Wednesday, June 06, 2012

no wonder the working man despises the elites

guardian | The European crisis is as much political as economic. It raises fundamental democratic questions. By what right do you govern us? How can we control you while you are in power and how can we remove you if your governance fails? Last week, Michael Ignatieff, former columnist on this newspaper and former leader of the Canadian Liberal party, came to London from a country where politicians can tell the electorate that they have limited powers to remedy their grievances and gazed on Europe with horror. "What," he asked, "is a working stiff in Piraeus meant to make of Christine Lagarde?"

His question answered itself. Madame Lagarde told Greek parents who were scrambling through rubbish tips to find food for their families that she had more sympathy for the children of sub-Saharan Africa. Having unburdened herself of the oafish thought that suffering is a competition in which the poorest can be used as a weapon against the poor, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund added: "I think they should also help themselves collectively. By all paying their tax." The knowledge that she does not pay tax herself in no way restrained her.

The better sort of journalist and, naturally, diplomats are appalled by the Greek charges of hypocrisy that followed. The world has tolerated an over-generous clause in the 1961 Vienna Convention that exempted "diplomatic agents" from tax for more than 60 years. In any case, they added, whether IMF officials and other diplomats pay tax has nothing to do with the eurozone's breakdown. They forgot that perks that no one notices in ordinary times can in crises become as intolerable as the tax exemptions of the aristocrats and clerics were to the French revolutionaries of 1789. In a crisis, the elite has to convince the masses that there is a rough equality of sacrifice – a connection between them and us – or lose legitimacy.