OpinionFeb 25 2014

The illusion of power – and how to respond

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Unfortunately, in all of these scenarios we see the same problem, namely the reliance on appealing to a greater power. This removal of individual consideration of consequences is likely to increase risk (as there is nothing the greater power can do), and remove any responsibility for people to solve the problem themselves or to behave in a way that might prevent it occurring in the first place.

With regard to the UK flooding, it might well be that investing in flood defences to protect low-lying houses might not be a good use of government money. In the longer term, perhaps the sensible thing to do would be for individuals to avoid building at sea level, or at least be better prepared for rising water levels by building on raised platforms.

Military intervention is clearly complicated, but it seems that more often than not, international involvement ends up being analysed, criticised and eventually demonised. There may be a case that intervention prolongs conflict and suffering rather than curtailing it. Certainly the Afghan and Iraq invasions of the last decade would seem to suggest that.

Climate change is perhaps the most obvious example of absolving oneself of the obligation to make an effort by moving the duty up the chain of command. While coordination at a global level is important, it could be trumped by everyone, say, recycling 50 per cent of their waste – or even just consuming less. This might even help bloated healthcare budgets – another place where people cry out for ‘someone’ to spend more to make the sick better.

So far in the financial world, the final authority has had enough power to avoid catastrophe. However, this may not always be the case. The actions of central banks have been much discussed over the past few years since the global financial crisis – and here some lessons may well have started to be learnt. It is rare that the financial world is ahead of other industries, but perhaps the magnitude of the crisis was enough to force a change in attitude.

As we stand today, it is widely acknowledged that letting banks get big enough to break the global economy is foolish, and that lending money to people without the income to pay it off is also not sensible. If removing the implicit safety net leads to more care and consideration, this would increase the resilience of the financial system. However, just as banks should be careful lending, the other side of the coin is that individuals should be more careful borrowing – responsibility goes both ways, similar to climate change and recycling.