Niall Ferguson

Are we the Soviets now?


July 2, 2024
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With public calls to remove the sitting US President, a UK election set to unseat its government and the rightward swing in Europe, it’s all change on the Western front. Best-selling historian Sir Niall Ferguson joins UnHerd’s Freddie Sayers for a wide-lens tour of populism and its discontents.

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Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
14 days ago

I’m unconvinced by Niall Ferguson’s analysis – too many holes. For example, the point about ‘exhaustion’ doesn’t for me, hold water, it completely ignores the 80 seat majority gained after over nine years in power, with pretty much all the faces from Cameron’s time gone, and dozens of first time MPs as a fresh talent pool to choose from. The Johnsonian pitch was a disavowal of previous Tory governments, with many specific promises to deliver change, and the dumbos that we are, we bought the line. The palpable fury with this Tory government across pretty much all the groups that voted for them in 2019 is not hot but cold, so they can kiss any hopes of a last minute reprieve goodbye. The impending Tory annihilation is down to one thing: a complete betrayal of each and every one of those promises, in every case delivering the exact opposite, taking every group who supported them for fools. No party can possibly survive that. And the tragedy of it all: it didn’t have to be this way. All they had to do was so simple: deliver on what was promised.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
14 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Perhaps we weren’t exhausted in 2019. But I think we are now. No one expects the trajectory of government under Starmer to change, like it didn’t under Johnson.

Left wing governments can’t spend significantly more like right wing governments can’t spend significantly less. The Treasury, the OBR, and the BoE will decide the “appropriate” level of spending (despite their stellar records of failure) and governments must trim their manifesto pledges to suit. In quite a different area, immigration, the Home Office staff are taking the current government to court to prevent changes against their wishes, and have the political support of the judges who will rule on this.

Knowing the civil service and the web of regulatory bodies and the judiciary, together with a fully captured media, I’m not sure what change we can realistically now expect of elected politicians limited as they are in tenure and control. Faced with the permanence and power of the machinery of state, betrayal of manifesto commitments is the rational choice for a politician here today and gone tomorrow unless they too secure a sinecure in the state machinery.

The possibility of a change of direction seems to have slipped over the democratic horizon. Knowing the system is unchangeable is exhausting. And it was that sort of exhaustion that caused the USSR to slip into listlessness.

D Walsh
D Walsh
14 days ago

Well done Niall, at least 10 years behind what others on the dissident right have been saying

So edgy

RA Znayder
RA Znayder
14 days ago

The biggest drop in life expectancy in Russia (besides WW 2) was after the abrupt change of the Soviet economy into the a ‘fee market’ economy. Selling off every state asset turned the country into an oligarchy and eventually an autocracy. In other words, not much of an improvement.
What happened there overnight seems to be happening in the West in slow motion. What we see is the failure of the reforms of the late 70s. Wealth never trickled down, elites took it all. After the system definitively failed in 2008 we have been in denial, like the Soviets were. The government needs to support the economy, but our own oligarchs don’t want to take a step back and return to the postwar consensus. The post-2008 situation is also when the DIE-discussion became much more prominent.

Luke Lea
Luke Lea
13 days ago

The discussion was delightful, the distinction between fascists and populists especially enlightening. In light of which, I propose that Freddy should ask Neil to review A Part-time Job in the Country: Notes Toward a New Way of Life in America. In it I explore the idea of factories in the countryside run on part-time jobs and the new kinds of towns that might develop around them. Adult family members would work part-time outside the home (4-to-6 hours a day, three or four days a week) and in their free time would build their own houses, garden, cook and care for their children and, later on, for their parents, retire in their eighties and die at home in their beds. It’s all laid out in infinite detail and analyzed from every conceivable point of view. At heart I am an economist — one of the great ones, if I must say so myself. But let Neil be the judge.

j watson
j watson
9 days ago

Freddie got ‘schooled’ good and proper there.