I just read an interesting opinion piece by a Politics lecturer at one of the Australian universities. Essentially he says that the current financial crisis could have some worrying societal consequences if mishandled (or exploited), drawing a parallel to the rise in racial tensions following the Great Depression. Some highlights:
This is what happens in times of great insecurity. As the foundations of our lives erode, we search for an anchor, and social politics very often provides it. When all else fails, we may still rally around old certainties: nation, culture, religion, race. We crave strong authority figures that can imbue us with certainty and articulate for us a sense of self. That often involves fabricating a scapegoat who becomes a mortal enemy.
The classic example, of course, being Jews in Nazi Germany, which he touches on in a little more detail.
Ours is an age of hostile identity politics. These are not all directly referable to economic crises (even if they clearly have a relationship with the anxieties of globalisation), but they suggest something deeply troubling: that the world is rich in the kinds of xenophobic resources so easily amplified by economic turmoil.
Should the financial crisis become a global recession, there is no telling precisely what forms of extreme social politics might be unleashed. An explosion of anti-Americanism across Asia and Europe? Possibly. But what about America itself? Here, the seeds of xenophobic resentment are being sown.
Writing in The National Review, Michelle Malkin blames the crisis on illegal immigrants and Hispanics who were "greedy" enough to seek subprime loans. Blogging for the same publication, Mark Krikorian wonders if Washington Mutual's demise was caused by its propensity for employing Latinos and gays. On Fox News, Neil Cavuto blames congressmen who were "pushing for more minority lending" without disclosing that "loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster".
The audacity is extraordinary. Suddenly, this crisis is something poor blacks and Hispanics have inflicted on rich white people. That is beginning to sound, well, Germanic.
A reaction is inevitable: one that sees in the crisis the exploitation of poor black people who will lose their homes, by white fat cats who skip away from the rubble with millions. The potential cycle of conflictual identity politics is terrifying. And that is to say nothing of developments we cannot predict.
At no point does he say that any of this is inevitable, but more something that needs to be guarded against. At any rate, it's an aspect of the situation that hadn't crossed my mind before.