This depression, of proportions as great if not greater than that of the 1930s, still engulfs us. None of our governments appear to have any idea of how to end it. How could they? The essence of rational leadership is control justified by expertise. To admit failure is to admit loss of control. Officially, therefore, we haven’t had a depression since the 1930s. And since most experts — the economists, for example — are part of the system, instead of being commentators in any real, independent sense , they contribute to the denial of reality. In other words, there is a constant need in our civilization to prefer illusions over reality, a need to deny our perceptions.
[...] After the economic crisis of the 1930s, we created a multitude of control valves and safety nets in order to avoid any future general collapse — strict banking regulations, for example, social security programs and in some places national health care systems. These valves and nets have been remarkably successful, in spite of the strains and the mismanagement of the last two decades. However, because the rational system prevents anyone who accepts legal responsibility from taking enough distance to get a general view, many of our governments, desperate and misguided, have begun dismantling those valves and nets as a theoretical solution to the crisis.
Worse still, tinkering with these instruments has become a substitute for addressing the problem itself. Thus financial deregulation is used to stimulate growth through paper speculation. When this produces inflation, controls are applied to the real economy, producing unemployment. When this job problem becomes so bad that it must be attacked, the result is the lowering of employment standards. When this unstable job creation leads to new inflation, the result is high interest rates. And on around again, guided by the professional economists, who are in effect pursuing, step by step, an internal argument without any reference to historic reality. For example, in a single decade the idea of using public debt as an economic tool has moved from the heroic to the villainous. In the same period private debt went in the opposite direction, from the villainous to the heroic. This was possible only because economists kept their noses as close to each specific argument as possible and thus avoided invoking any serious comparisons and any reference to the real lessons of the preceding period.
In general terms all this means that management methods are being mistaken for solutions and … [a]s a result we are perpetually either on the edge of a recession (never in it, let alone in a depression, whatever the indicators say) or we are artificially flush and then manage to convince ourselves that we are flying high.
Our societies turn upon democratic principles, yet the quasi totality of our leading citizens refuse to take part in that process and, instead, leave the exercise of political power to those for whom they have contempt. Our business leaders hector us in the name of capitalism, when most them are no more than corporate employees, isolated from personal risk. [...] Never has there been such a sea of available information, and yet all organizations — public and private — work on the principle that information is secret unless specifically declared not to be. There is a conviction that governments have never been so strong and at the same time a sense that they are virtually powerless to effect change unless some superhuman effort is made. Or … after a century of carefully building both self-respect among employees and job stability for them, our first reaction when faced by a depression is to move out of manufacturing and into service industries.
— John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards (1992), pp 10-2.