December 31, 2009

MISSING: global recession, 6 billion careless owners.

No, really, why do I see thousands of people milling around in the shops as though the credit crunch was nothing more than an abdominal exercise machine with a built-in payment plan?

Alastair Darling, in his budget, forecasts a “€œreturn to growth in the fourth quarter”€ of this year, and here in London, the hellishly crowded Christmas shops suggest the punters think that’s a good thing. Bollocks. Am I the only person who is utterly furious? When everything went completely tits up we were promised an apocalyptic collapse of Western civilization. Finally all the tips we had gleaned from watching disaster movies were going to pay off.

You know the form: stock up on leathers, 4x4s (no need to worry about global warming in an apocalypse) and weaponry, set up gladiatorial arenas, cook your fatter neighbors, before retiring to some retreat with your leading lady. At the very least, you should be able to get a table in a restaurant good enough to impress that lady, and buy Eaton Square with the change.

Has that happened? My ass. Any girl daft enough to accept dinner with me is going to a place with an all-you-can-eat salad bar because every table at Sheekeys and the Wolseley is still crammed with bankers.

Don”€™t get me wrong. I”€™m not Gordon “€œback-to-the-Manse”€ Brown ranting about bankers like John Knox railing against Papal mistresses. I like bankers”€”and Papal mistresses, too”€”they invite me to parties and sometimes have even made me a penny. But I wouldn”€™t be human if my spirits weren”€™t raised by a few friends being found huddled around braziers under a bridge like Randolph and Mortimer. Trouble is, politicians are treating the economy with the foresight of a deep-fried Mars bar.

John Springs

The recession was caused by free money being handed out willy-nilly. Don”€™t listen to anyone else: a Bank of England report recently blamed “€œexcessive risk-taking in the upswing of the credit cycle and insufficient resilience in the subsequent downturn.”€ That’s like the parents of obese children criticising their bloated offspring for being greedy. Children eat, it’s what they do. If you want a slimmer child, here’s a tip”€”stop feeding it burgers; if you want to stop unsustainable debt levels fuelling property bubbles, raise interest rates.

To be fair, we just copied the U.S. It was Greenspan who invented the soft economic landing, oblivious to the fact that every now and again some salad and a little roughage was important for the diet, not just slower protein. But, he was only the nurse; the parents were the politicians, and they liked an economic style that stuffed ice cream into the brat’s mouth every time it started to cry.

Hardly surprising that every other country took their lead, and nobody from nurse, parents or child complained until the 10 year-old boom became the youngest patient on the cardiac ward.

The fact is, if someone gives me £100 for doing sod all, I”€™ll spend it. So did you and now we”€™re all in debt. You might as well take a crate of vodka into an AA meeting as expect anybody to act responsibly in a credit boom. The real danger is what they”€™re doing now. 

The vodka has been drunk, and Majestic have delivered a few cases of Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon, oh and then there was the Special Brew, and did someone really polish off the Goldwasser and the Angostura bitters in what seemed a very promising new cocktail (for which we came up with a hilarious name) at 3 am?

Normally fatigue kicks in there, you sleep and wake with an unpleasant hangover that nonetheless reassures you for having suffered for your excesses. But if instead someone discovers the tequila? You drink shots until dawn, hit the all-night bars, collapse in an alleyway and wake up in jail in a position of unexpected intimacy with a tattooed cellmate called Cletus.

Lehmans et al. were someone saying “€˜What, absolutely no more Angostura at all?”€™ Time for bed and that painful but morally cleansing recession. Instead the politicians, central bankers and economic doves rang the doorbell, handed over the mescal and shouted “€˜Arriba”€™, cutting interest rates to zero, printing money and telling everyone to go out lending and borrowing again.

The result: full tables in restaurants, recovering house prices and Christmas presents all round. Enjoy it if you want, but I”€™ll bet you that in a couple of years when everyone sobers up, we”€™re going to hear two very different things: I”€™m going to hear the maitre d”€™ at the Wolseley saying, “Of course we have a table, sir, that’s no problem,” whereas all you”€™re going to hear is the sound of Cletus opening the lubricant.



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