Debt, Gove and royal wedding hysteria
Capitalism these days is one damn thing after another. In the past 30 years, we've had a Latin American debt crisis, an Asian debt crisis, a Russian debt crisis and a US debt crisis (sub-prime mortgages). Now we're in the early stages of a European debt crisis, which has hit Greece and Ireland and will soon spread at least to Spain and Portugal.
Capitalism cannot function without debt, just as aircraft cannot function without oil. The more unrestrained the capitalism, the more debt it needs. That explains why the era of neoliberalism and globalisation - which, we are often told, has delivered unprecedented prosperity and security to the masses - has actually been one of chronic and growing instability.
The state's role is to act as backstop, stepping in to rescue financial institutions when they misjudge the risks that all lending entails. A bank crisis automatically becomes a state crisis. Risk is in effect transferred from bankers to general taxpayers. To leave scope for more bailouts, such as the £7bn advanced to Ireland to prevent UK banks being saddled with bad debts, our welfare bills will be cut and our VAT rates increased. On the other hand, when risks are judged correctly, the rewards accrue almost entirely to bankers. If you think all this is desperately unfair, you are right. If you think the chances of anybody creating a fairer system are significantly better than zero, you are wrong.
A royal knock-out
This is a bad time to be a republican, and it won't get better any time soon. A rare dissenter from the general euphoria about the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton - Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, a Labour Party member who announced himself "a citizen, not a subject" and said the marriage would last only seven years - has expressed "sincere regrets", as one must these days, if one says anything remotely controversial. Nevertheless, he has been suspended indefinitely from the C of E. Even if Broadbent is right, and the marriage ends, as is customary for the Windsors, in acrimony, infidelity and divorce, we can expect Buckingham Palace to delay Prince Harry's nuptials until then, so that negative publicity is cancelled out by the positive.
Moreover, the Queen and Prince Philip are at the age where they become national treasures, and nothing must be done to upset them. Prince Charles, it is true, is a walking negative - a sort of Gordon Brown of royalty - and a coronation of Charles III (if he doesn't call himself George VII), with Camilla by his side, would be a disaster. But his parents will be kept alive, on life-support machines if necessary, either until he is safely dead, probably from overdosing himself on quack health remedies, or until he himself qualifies for national treasure status.
In these circumstances, we republicans must think laterally. I propose a campaign to privatise the monarchy and put it on an efficient, commercial footing. People would readily pay tens of thousands for a royal to open a factory, make an after-dinner speech or just turn up to a new product launch. The government could therefore sell off the monarchy for, say, £20bn on a five-year contract, thereby avoiding the need for its desperate cuts to welfare. Under EU rules, the franchise would presumably be put out to tender and Russian oligarchs, Indian steel magnates, Arab sheikhs and Simon Cowell would probably be among the bidders. But the Windsors could easily outbid them by selling off a few precious stones and Old Masters, plus one or two castles.
If the coalition adopts this imaginative scheme, I promise to become a fervent monarchist and to vote Conservative, just for once, at the next general election.
In the meantime, I shall adopt a curmudgeonly attitude to the royal wedding festivities. In particular, I shall oppose the idea that we should have a bank holiday to celebrate. Bank holidays are excuses for shutting down most of the country's public transport, allowing banks to take even longer over processing cheques and other transfer payments, and filling the television schedules with cheap trash. I am all in favour of more time off for the toiling masses. But the requirement that they all take a holiday on the same day - at the behest of central government - is one form of collectivism that we can do without.
Level the playing fields
The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has got many things wrong, but on school sport, for which he proposes to cut ring-fenced funding, he is right. The idea that education should include games dates back to the 19th-century public schools, which needed an outlet for the energies and passions of boisterous youths that would stop them rioting against the teachers and roasting each other over fires.
In most other European countries, children join community sports clubs that cater for all sports, all levels of ability and all ages. They find their own levels of performance and commitment, free from the rigidities of school timetables and age-group organisation. Those who do not want to play competitive team games, or aren't very good at them, are spared the boredom and humiliation. These playing fields aren't just used in term times and these European countries generally seem to have fitter populations and more successful international sports teams than we do.
You cannot be serious
The coalition was due, before the end of this year, to publish a white paper setting out its detailed plans for Britain's future economic growth. According to the Financial Times, however, it has been dropped because "the government did not have enough serious content to warrant a white paper". I think that just about sums things up.
Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005