September 8, 2012
My local chip shop is owned by a Londoner called Andy. A couple of days ago I found myself being talked to by him about the Premiership. I don’t follow football all that closely, but he and I support the same team so there is a very real but limited amount of kinship between us.
Our team had won but the star player had fallen and hurt his leg. I was frankly amazed that he could try and search for such insight and meaning in the future by discussing the hamstring of another man. But pontificate he did.
After hearing the same news for the third time but fearing he could go on, I stopped him and said, “In other news, the President of the ECB seems to have a plan to centralise large parts of European countries powers and roll them up into the centre. This could profoundly impact democracy for hundreds of millions of people”.
He looked at me stunned for about three seconds and then asked simply, “There will still be football, right?”
To me, the English Premiership is like a television soap opera. It seems to roll onwards forever with new facts and games every few days. There is so much to think about and analyse and for what?
Another soap opera, but much harder to understand is the eurozone crisis. Following it, as I try my best to do, takes real effort and thought. We lay people (not central bankers) mull over the implications of the Target 2 payment system in a similar way as a football fan thinks about a metatarsal injury.
I know a number of people that are very interested in the future of the world and whether Europe is going to implode. They often ask me for insight just like the partially sighted leading the blind. At least they care and are interested.
In a way, the eurozone crisis is a soap opera as well. The ‘narrative’ changes often, from ailing country to ailing country, plunging each one into trouble and offering a few days of breathing space to others. So much of politics and financial markets are based on rumour and opinion that the future of hundreds of millions of people is being decided – in part – on unknowable speculation. We are in real trouble.
When I think about the likes of Andy I despair. I realise that most people are not interested in politics and economics, which is fair enough, but this is the system that enables everything else we do in life. Without it there will be trouble. Right now there is trouble and people seem to be ignoring it all the more.
Should more power be concentrated in the centre in Brussels it will be a very painful experience to the Andy’s of the world. It won’t be easy for them to understand how, why and when the power over national budgets was handed to Brussels and why their local services are being closed down because an unelected and unidentified nabob enforced ‘conditionality’ as part of their debt repayments.
Words like conditionality ought to send a shiver down the collective spine of the population because of the power they enable. At the last EU summit Messers Monti and Rajoy worked hard to obtain some leeway from Germany in the hope that financial oversight could be avoided. With the nature of power in the EU in such flux currently, almost everything is up for grabs. The politicians can see it, but the public seems to be unaware.
While waiting for my chips a few weeks ago Andy asked what I do for a living. I mentioned that I often write about politics and economics. His next words were priceless, “I think politicians are just a bunch of idiots and crooks”. While the standard distribution curve would suggest that there will be a percentage of larcenous fools in any group, including the political class, it is hard to believe that they all are. This kind of opinion is very common as we all know, but at a time like this when so much about our way of life is under threat, when our national futures are being argued over by the leaders of other countries, I am left wondering, “Where does that leave YOU?”.financialguy