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The End of Hubris?

Published : 4 December 2018

Hardly.  Hubris, like the poor, will always be with us.

Just as it is our task to ‘open wide our hand to our brother, to the needy and to the poor’, it is also our task to aim a measure of scepticism at hubris that passes as accepted wisdom and so often goes untested.


Three seemingly disparate themes that are examples of Hubris have an important underlying connecting element.

The first of these themes is the idea China will eclipse the US as an overarching dominant force, especially economically and militarily.

There is no doubt that China has done staggeringly well since Deng Xiaoping led it through far reaching reforms of the market from when he rose to power in 1979.  This does not guarantee linear progression to a scale of dominance that matches the one the US has enjoyed for much of the century to date.


There is a trap that catches many emerging economies in a grey zone where the growth rate regresses to first world levels before average per capita income improves to match them.  The reasons why are complex and only partly understood but a couple of hints that China is starting to approach this point is the steady decline in growth rate from  over 10% per annum of not even a decade ago that has steadily declined to 6.5% now with estimates out to 2022 falling to 5.8%.  Still very robust growth rates by first world standard but much closer to its nearest economic rival in Asia which is India.


The second hint is one that has been spotted and ruthlessly exploited by the US President.  A trade war is likely to be more damaging to an emerging economy that has exploited a mercantilist approach to trade than to a fully developed one.  China’s use of a mercantilist approach now resembles a knife fight where the weapon has been turned back onto the assailant.  The commercial rather than the diplomatic and political instincts of the current US president have been the cause of this turn around combined with the a total of absence of timidity in dealing with industrial level theft of intellectual property.


The second example of hubris has to do with Brexit.  To be fair, it is easy to get caught up in the hubris side of Brexit because of its complexities but the debate essentially boils down to the economic costs of Brexit versus the Sovereign benefits.  The hubris seems to come from overblown estimates of the economic costs but Britain has been around for a very long time and central to its success as a country has been its dogged protection of its sovereignty.  It has been so for a thousand years.


Whereas the costs might be significant depending on how quickly they can move to a footing of preparedness, something they seemed to have not paid a great deal of attention to as yet, I can’t help but thinking that there will come a time where other countries of the EU will look at the Brexit decision with envy.  They will start trying to figure out contingency plans for how to undertake their own exit while dealing with the additional difficulty imposed by the common currency.  Of course while at all times professing to be diehard adherents to the Union.


As time passes it is quite possible and in fact more than likely that individual country circumstances will make such a strategy quite attractive.  Given the outrageous complexity and cost that an exit strategy would impose on an individual country it is likely to be one of the wealthy ones who can afford it who decide to go this way.


Greece would have loved to leave the EU but the costs were even higher than the punitive ones imposed by staying.  Other countries will have looked at the Greek experience with a foreboding feeling of ‘there but for the Grace of God go I’.  A currency union without a federation is inherently unstable.


A final piece of hubris is the idea that religion in the west, especially Christianity, is fading as a force of enlightenment.  My limited experience has shown that this notion is dominant especially among those who place greater importance on the notion that science is a rational alternative to religion.  Younger people I have spoken to especially have a limited knowledge of how Christianity operates in the hearts and minds of its adherents.  Many are unbaptised although there parents have often been baptised.


Organised religion has been around for thousands of years with science and Christianity playing a dance around each other for all of that period.  They work well in combination with Religion having the underlying ability to embrace science and science having the power to further humanity.  I would be reluctant to pronounce religion and in particular Christianity as a way of thinking of a soon to be bygone age.


The beginning of this article mentioned the important underlying element.  It is the critical place that a democratic concept of freedom of speech and expression on of ideas plays in the three areas outlined above.


A quick summary of how I see that this important freedom plays a role in the above is as follows.


In the contest between the US and China, the former has the tensile strength that comes with the freedom to choose and pursue different ideas.  This imparts an inherent strength into a society.  China has removed much of this freedom even to the extent recently that what could have been seen as a quasi-democratic process, albeit one-party, in choosing its leaders for a fixed term has been replaced with a leader for life.  This is a brittle concept upon which to pursue economic and cultural growth.


In the case of Brexit, freedom of expression of ideas lies at the heart of the decision for Britain to remove itself from the EU.  It may be messy but it is also glorious.


Finally, the countries that will continue to have a healthy co-existence between the secular and the non-secular will be the ones that keep religion and the state separate so they can continue to fight the battle of ideas.  It is also a messy process.  Witness the confusion that has arisen as a result of the recent referendum in Australia to allow same sex marriage.  It is the very separation of the church and state that will force both these institutions to give due consideration to how the issue affects us all and in so doing ensure the merry dance between that keeps the latter institution relevant today.