20 January 2012

Osmonds and autocracy

David Runciman, writing in the London Review of Books about the contemporary financial crisis in Europe, has thoughtfully provided the ideal premise for my first blockbusting novel. What's not to like about the 1970s?

People who have announced that Europe’s current experiments with technocracy are a fundamental betrayal of democratic principles are being premature: it could work. But here’s the bad news: there is no guarantee that it will work. The conditions have to be right. The historical evidence suggests that democracies can be flexible only under certain circumstances. To start with, they must not be too poor. In countries where per capita GDP falls below a certain level (usually estimated at around US $7000), democratic experiments with emergency rule often end in disaster. It’s the temporary autocrats who don’t give power back. Political scientists take these thresholds very seriously. Above the line, democracies appear pretty much invulnerable, but below it, even safe-looking democracies might suddenly collapse into something worse. During the economic contraction of the mid-1970s per capita GDP in New Zealand fell perilously close to the cut-off point (it got down to about $10,000). It is hard to imagine what a military coup in 1970s New Zealand would have looked like. But it’s not impossible to imagine.

My rough working title is The Teachings of Chairman Rob, or perhaps The Napoleon of Hatfield's Beach if the former wasn't sufficiently obvious. Clearly, this has all the hallmarks of literary gold, and it would also provide the opportunity to exercise my fondness for descriptions of shoddily-made British cars of the 1970s with muddy brown paint jobs. Now all I have to do is learn how to write really, really well.   

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