When Alessio Rastani first burst into global consciousness on 26th September 2011 following an instant classic of an interview on the normally moribund BBC News channel, he was variously dismissed as a plant, a comedian or a fake by the more credulous sections of the British mass media who seemed to be in collective denial over the influence that certain elements of the financial industry exert over key political and regulatory actors. Yet we at Mediolana knew that the iconic independent trader – a category of professional that trades their own money, rather than resorting to institutionalised gambling of the general population’s assets – was very much the real deal: a rare percipient voice in a sea of hypocritical verbiage; someone to take very seriously indeed.
And the international media agreed with us. Appearances on CNN and Al Jazeera merely reaffirmed Rastani’s credentials as an opinion-maker of genuine import; his detailed evaluations of the overall health and stability of the global financial system are – unlike the actions of the plutocratic classes in much of the developed world – likely to be judged favourably by historians.
Yet as an interview with New York’s global youth culture bible Elan Magazine amply demonstrates, the Italo-Iranian’s insights are not confined to all matters financial. Riffing effortlessly on subjects from the flaws in the world’s financial architecture to the necessity for intellectual investment by traders and citizens more generally, Rastani signed off with a sobering observation that will give the world of political science something to think about: ‘I really doubt…that any true democracy exists in the world we live…a lot of the protests [such as Occupy Wall Street] are just about frustration with the system as it is right now. It’s not just about banks and bonuses. It’s about the fact that nothing really is changing. No matter who will elect, no matter who we put in power, it’s the same old stuff.’
This gave us pause for thought. It has been observed – not least by Francis Fukuyama, author of the seminal The End of History and the Last Man – that the world as a whole has been heading towards a consensus that democracy is the best form of governance; as the novelist and filmmaker Charles Michel Duke has observed, rare today is the newly-independent state that decides to be a monarchy rather than a republic.
Yet as superior as democracy may be to the alternatives, no human system is perfect. The best laws can be abrogated or ignored, public servants can be subject to regulatory capture, spurious states of emergency can be engendered and technology can make a mockery of equity. The health of even the best-designed system is to a large degree contingent on the ethics of the people who populate it: no form of governance can legislate for morality. And as Rastani notes in his recent article Are Traders Greedy Psychopaths?, cultures do not arise from nowhere: they are created and sustained by populations. If our system of governance is dysfunctional, it may say much more about ourselves than we are willing to admit.