Saturday, October 11, 2008

Better to Light a Single Candle than to Sit and Curse the Darkness.

There is a proverb, I believe of Chinese origin, that it is "better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness." The world is shocked by the clear exposure of the shaky foundations of the financial miracle that seems to go back to the Reagan/Thatcher years. So many packages have been sold as safe, even when their contents are so convoluted that even their salesman in a nice suit doesn't really understand what he is selling and has no more predictive intelligence about the stockmarket than his client. Still, I have been topping-up my ISA like a good investor for a few years now and rather feel short-changed by the whole bloody business of investments of this kind.

Whatever I do in future it will not involve buying shares in the stockmarket. Even now, we are weakly told that such investments are "still a good bet in the longer term" - 10 years was mentioned this morning - but how does anyone know this to be true? It is just that - "a bet" - and it was all along. Perhaps it took a fall of this magnitude into some of the blithely overlooked holes in the whole charade to bring the matter home. Worst of all is the "news" that pension funds are likely to pay-out at far less than near-pensioners had hoped, because much of their holdings are in fact invested in the stockmarket.

It is very easy to become despondent about the present world situation, since not only have we probably passed peak-finance, we have peak-oil to look forward to, and I suspect the latter (and the huge recent surge in the price of oil to nearly $150 a barrel) is tied-into the global economic turn-down. The consequence is in fact a reduced demand for oil. A global recession can only make matters worse both for the markets and for individuals on the daily basis, certainly within a system of global economics. Rising unemployment is predicted, and small businesses are facing tough times. It seems clear to me that there will never be a "recovery" per se, and those good times, if they were that, have gone for good.

Now this is the moment to light my first candle, amid such relentlessly thickening darkness. What will never be restored is the level of global financial wealth as we have seen during the past 25 years or so, i.e. back to Reagan/Thatcher. Not that this wealth has been distributed with equity across the world or even within individual nations. But does this mean that happy times are gone? No, I don't believe so, but we do need to consider more carefully what we mean by wealth. If wealth is simply virtual money in computers then there is little to be upbeat about.

On the other hand, and here my match strikes, if we begin to tie our expectations to real things, like growing food on a local basis, establishing local economies that are subject far less to massive global atomic detonations, teaching kids to do useful things like bricklaying, plumbing, welding, rather than putting them on degree-level (so say) courses in Media, Psychology, Football Studies, etc. etc. to get the bums on seats funding for the former polytechnics, who lost their real role and purpose, beginning in the UK with the fall of manufacturing industry under the Thatcher government, then we may begin to build a society that can reconstruct the physical new-nations of the world on a local level. But now this would be underpinned by solid communities.

We have lost more than we ever gained in the economic diffusion of financial wealth into some ethereal and uncontrollable state of matter, and much feeling of community and family has dispersed into a similar sense of self-isolation. In all respects, becoming active in the local community feels good and bestows more than money, but real wealth. At least you meet your neighbours! Many candles once lit can drive away the gloom, and our present darkness can only be overcome by the combined efforts of individual billions of us, in action and in spirit, working to light the new age.


Anonymous said...

At least you're trying.

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Yes, that's the idea.... that we needn't give up just yet, difficult though things are!