An Idiots Guide to Global Economics

Oh, I wish I wasn’t so thick. You see, I’d really love to be able to understand all the clever maths that economists, politicians, business gurus, city traders and the like are always spouting on TV, but I’m just not bright enough to get it at all and it really depresses me, because I can’t see a way out of the horrible mess we’ve gotten ourselves into like they can.

I was watching TV today, for example, and that strange little bloke who lodges with the PM – wassisname, Clegg or somesuch (?) – was on talking about ‘austerity measures’ and the ‘triple-dip recession’, and I’m so dim I hadn’t got a fricking clue what he was talking about. Now to be fair, I’ve got to say I do find him hard to listen to at the best of times, because he’s such an, erm, how can I put this nicely, erm, uncharismatic sort of bod (he reminds me a bit of that PM we had after Thatcher – you know, the one who tupped Edwina Currie and ate lots of peas and gave us the ‘Not Very Qualified’ qualifications – but even more ineffectual, if that’s humanly possible) but even when I concentrate really, really hard everything that comes out of his mouth just sounds like gobbledygook.

Like today he was explaining how taking money from the poorest and weakest and most deprived in our country and simultaneously giving extra tax breaks to the richest was going to make the country a better place for everyone, and for the life of me I couldn’t get my big, fat dullard brain around it. I mean, I could see what was in it for the people getting the tax breaks, but it just seemed like a double negative for everyone else involved, which obviously can’t really be the case otherwise we wouldn’t have all these incredibly clever people telling us that’s the way to go, would we?

Similarly, when he’s talking about the triple-dip recession I find myself failing miserably to understand the solutions he appears to be offering, because to me the problem simply seems to be that on a global scale we are making far too much shit far more quickly than we are capable of consuming it, and yet what he seems to be proposing is that we spend lots of money gearing up industries to make even more shit. He also seems to be overlooking the fact (or at least this is how my low-wattage brain interprets it) that even if we do gear up our industries to make more shit the shit they will be making will still be much more expensive and much less reliable than the shit they’re making in other countries. I know, I know, that’s undoubtedly an oversimplification, but as a simpleton I don’t know how else to interpret the data.

In the hope of enlightenment I’ll explain how it seems to me, then perhaps somebody reading this will be able to take a look and tell me where I’m going wrong:

A farmer has a magic pig. The pig shits pigswill. For every kilo of swill the farmer feeds the pig the pig shits two kilos. The farmer can’t sell the surplus pigswill to other pig farmers because every other pig farmer has his own magic pigs shitting pigswill at the same rate. The pigswill market is saturated.

Now to my mind there seem only two possible outcomes given the above scenario: 1) the pig is going to choke to death on its own shit, or 2) the whole world, including all the pigs, will end up choking to death in a sea of pig shit. Discuss.

THE MAGIC PIG
THE MAGIC PIG

Putting that into a manufacturing / industrial context, it seemed a few years ago that we would most likely end up drowning in a sea of disposable nappies and tampons, whereas now it seems much more likely that the casings and PCBs from redundant mobile phones and tablet PCs will get us first. And that being the case, perhaps what we’re experiencing isn’t a ‘triple-dip recession’ at all, but the simple expression of a much-less-clever-than-the-economists-are-used-to mathematical equation indicating that we should just slow down our global shit production?

Of course, shit production is intrinsically linked to employment statistics, and while we’ve invented all kinds of new ‘tertiary sector’ jobs over the years to help compensate for the technology-driven loss of employment opportunities in the first and second sectors it now seems that perhaps our chickens are coming home to roost, and that the silk purse, to mix metaphors, of a service sector dependent economy is being revealed as the sows ear it’s always been. We’ve been playing with the statistics on unemployment for decades now, so the full impact of technology and social engineering on first and second sector employment has been concealed. Politicians and economists call this manipulation of the figures ‘massaging’, but idiots like me who lack the vision of those dictating policy tend towards the over-simplification of ‘lying’. In the simplest terms, however, it does seem to boil down to one very basic mathematical equation again – there are now, and have been for several decades, far more people of working age than there are jobs to accommodate them, and no amount of political ‘massaging’, rhetoric, hate-mongering, disenfranchisement and marginalisation is going to change that.

One new twist in the employment debate has been the ongoing political agenda to target new sectors of society for demonization. While hate campaigns have traditionally focussed on the able-bodied unemployed and/or single parents the emphasis has shifted dramatically to encompass the disabled, with drives to ensure that those claiming disability benefits are seen for the ‘Lying Thieving Bastards’ (as one government-funded employment advisory service, Triage, puts it) they supposedly are. Against all statistical evidence that there aren’t enough jobs to go around, and that even if there were social prejudice against disabled people is such that they would be the last people offered them anyway, political hate-mongering has triumphed, leading to a 100% rise in disability hate crime statistics since the start of the financial crisis in 2008 (The Independent, 19/6/2012). In the same period more and more of the elderly, unable to survive on their pensions, have also been forced out into the job market, and these septuagenarian shelf-stackers have been identified by politicians and the media alike as the cause of the rise in youth and school-leaver unemployment. I’m sure, if I was a bit smarter, this would make some sense to me, but without the maths to work it out it just seems dangerous and wrong.

Another thing I can’t grasp is all the money lending and borrowing that goes on. What appears to be happening is that we borrow money from other countries which also haven’t got any money, and then we pay that money back with interest at a rate that is slower than the rate at which we borrow it. This to me appears to be a bit like trying to fill a bottomless bucket with sand; a pointless task that is doomed to failure from the outset. Mind you, in the bucket and sand scenario when you stop digging you at least end up with the sand you started with and the bottomless bucket, which you could possibly use in your garden to stop your mint from bolting or something. Even more confusing, it seems that while we’re doing all this borrowing we’re also lending money to other countries which haven’t got a hope in hell of paying it back. Of course, however it looks, this can’t be what’s really happening because that would be stupid, and the people running our country, our economy and – as it seems to be a global model – the world economy can’t be stupid, can they?

I remember an episode of the Simpsons where Bart gets sent to the remedial class, and he’s confused by the school policy on remedial education. Finally he says, ‘so hold on, let’s see if I’ve got this right… the rest of the school are getting ahead of us, and we’re going to catch them up by going more slowly?’ Flip that on its head and that is how consumerism looks to me; ‘everybody’s got too much old shit so we’ve got to make some new old shit to sell ‘em’. What makes that even more confusing is that the people selling the shit keep talking about finding ‘new markets’ to exploit, but if the whole economic model is geared to making the very small number of people who have got money (and consequently all the shit they could ever want) richer and the absolutely huge numbers of people who have got bugger all (and no shit) poorer, what market does that leave to exploit? Oh yes. China. The place where 99.9% of the shit the rest of us buy and sell is manufactured in the first place.

Two things you’ll often here economists, city traders and the like talking about are ‘the law of the jungle’ and ‘dog eat dog’, and when they do they’re comparing their activities with the natural laws of Darwinism and evolution. The thing is, though, that on closer examination neither of those comparisons appears to hold up. I mean, I imagine that a starving dog might eat another dog if push came to shove, but for the most part they seem much more likely to team up in pairs or packs and go halves (or quarters / whatever) on a nice, juicy cat. And the law of the jungle generally implies that the largest predators are actually the first to fall by the wayside when food gets scarce, because they need more of it to sustain their predatory, consumerist lifestyles. You don’t see ants or cockroaches or flies on the endangered species lists do you, but the big cats and other large predators / consumers seem to be dropping like, erm, pandas. Additionally, when the top dog (or cat) gets too old and clapped out to do the business any more he doesn’t get to hand the reins over to his feckless, idiot sons and daughters – he loses the lot and gets booted out on his arse! Compare that scenario with the recent news report concerning a Tetrapak billionaire who was so brain-addled by drugs that he managed to spunk his life up the wall despite all the opportunities that had been handed to him on a plate and it starts to sound less like ‘the law of the jungle’ and more like the lunatics taking over the asylum, doesn’t it?

So, here I am almost 2000 words on (sorry) and I’m still completely in the dark about how all this works. I was hoping that putting my thoughts down on paper might reveal the missing piece of the puzzle but it’s only left me even more confused. If you’re one of the lucky people who can understand it all I envy you, and hope you’ll forgive my ignorance. If, on the other hand, you’re an idiot like me I hope you’ve found the above reassuring, and can take comfort from the fact that you’re not alone.

Bart's take on world debt

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