The 5th Estate

tennis_court_oath

The Tennis Court Oath, Versailles, 1789

In the traditional model of rule, dating back to feudalism, there were three powers in the realm.  These were called the “Estates General” in pre-revolutionary France.

The first, and foremost was the Lords Temporal, made up of the hereditary royalty of the realm.  In effect these were the main landowners.

The second estate was the Lords Spiritual, the Cardinals and Bishops who ruled the church and wielded the power of “God” on earth.

The third, most numerous, and also the weakest estate was traditionally made up of commoners.  This is not to say they were poor peasants.  In fact the “Commons” were merchant princes, bankers, lawyers and aldermen selected to represent the interests of the middle classes.

Three great events in the 17th and 18th Centuries changed the dynamics of the Estates General forever.

  • In 1649 the British Parliament ordered the execution of King Charles, shattering the concept of “Divine Right” to rule.
  • In 1776 13 colonies of the United States of America declared their right of self-determination, a right of the 3rd estate to be free of the rule of the 1st estate.  No taxation without representation!
  • In 1789 the French 3rd estate seized power from the 1st and 2nd estates and firmly issued in the age of enlightenment.

Never again were the 1st and 2nd estates to hold power in the Western world without the agreement of the 3rd estate.

In the midst of this redefinition of the balance of power Edmund Burke, an Irish peer, made an address to Westminster on the reporting of parliamentary business by the Press.  He pointed out that the Press represented a 4th Estate which potentially wielded more power than the 3 estates general.  It proved to be a prophetic prediction.

Today almost every coup d’état begins with the seizure of the organs of the media, the presses, the radio stations and the TV stations.  Politicians and their military arms know that the media battle is as important as any conflict of arms.  Tight autocratic rule is only possible where the rulers control the media, the 4th estate.

The concept of a 5th estate, non mainstream media, emerged in the counter cultural revolution of the 1960’s, originally as the eponymous Detroit Newspaper.  It spread to a variety of media, but was restricted by traditional constraints on output.  The odd piece of output made a splash, such as the “Anarchists Cookbook”, but most of the small publications and independent radio broadcasts were lost to tiny circulations.

Then the internet arrived.  The 5th estate has blossomed on media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and in the darkest corners of the deep web.

Despite the best efforts of autocratic regimes it is very difficult to control the 5th Estate.  China is the best example of a state that exerts tight control.  Even the great firewall of China is porous.  The regime cannot control all the information that filters in and out of the nation.  People import smartphones from abroad, or use various tricks to bypass state control of the firewalls.

The “Arab Spring” revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and the Middle East were made possible by the 5th Estate.  Rebels were able to use social media to tear apart the propaganda and lies of the ruling elite.  They then used social media to coordinate and organize protests, uprisings and even battles.

Mainstream journalists use and abuse social media to bypass super injunctions by courts to control celebrity scandals.  They breach the laws of sub judice reporting in a manner that is impossible in the 4th estate.  Whistleblowers use social media to release data into the public domain including Julian Assange, Linda Tripp, Edward Snowdon, Bradley Manning etc.

The impact of the 5th Estate on Western Democratic politics is only now beginning to crystalize.

The rules are being formed but we get an emerging sense of the landscape.
Cover-ups don’t work.
Fraud is uncovered.
Nepotism is exposed.
Secret donations do not remain secret.
Past statements of politicians are dredged up and used as a stick to beat them.

The age of the media savvy politician and his spin-doctor sidekick is over.
We are entering a new era of politics, where consistency, honesty and openness are the sine qua non of political survival.

Large central parties are fracturing and falling apart as their corrupt members are isolated and exposed.
For the individual politician loyalty to the constituency is more important than loyalty to the party.
We see this in the rise of the independents, the mavericks, those outside mainstream politics.  The Trump factor.

The new era will favour smaller groupings with tighter internal agreement on issues and higher levels of trust between members.  “Family” style groupings who share values.
Governments will be by coalitions of these small groups.
The practice of governing will become more fluid as alliances are made, broken and reformed based on prevailing economic and political priorities.

The 4th estate has been increasingly controlled by the wealthy, who can afford to buy the media, and establish editorial standards.  Would the Watergate Scandal see the light of day in the current media climate?

By contrast the 5th estate is uncontrollable.  It can be influenced by those with the largest social media followings.

In the next 20 years you will see attempts by the wealthy to influence the 5th estate by buying influence.  Anyone who is seen as “bought” will rapidly lose traction.

King Canute (or Cnut) is famous for trying to hold back the tide.
In fact he was criticizing sycophantic nobles who accorded him divine powers.
He demonstrated that for all his power he was unable to order the tides.
Canute would understand just how uncontrollable is the 5th Estate.

king canute on the beach

Canute holds back the tide

 

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The Greek crisis exposes how the European Union has taken a wrong direction.

OXI

The European Union was founded on principles of social democracy.  Rooted in the Christian principles of “Rerum Novarum” the European experiment used to sit comfortably between the extreme worlds of US Capitalism and Russian Communism.  It offered a particular type of bargain, with protections for those at the bottom of society, and controls on rampant exploitation of people and workers.

In any politically led economic system we find politicians struggling to make sense of the complex interplay of economic factors.  A populist politician is unlikely to have a PhD in economics.  When politicians run into a capability gap they rely on specialist advisers.

Ideally these advisers should be free of vested interests, and should give dispassionate counsel.  At the most senior levels of the EU, and the respective national governments, we are seeing a different dynamic at play.

In the USA the nickname for the Treasury Dept in the Whitehouse is Government Sachs or the “Goldman Sachs” dept, referring to the large number of treasury secretaries from that investment house.  If you recruit stockbrokers to run government they create policies that favour the interests of big finance.  They push for lower corporate taxes, they cut welfare, government spending and reduce government regulation of industry.

These are exactly the forces we are seeing now in the European Union.  The post 2007 austerity programme was a philosophy designed by bankers for bankers.  For the average European the austerity programme has been a failure.   For bankers it has been an unqualified success.  The banking sector has recovered from near collapse, and the recovery has been paid for by ordinary citizens.

At last the Greeks have called time on the troika of the IMF, ECB and the European Commission.  Syriza was elected into power in Greece on an anti-austerity ticket.  That should have been a warning signal to the troika.  Instead of heeding the warning they blithely drove forward with their programme to steamroll the Greeks into paying banks back for bad loans.

The troika have tried and tried again to bully Tsipiras and his party into submission.  In response the Greek premier pulled out the most potent weapon in his arsenal “Democracy”.  He is resorting to the will of the people to gauge their support for his non-cooperation with the austerity agenda.

This does not sit at all well with the “Goldman Sachs” style banking & stockbroking mandarins who currently drive EU economic policy.  They are not accustomed to having their policies questioned even by politicians.  The concept of populist support is anathema to them.  They have no time for debt forgiveness or for wishy-washy neo-Keynesian economic policies.

The democratic prerogative should be no stranger to the politicians in the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. These are the people we have elected and appointed to guard the interests of the ordinary people of Europe.  These are the people who are failing.  They have given over too much power to the vested interests.

A thin understanding of economics is no excuse for the abrogation of responsibility that we see in the politicians in Europe.  The Greeks will speak on Sunday.  I expect them to come back with a resounding no, OXI!

Then we need to understand how we can help the economy at the bottom of our EU society.  This is Europe, not the USA.  This is about unification and inclusion, not about punishment and exclusion.

It is time to fix the EU model.

If you fancy an addition good read on this subject check out this link:  The Austerity Delusion