of control.
At the same time, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the powerful inside player in Washington since he was National Security Advisor under Jimmy Carter, warned on MSNBC that this recession could lead to riots in America:
[T]here is public awareness of this extraordinary wealth that was transferred to a few individuals at levels without historical precedent in America . . . And you sort of say to yourself: what’s going to happen in this society when these people are without jobs, when their families hurt, when they lose their homes, and so forth?
…[T]here’s going to be growing conflict between the classes and if people are unemployed and really hurting, hell, there could be even riots.
The financial crisis has already lead to the increasing instability, civil unrest, and conflict in Russia, Pakistan, Mexico, and throughout the world – all of this during the normally dormant winter months.
It was often said that China’s government was only able to remain in power and maintain stability if the economy was growing at a fast enough rate. It’s beginning to be clear that this is true for most of the world’s governments. As I wrote before:
As long as American citizens have their basic needs met and a reasonable opportunity to succeed, they will accept a polarized distribution of wealth, corruption of various sorts, and sundry other injustices. And as long as the Chinese citizens are moving towards having their basic needs met and have a reasonable opportunity to succeed, they will accept a single-party state, restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, and other restrictions.
Any state’s constitutional structure is legitimated by whether it provides for the needs of it’s people. In another age, the state merely provided security against hostile invasions and criminals; later, it provided an identity as well; by the middle of the 20th century, a state was legitimated by the extent to which it could provide for the basic needs of it’s citizens. The Cold War was, to a large degree, a competition between the capitalist states and the Communists states to see which could provide more ably for the needs of it’s citizens. Today, the state is evolving from providing for the needs of it’s citizens to providing opportunities for it’s citizens.
We are now facing the spectre of rapidly increasing unemployment and diminished opportunities for millions accustomed to a rising standard of living. A prolonged depression, or even a slowing in growth, in a market-state undermines the government’s legitimacy and society’s stability, perhaps to the breaking point.
Many of the world’s societies are only peaceful and stable to the extent that their people believe they can improve their lot in life, or their children’s lot. The opiate of the masses is no longer religion – it is hope, the expectation of better things to come grounded in expanding individual opportunity. This financial crisis may test what happens when this opiate is removed.