Don’t rush back to the bad old days

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall I met the saddest man in the universe propping up a bar in a beer cellar on the east side of the city.

He was fluent in German, Russian and English but as a former professor of Marxist studies he didn’t have much of a future and, with hindsight, sod all of a past. Hans’ glass wasn’t just half empty, it seemed it was down to the dregs.

But with the world sinking into recession I’ve begun to wonder if Hans’ career might take off again.

This occurred to me when I read that the bookshops of Islington and New York’s Greenwich Village are dusting off their copies of Das Kapital and doing a roaring trade among the chattering classes. Now house prices are going south, they’re concluding that the fall of communism was premature.

They’re probably wrong but with US President Obama and our own Prime Minister planning great leaps forward through massive state intervention, my old friend Hans at least has a window of opportunity to put old Soviet ideas back on the agenda.

But addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Russia’s former leader Vladimir Putin declared: “Belief in the omnipotence of the state can be a reaction to market failure.

“There is a temptation to expand interference in the economy. In the Soviet Union this became an absolute and we paid a high price for it.”

A lesson to be learnt indeed.