Thursday, 11 December 2008
End of Empire
Some readers would be familiar with Jeremy Clarkson, host of the BBC show Top Gear, here's his surprising take on the current economic situation.
I was in Dublin last weekend, and had a very real sense I'd been invited to the last days of the Roman empire. As far as I could work out, everyone had a Rolls-Royce Phantom and a coat made from something that's now extinct. And then there were the women. Wow. Not that long ago every girl on the Emerald Isle had a face the colour of straw and orange hair. Now it's the other way around.
Everyone appeared to be drunk on naked hedonism. I've never seen so much jus being drizzled onto so many improbable things, none of which was potted herring. It was like Barcelona but with beer. And as I careered from bar to bar all I could think was: "Jesus. Can't they see what's coming?"
Ireland is tiny. Its population is smaller than New Zealand's, so how could the Irish ever have generated the cash for so many trips to the hairdressers, so many lobsters and so many Rollers? And how, now, as they become the first country in Europe to go officially into recession, can they not see the financial meteorite coming? Why are they not all at home, singing mournful songs?
It's the same story on this side of the Irish Sea, of course. We're all still plunging hither and thither, guzzling wine and wondering what preposterously expensive electronic toys the children will want to smash on Christmas morning this year. We can't see the meteorite coming either.
I think mainly this is because the government is not telling us the truth. It's painting Gordon Brown as a global economic messiah and fiddling about with Vat, pretending that the coming recession will be bad. But that it can deal with it.
I don't think it can. I have spoken to a couple of pretty senior bankers in the past couple of weeks and their story is rather different. They don't refer to the looming problems as being like 1992 or even 1929. They talk about a total financial meltdown. They talk about the End of Days.
Already we are seeing household names disappearing from the high street and with them will go the suppliers whose names have only ever been visible behind the grime on motorway vans. The job losses will mount. And mount. And mount. And as they climb, the bad debt will put even more pressure on the banks until every single one of them stutters and fails.
The European banks took one hell of a battering when things went wrong in America. Imagine, then, how life will be when the crisis arrives on this side of the Atlantic. Small wonder one City figure of my acquaintance ordered three safes for his London house just last week.
Of course, you may imagine the government will simply step in and nationalise everything, but to do that, it will have to borrow. And when every government is doing the same thing, there simply won't be enough cash in the global pot. You can forget Iceland. From what I gather, Spain has had it. Along with Italy, Ireland and very possibly the UK.
It is impossible for someone who scored a U in his economics A-level to grapple with the consequences of all this but I'm told that in simple terms money will cease to function as a meaningful commodity. The binary dots and dashes that fuel the entire system will flicker and die. And without money there will be no business. No means of
selling goods. No means of transporting them. No means of making them in the first place even. That's why another friend of mine has recently sold his London house and bought somewhere in the country . . . with a kitchen garden.
These, as I see them, are the facts. Planet Earth thought it had £10. But it turns out we had only £2. Which means everyone must lose 80% of their wealth. And that's going to be a problem if you were living on the breadline beforehand.
Eventually, of course, the system will reboot itself, but for a while there will be absolute chaos: riots, lynchings, starvation. It'll be a world without power or fuel, and with no fuel there's no way the modern agricultural system can be maintained. Which means there will be no food either. You might like to stop and think about that for a while.
I have, and as a result I can see the day when I will have to shoot some of my neighbours - maybe even David Cameron - as we fight for the last bar of Fry's Turkish Delight in the smoking ruin that was Chipping Norton's post office.
I believe the government knows this is a distinct possibility and that it might happen next year, and there is absolutely nothing it can do to stop Cameron getting both barrels from my Beretta. But instead of telling us straight, it calls the crisis the "credit crunch" to make it sound like a breakfast cereal and asks Alistair Darling to smile and big up Gordon when he's being interviewed.
I can't say I blame it, really. If an enormous meteorite was heading our way and the authorities knew it couldn't be stopped or diverted, why bother telling anyone? Best to let us soldier on in the dark until it all goes dark for real.
On a more cheery note, Vauxhall has stopped making the Vectra, that dreary, designed-in-a-coffee-break Eurobox that no one wanted. In its place stands the new Insignia, which has been voted European car of the year for 2009