30 August 2008

Credit Crunch or Debt Swamp?

The much-discussed interview with the Chancellor published in this morning's Guardian is intriguing. It is so unusual for a politician to be this honest, or for anybody involved in the neurotic world of finance to say anything even slightly negative, that his assertion that this may be the worst economic crisis for 60 years is very unusual indeed.

The first question is, why on earth did he say that? Rapidly followed by the second: why choose the post-war period to compare with, when the economy was on its knees because of over-exploitation and exhaustion rather than a long debt-fuelled binge. A devastated economy is not a problem, so long as you have able and active people and sufficient resources to rebuild what has been destroyed. An over-indulged, greedy, wasted economy, still leeching off a munificent but abused planet is another matter entirely.

Honing our skills for reading between the news might help to explain what the Chancellor is up to here. Is this the first step towards a 'we're all in this together' approach to economic management, which will involve us all tightening belts, accepting a reduced standard of living, and co-operating rather than competing for once?

This is just the sort of approach a Green chancellor might have to adopt. However, it will never work unless the Chancellor has the courage to reclaim the power of economic management, and especially the finance sector. This power was ceded by the Thatcherites, with New Labour joining in to prove to the City that they were no threat. In the austerity scenario Darling may have in mind, the reduced standard of living would also have to take us to a future of equality--so no good the ordinary employee living on less while the elite can still sup champagne and enjoy foreign holidays.

Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the Chancellor's admission that he did not expect the bubble to burst, or, in his words, 'No, no one did. No one had any idea'. Well that isn't strictly true. In the circles I move in the crash had long been predicted. Could it be that what the Chancellor had not understood is how money is made as debt and how insecure this makes us all? Has he learned that lesson now? Is there any prospect, then, of not only banking reform but even monetary reform?

For those who have been wondering where I have been for the past month, I can let you know that I have been enjoying an enforced absence from cyberspace, thanks to the utter inadequacy of BT, the telecommunications monopolist. While I don't use them for either phone or internet services, they can still manage to make it impossible for my ISP to restore my Broadband. This post has been made via a dial-up connection--hence no pictures. Normal service will be resumed whenever BT can be persuaded to wander to the local exchange with a screwdriver.