Archive for November 2017

Smoke and Mirrors

November 14, 2017

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals


Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation – Atifete Jahjaga (The first female President of the Republic of Kosovo and the youngest ever female head of state to be elected)

I would like to introduce you to one of my 21st Century heroes.  The name will not immediately ring a bell but nevertheless when you learn more about him you will remember the negotiations with which he was involved.  He is Yanis Varoufakis.  He has been described as ‘the most interesting man in the world’ and ‘an outstanding economists and political analyst’.  Born in Athens in 1961, Varoufakis was educated in Greece before moving to the United Kingdom, where he studied mathematics at the University of Essex.  He received a postgraduate degree in mathematical statistics at University of Birmingham, and a PhD in economics back at Essex. He began his career in academic economics, teaching at universities in the UK between 1982 and 1988 before moving to Australia, where he taught at the University of Sydney until 2000. He returned to Greece that year to teach at the University of Athens, where he led a doctoral program and was promoted to full professor in 2005. Following this, Varoufakis had periods of advising George Papandreou before moving to the United States to teach at the University of Texas.

He is a highly regarded economist with a worldwide reputation and made a name for himself particularly in the development of ‘game’ theory which applies to a wide range of behavioural relationships and covers the science of logical decision making in humans, animals, and computers.  The reason for this lengthy introduction is to make it clear that Yanis Varoufakis is not just highly intelligent but has spent most of his life studying the way in which people and organisations behave so is more likely than most be able to negotiate his way through complex and difficult situations.

Now let me introduce you to Larry Summers.  He is an American economist, former Vice President of Development Economics and Chief Economist of the World Bank, senior U.S. Treasury official throughout President Clinton’s administration (he became Treasury Secretary in 1999) before becoming Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama. He is a former President of Harvard University – so pretty big wheel in politics as well as economics.

Larry Summers and Yanis Varoufakis met at an hotel in Washington DC in April 2015 and had a long and interesting conversation.  Yanis had just become Finance Minister of Greece on the grounds that he was best placed to ‘solve’ the long standing economic crisis between Greece and the European Union – a Quixotic task if ever there was one. During the discussion Larry told him, ‘There are two kinds of politicians: ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’.  The outsiders prioritise their freedom to speak their version of the truth.  The price of their freedom is that they are ignored by the insiders who make the important decisions. The insiders, for their part, follow a sacrosanct rule: never turn against other insiders and never talk to outsiders about what insiders say or do.  Their reward?  Access to inside information and a chance, though no guarantee, of influencing powerful people and outcomes’.  He then asked the fundamental question: ‘Yanis, which are you?’

Hidden agendas

This information comes to us courtesy of Yanis’s book, ‘Adults in the Room – my battle with Europe’s deep establishment’, which describes the hidden agenda of Europe’s civil service and exposes what goes on in its corridors of power.  His attempt to renegotiate his country’s relationship with the EU, despite the simple logic of his arguments, floundered and ultimately failed on the rocks of hypocrisy, collusion and betrayal.

Despite the commitment of the EU’s founding fathers to the future of Europe as an open, honest and democratic organisation devoted to the benefit of its members (and there is no doubt that there are benefits) it is now a bureaucratic ‘Castle’ run primarily for those on the inside.  Yanis’s reply to Larry Summers was that although he saw himself as an ‘outsider’ he was nevertheless prepared to be an ‘insider’ if this would achieve this objective of a sustainable Greek economy.  His position was a classic ‘I would not start from here’ for Greece should never have been allowed to participate in the Euro to begin with, but his failure was as much to do with the authoritarianism and absolutism of the EU estate as it was to do with Greece’s governmental failures.  In almost 600 pages Yanis provides carefully documented details of the way in which every avenue to sensible agreement was blocked and Greece was locked into an ever more effective straitjacket of increasing debt.

He comes to the conclusion that the EU bureaucracy can be compared to a parasite which is out of control and will eventually destroy its host ‘bringing the whole edifice tumbling down’.  This may or may not be the case but the book is nevertheless a brilliant forensic analysis of the structures that make up the EU and is worth reading by anyone who wishes to understand the way in which large organisations function, especially when there is no external moderating influence on the interests of those ‘in charge’.

Complex structures of society

The dichotomy between art and reality has long fascinated me (as it has so many others – an early influence was Colin Wilson’s, The Outsider) but it was much later before I realised there was a similar dissonance between politics and reality too (as in the trials of ‘K’ in Kafka’s, The Castle and the tribulations of Henry Miller as he tried to make sense of human behaviour).  So, long before I was involved in the world of dogs I was aware of the complex structures of society from the caste divisions enshrined in law in India to the subtleties of our own class system.

I have therefore always seen myself as an ‘outsider’, instinctively distrusting those who take it upon themselves to tell others what to do or how to think.  I freely admit that this instinct has been modified over the years as I have gradually understood that the complexity of society is such that regulation is important.  It would be wonderful if everyone behaved appropriately but as Richard Dawkins points out so succinctly in The Selfish Gene, although there is an instinctive human ethos to cooperate in circumstances where the community is under threat, in most situations people are more likely to behave in their own and their immediately family’s self-interest.  As a friend of mine never fails to point out, ‘interests never lie’.  Therefore, despite my innate ‘outsiderness’ I do think rules are important but I also believe that they should always be rational, subjected to tests of fairness and justice within their context, should be tempered with common sense and amended quickly when necessary.

We all have responsibilities and it matters not whether one is an insider or an outsider, a government minister, a representative on a town or parish council, a committee member of a dog training or breed club, a KC Board Member or have ambitions to judge Best In Show at Crufts, we should be prepared to be accountable, to work within the rules, and accept that our motives might rightly be examined.  In a society where the freedom to comment and criticise is continually being extended through social media, we must be ever more aware that our actions may come back to bite us if they have not been carefully thought through or are not seen to be in the best interests of those for whom we are responsible.