The Breakfast Table

The Invisible Hand

Sarah –

Your comments about the BBC make me think of one of the most striking features of political discourse I’ve noticed in Britain this year: the complete absence (as in the United States) of any clearly articulated alternative to the idea of the “market” as the organizing principle for virtually all activities. Is the Royal Opera going belly up? Put in someone to run it on sound market principles (in this case, apparently, a buffoon who has run it further into the ground). Is the biggest football team in England about to be sold to the man who also owns the biggest sports broadcasting system? Hey, that’s the market. No anti-trust inhibitions here. And the BBC, in this world, is of course a tremendous anachronism, even though so entrenched and so central to British life that it’s not likely to go anywhere. PBS at least acknowledges its reliance on the market (even if the skewed market of voluntary contributions). The BBC doesn’t really know what its role is in the post-Thatcher, New Labour world.

Back to Pinochet for a moment, there is a piece in this week’s Spectator by Alistair Horne, a very good historian who is also a very committed Tory. He interviewed Pinochet in the late 1980s and reports that Pinochet “looked me in the eye” and said there had been no torture in Chile. Horne doesn’t appear to have believed him, but makes the reasonable point that it would be very hard to make a case against Pinochet himself (who almost certainly never personally participated in torture or murder, and may not even have explicitly ordered any particular crimes) without first making a case against some of those who actually carried out the killings. Horne raises an issue that I’m surprised other Pinochet defenders have not raised: that the coup in 1969 saved Chile from what Horne characterizes as economic ruin and chaos under the failed regime of Allende (not to mention from “Marxist totalitarianism”). To read the British press, you would think Pinochet did only two things in his decades in power: kill opponents and support Britain in the Falklands War. But for years, the right–in the United States, at least–made the case for Pinochet as the man who restored Chile to stability and prosperity. Maybe the possible Hitler analogies are a little more dangerous here than they were in America in the 1970s.

It’s been an instructive week reading the British press as widely as we both have been doing, and it leaves me both impressed (with the liveliness and literacy and iconoclasm of much of it) and perplexed (by the parochialism, the inconsistency, and the thinness of real news coverage). Maybe it’s a product of the financial situation of papers in this highly competitive newspaper world, so unlike the monopolistic environment within which most U.S. papers operate. Or maybe this is just the way the British like to get their news. But you were right in your very first message: It will take a lot longer than I have to spend in this country to really understand the Press.