Six things from the last few weeks you should be really angry about

Forget Snowden.

For those people who prefer to live their lives in a state of permanent opposition to pretty much everything, Edward Snowden’s decision to leak classified information through The Guardian newspaper about US and UK government internet surveillance techniques has been manna from heaven. No matter the rights and wrongs of Snowden’s actions it keeps the idea going that there is another ‘Watergate’ moment out there if only we could find it.

But to me, if you really do want to live your life in a perpetual state of internet-based emotional froth, then there is plenty enough truly shocking information out there, released every day, to have you bouncing up and down on your chosen hand-held or desk-based device whilst punching the air and exclaiming "I told you so!!!!" without you necessarily having to go down the road of believing that the moon landings were fake. 

So here are six things from the past two weeks you should really be puce with indignation about, but probably aren’t.

  1. Venezuela is falling to pieces Inflation is nearly 50 per cent, driven mainly by food prices, and President Nicholas Maduro is slipping back into old school South American Marxist language. ‘Yankees go home’ he proclaimed in a television broadcast last week. Rich Venezuelans have reacted to the lack of US dollars by going to the US and borrowing currency on credit cards and bringing it home to buy goods. The economic chaos is worsening as Venezuela increases its dependence on oil – a suicidal policy in itself.  But it is the urban poor who have been hit hardest as food prices rocket. The last time this happened, in 1989, 2,000 people died in the ensuing "Caracazo".
  2. Follow the Yellen Brick Road Job creation in the US is trundling along at a predictable pace and by the end of April 2014, at the current trajectory, all of the jobs lost in the 2007-2008 melt down will have been regained. Should Janet Yellen survive the process of becoming the Chair of the Federal Reserve then her first task may be to consider whether to signal the end of US pump priming known as Quantitative Easing. It may have already occurred by then of course but given the appalling mess that the Fed made of their last attempt to test the water in the disastrous May/July period this year, sending mortgage interest rates up by 1.5 per cent and stopping bank lending in its tracks, you would expect them to be a bit clearer next time.
  3. The financial crisis has moved to its fourth stage It started in personal finances, moved into the banks, caused local government to contract and now finally it is reaching national governments. Watching the US go through the ritualised partisan wrangling over increasing the debt ceiling reminds us that the loudest echoes of the financial crisis have not faded, we have just been deafened to them. This new form of democracy – one with a gun to its own head – seems to be saying "Give me what I want or I’ll shoot" to the financial markets. One day someone will miscalculate and this will go very wrong. 
  4. The markets are calmer when there is no information being released It’s been rather pleasant doing this job in the past couple of weeks. Days go by and nothing major happens because many of the data gathering and releasing departments in the US are shut. Stock markets, bond markets and currencies still move but with nothing like the ferocity seen in the past. It is a reminder of how reactionary markets and news sensitive the system has become. It almost feels like an argument to reduce news flow rather ‘increase transparency’ which is the modern mantra and one that appears to do little but "increase anxiety".
  5. Help to Buy has nothing to do with helping people to buy houses The UK needs another housing bubble like it needs a hole in the head. The fact is the UK banking system is shrinking and no capitalist system based on borrowed money can propel itself without a fully functioning banking system. If you add together the outstanding loans of Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds then you can see that although deposits continue to rise, the value of loans is declining. To be fully functioning, systems like ours need both trust and confidence which just so happen to be the two major ingredients missing from our society. Help to Buy is a psychological scheme designed to get people back into the idea of borrowing money from banks.
  6. The Bank account of China swelled to USD3.7trn last month Whilst we have been tightening our belts as part of the latest of our episodic crises, China has continued on with its 30-year plan.  Their collective bank account swelled by another $165bn last month. UK Chancellor George Osborne has announced he is going to relax visa application rules to make it easier for Chinese visitors to come to the UK  - you can understand why given our own collective bank account is empty.

I shall now return to my hollowed out volcano somewhere in the South Pacific to discuss the future with John F Kennedy, Jimmy Hoffer and Lord Lucan and hope the US and UK governments aren’t hacking my router. It would be embarrassing to know they can see me catching up on "Strictly – it takes two’".

Photograph: Getty Images

Head of Fixed Income and Macro, Old Mutual Global Investors

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Show Hide image

What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war