By David Stoker
Lord knows I’ve never been that interested in the economy. I’ve never intentionally bought the FT, never given the concept of ‘liquid capital’ much thought beyond the contents of my last paycheque, and certainly never spoken about it at any dinner parties (unless intentionally mock-snubbing someone). Yet since the beginning of summer 2008, everyone I’ve met has suddenly become a expert on this exceedingly dull subject. Primetime news stories have taught us all what derivatives are, what hedge fund managers do for a living and even the meaning of dubious terms like stagflation. So what are we all doing with this knowledge?
Misery on Wall Street
Two things, it appears to me: first, worrying a great deal more about the things that are (and always were) largely out of our control, being the hoi polloi average taxpayer. And second, placing blame wherever it damn well suits us. ‘Kill the stockbrokers!’ I hear them cry, ‘they got us into this mess!’. Well, this may be partly true, and it is hard to sympathise with people whose bonuses outstrip the combined salary of an entire primary school, but let’s exercise caution before bringing out the pitchforks. As a wise, green man once explained, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate… (ok, I’ll stop there).
What annoys me is this. People seem to miss, in their red haze of anger towards the moneymakers, is that they do precisely that – they make money. They do not simply steal it from the poor, splice it ten different ways then hide it in offshore savings accounts. That would be too easy. No, financiers do a tough job, day in day out, that most of us comprehensively lack the skill or guile to do. And while I may covet their bespoke suits and their beemers now and then, it would be no more than schadenfreude for me to suggest that a deep recession is some grand Robin Hood scenario which would put things right again. Yet at the very prospect of this, the anticapitalist tribes on campus and beyond are practically wetting themselves with anticipation.
Take as an example the grand, myopic ease with which the American public chose on September 23 to satisfy vengeance over reason. In the near-unanimous rejection of President Bush’s proposed $700bn bailout, we saw a thoroughly sensible scheme, brave by American standards, failing simply because the majority of lawmakers feared their own re-election this coming fall. Their constituents were angry, and weren’t afraid to say it. But what it comes down to is this: if we don’t save the banks, and the world economy falters, we are all equally screwed. There will be no ‘ha ha’ moment when we get to rejoice at the princes who have become paupers and the last shall not, Biblically speaking, de facto become the first. We will all simply be, altogether, much, much poorer than before.
So let us do what needs to be done. This is no time to ditch capitalism, or jump nostalgically at the chance of creating another dark age (a favourite of the increasingly backward green lobby). Because in the end, it doesn’t matter to me that my Mars Bar will eventually cost £10,000. Or even that the bankers get their comeuppance, particularly. What matters to me is that we get through this thing in one piece – something that more actions taken through mere spite cannot achieve. Then maybe, if we’re very lucky, I can start worrying about repaying my student loan again.