Advise and Relent

WASHINGTON, DC – Dropping bombs as a solution to the world’s trouble spots may be falling out of fashion (with the notable exception of Libya), but finger wagging is definitely back in. Hardly a day goes by without a major newspaper somewhere in the West offering sage and specific, but often not-so-friendly, advice to distant struggling democracies on what they “must” do to earn the “international community’s” approbation.

Of course, such advice, like much of newspapers themselves nowadays, comes free of charge. But it is also advice that is free of responsibility, and, as Stanley Baldwin once said, power without responsibility is the prerogative of the harlot.

There is a considerable gap between offers of advice one cannot refuse and the responsibility to deal with the consequences when that advice proves wrong or extremely difficult to implement. The world’s advice givers might try to keep this in mind when offering to help leaders of distant countries that are grappling with problems with which the adviser has little or no first-hand experience.

Every once in a while, a profession (most frequently, economics) determines that it has reached a consensus on how to solve a problem. The so-called “Washington Consensus” that held sway before the recent financial crisis was a good example.