The sky is falling


or so we must believe . . .

I’m irritated by this financial crisis on so many levels – and I think all my various irritations come down to a simple, fundamental statement: the people responsible for it are not being held accountable, nor are they suffering as a result of their actions. This seems so profoundly unjust, particularly when it is those who ARE suffering – we the people, the taxpayers, the prudent savers, the responsible homeowners – who are being made to cough up to cover the cost.

Take the banks. (somewhere, anywhere, please). We lend them our money on the understanding that they are able to invest it wisely for us and keep it safe for us until we need it. They, in turn, lend our money (accumulated and aggregated) to responsible types who will use it to either grow their businesses or invest it in their property – all to be paid back in the proper manner. We even have regulators who are supposed to make sure that this all happens in the proper way. What we hadn’t noticed (or we had, but everyone seemed to assume it was OK) was that actually there are/were a group of people (stupid white men, perhaps) who treated the whole thing as some sort of macho casino game, and they have gambled big-time with our hard-earned. On the way, they have earned themselves some major bonuses and more money than I can ever dream of earning, lifestyles way beyond the means of ordinary people, as a reward. It has always seemed to me to be profoundly unjust that they earned these sorts of sums – what does it say about our values as a society if the people who earn the most, who get the biggest rewards, are not those who help and nurture others – nurses, teachers, police officers, fire-fighters, social workers, childcarers – but those who handle money? Now it seems even more iniquitous.

These people are the ones whose reckless behaviour has got us into this mess. These people are the ones who turned blind eyes to irregular accounting, gave credit where it could not possibly be repaid and thought that short-term paper profits could justify it all. These people are the ones who said that regulation could be relaxed, that the free market and survival of the fittest was a good model to follow. 

Funny that. Survival of the fittest means that those who fall by the wayside should get left behind, not that they should be picked up, dusted off, and set going again.

And now these people are the ones sitting in their SUV tanks and their £m houses laughing at all us poor shmucks who have to bail out the banks. Are they taking any of this pain? Hell no. The bank always wins. It’s true in casinos, and it’s true here.

And the bailouts? The governments are handing them over – the cycle of debt must go on. Not one bleat about changes that must be made, though lots of empty ‘this must never happen again’ rhetoric. Is anyone asking searching, painful questions of the toothless, spineless regulators who sat back and let this happen? Is anyone asking searching, painful questions of the governments who led by example – showing us that living beyond our means was acceptable, necessary, even, to our wellbeing as public borrowing on all levels soared? Is it a surprise that private borrowing followed suit when economic prudence was thrown out of the window, when the government effectively forced a generation into debt (student loans), and when popular culture taught us that only material possessions and the right labels validated us as people?


What is a surprise is that no-one, not one single commentator, is saying that those responsible for this whole fiasco must be held to account. NOBODY is saying that we must change our ways and live within our means, adopt a more prudent, sustainable way of life that avoids such calamities in the future. And nobody is saying that the bailouts we’re handing over must have some serious strings attached to make sure the reckless behaviour of these bankers (that’s a silent ‘w’) doesn’t get us into another, worse, mess further down the line.

That is because our entire society is built on debt – built on the concept that we borrow the future to finance the present. It’s absolute nonsense. The farmer cannot borrow next year’s seeds to grow this year’s crops. He must sow this year’s seeds, the ones he saved from the last crop or that he has bought with the money he made from the sale of that crop, manage his crop well, and use his harvest of the next year to fund his future. It is insane to think we can continue in this cycle of ever and greater debt, but to change it means changing the whole edifice we have constructed, to reveal it as illusory and flawed and to admit that we made a mistake on a massive level. Perhaps this crisis has shown the edifice to be crumbling on  foundations of sand, or perhaps this will pass and we will all forget about it and go back to doing what we were doing before.

There is always that question. Ever since the Northern Rock collapse that triggered this whole thing, the media have been in a feeding frenzy. The whole media business thrives on this sort of affair, and I cannot help but feel quite strongly that the constant spinning, retelling, analysing and speculating done by the 24-hour media culture (they have programmes to fill, after all) must take some of the responsibility for inciting the actions of the public that have caused this massive failure of confidence in the bank. It’s like telling a small child not to press a big, red, shiny button. Of course they’re going to do it. And the end of the world makes great copy. And again, is there any sign of responsibility or accountability here? Of course not. These people are innocent bystanders, dispassionate commentators and speakers of truths. Hah! Like heck they are. Maybe once, but the media serve different masters now, and what are their interests in all this mess?

I guess it comes down to personal perceptions. We can either ignore it and hope it will pass, or take this as a wake-up call, a realisation that there is something prfoundly rotten about the way we are living our lives, that we cannot continue to set-off the present with the future – it is not infinite, though it will always remain nebulous, and what is happening now is so deeply and profoundly wrong on so many levels it needs to be addressed at a basic, fundamental level.

We do not need more/better, and we do not need to aspire to fantasy lifestyles to be happy, or to be content. We should not waste what we have in the fruitless pursuit of what can never be – we waste our time, our money and our lives if we do.

Small is beautiful, less is more and debt is for dummies.


One Response to “The sky is falling”

  1. Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor

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