Worse than that. Instead of thinking hard and seriously about the most appropriate solutions we are showing a dangerous tendency to just grab for any old solution that sounds like it might work. It has been clear enough to most people since the 2007-8 financial crisis that something has gone very wrong. What is a lot less clear is which course of action to follow and which political movement will be our saviour.
Unfortunately without the necessary analysis of the problems we are doomed to thrash about foolishly - following one messiah in one place whilst another gets a huge investment of popular hope someplace else. Thus we have Trump, Brexit, Marcron, the Five Star Movement and even, to a degree, Jeremy Corbyn. All are inspiring levels of faith and sincere conviction in ordinary people that have been unheard of in my lifetime. Each of them offers a very different solution to all our problems. Yet they are all doomed to disappoint in their own way. Because not one of the leaders has actually thought through our problems with any degree of intellectual rigour and come up with long term sustainable solutions. Instead we have simplistic politicians who are trying to convince us that we can solve everything very easily by applying some solution that has worked well at some time in the past without realising that we are in a new era and need to go about things in a different way.
For example, we have a very powerful stream of thought that believes the solution to all our problems is to apply capitalist economics a little more rigorously because the free market will sort the mess out automatically. Instead of providing a cure all a completely free global market only results in international competition driving down prices and moving production to the place where wages are lowest and conditions at their worse. This lowers income for the working class in the first world, rises incomes slightly for the poor in the old third world whilst putting a much greater share of world income into the hands of those who own the latest technology. It also completely destabilises the very system that it claims to support. Putting large amounts of money in the hands of a few very wealthy people and a few very large corporations means that money becomes very footloose. Extreme free market economics has always been extreme financial crash economics. People try and put their money into the latest place where quick money can be made and everyone piles into tulip bulbs, railway stocks, electricity shares or financial derivatives. When it is discovered that they have bought into an illusion they all try and get their money out at the same time with horrible results.
Time and time again over the course of the history of free markets the state has had to step in to prevent uncontrolled free markets from driving capitalists out of business and the rest of us into desperate poverty. The Great Crash of the 1930s was solved by state intervention in the run up to and during the Second World War and then that state intervention was used to produce the 30 glorious years of Keynsian economic peace that followed it. The Great Crash of 2007-8 also forced the state to rescue the free market system. Unfortunately none of the fundamental problems were fixed. Governments simply took on massive debts in order to stop bankers closing their doors and putting all of us onto the soup line. It wasn't, as the Trumps of this world believe, the generosity of the state that brought capitalism to its knees. It was the chaotic behaviour of uncontrolled free markets in financial markets that brought the generosity of the state to a close.
In these circumstances I don't blame anyone for thinking that they have found the perfect solution to the economic crisis of our time in a return to the simplistic state socialist thinking of the 1970s. There is, however, one small problem. It stopped working in the 1970s and we are living in an era which requires new tools and new thinking not a rehash of the alternative economic strategy that most of us in the left favoured back then.
The problem with national state socialist planning is that we don't live in a world that the nation state can control and we have an economy which is too fluid and complex to plan in any clunky way. The classic solution to austerity put forward by Keynes was a very good one for its time. It was to expand your economy by printing money and pumping it into economic growth. You put factories back to work and they employed people to make the goods those very same people wanted to buy. In a world economy you simply can't do that. If you print money and go for growth the money gets spent on South Korean TV sets, German cars, and Saudi Arabian oil. We no longer live in a world where one nation can manage its way out of austerity on its own. We require internationally co-ordinated economic management applying Keynsian solutions globally to deal with austerity. You won't find that thought in many political manifestos.
What you might find is the naive belief that if we control the free market strongly enough we can state plan our way out of problems. Tell that to the people of Russia. Tell that to the people of China. Tell that to the people of Venezuela. When you are dealing with an economy of heavy industries making predictable things like tanks, factories and bridges you can run a pretty efficient state planned economy. Hence the success of the Soviet Union for several decades. You can also run a pretty horribly inefficient one and impose death and misery on millions of people, which is what Mao did in China. Once you are in a world of computers, service sector small businesses and competing mobile phone apps it simply isn't possible to plan the whole of your economy in enough detail to operate a ponderous state planning system. The future ceases to be simple enough for anyone to predict what will happen next. Which is why the Soviet Union collapsed and there was an economic boom in free market economies during the 1980s and 90s.
So what we really need is the courage to use a combination of state planning and the free market and a strong network of international economic management tools. We need international bodies that are not trying to run the whole show but are trying to manage it and guide it with some degree of intelligent thought. We need international organisations that are powerful enough to stop a few rich bankers betting many times the size of the entire global economy on obscure economic derivatives that no one understood simply in order to pocket the commissions. We need international organisations that are powerful enough to plan our way out of the kind of chaos that has been visited upon people across the entire planet by that stupidly selfish behaviour. We need internationally effective controls over the movement of money and some intelligent management of what we want it to do.
This is, of course, a desperately easy thing to say but an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. What is worse is that even achieving the near impossible tasks of globally managing and guiding a global economy is not sufficient. We also need to create international planning mechanism without producing a gigantic out of control elite bureaucracy which leaves the individual citizen feeling powerless beneath its might. So we need to return as much power as we can to the local level whilst establishing effective global decision making. Finally, most importantly, and most difficult of all we urgently need to rapidly guide our global economic system away from short sighted selfish consumption and production and onto sustainable economics. Left to its own devices capitalism has always shown a dangerous tendency to trash the environment if there was a profit for the individual in doing so. The external damage of relying on oil and plastics has gone global and so we need global decision making over the solutions. Good will agreements like Paris help. But they will always be inadequate if a Donald Trump can come along and take a free ride at everyone else's expense.
To my mind that is one hell of a difficult shopping list that we are facing. Perhaps that is why most people are giving up and just hoping their own particular hero will pull a solution out of his or her pocket. I would argue that it is better to try and do something really hard and difficult than place your hopes in a politician who promises a solution but hasn't even begun to understand the main outlines of the problem.
Particularly when the cost of finding the solution will keep going up and the superstar cure all politicians will keep on failing