Thursday, 28 October 2010

Britain's 'ridiculous collective masochism'

The actress Maureen Lipman strode down Charing Cross Road carrying a bunch of flowers. Hundreds of people enjoyed an evening meal at the restaurant at the Royal Festival Hall. The West End of London was buzzing - and it was only a Wednesday night. 

I rushed down to London's South Bank to hear a lively perspective on Britain's economic woes from Professor Jayati Ghosh, one of the world's leading economists. "It's extraordinary to come to the UK and see all this collective masochism," said Professor Ghosh from the Jawarharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. 

"Y'know, where people in the UK are saying 'it's a disaster, we've all been bad, we have to have suffer and deserve all of our cuts!' In fact, you have this government debt largely because you bailed out a whole lot of banks," added Professor Ghosh. 

"But, in any case, the state can't go bankrupt," she continued. "This whole announcement - 'if we don't do these cuts then we're going bankrupt' - is completely ridiculous. 

"It's surprising to come here and see the extent to which this completely wrong rhetoric about how government debt has to be redeemed immediately, 'it's like a household' and so on, has been absorbed by the population. I think it's extraordinary...and people have to get out of this thinking!"

Andrew Simms, policy director of the new economics foundation, cheekily wondered whether the "new masochism was in any way related to the public school education system". Who on earth could he be thinking of?

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas cited a worrying prediction by Lloyd's of London that oil prices will soar to $200 per barrel by 2013. If this comes to pass, the cost of fertiliser, food transportation and packaging will rise and food prices will go up. 

"Our food supply system is massively insecure," added Lucas. "It only needs a few lorry strikes and demonstrations outside fuel depots to know we're only nine meals away from a food crisis." 

That's six meals for some, if the size of the portions on the plates at the Festival Hall were anything to go by.

The nef's lively and well-attended 'Great Transition' debate at the Purcell Room wasn't all doom and gloom though. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood certainly stamped her personality and perspective on the proceedings. 

So, I'll return to Professor Ghosh, Lucas and Westwood in later postings. 

Of course, before that happens, I'll have to firstly stop beating myself up over the financial crisis caused by the banks.

Where did our money go? Surviving and thriving in the Great Transition, Wednesday, 27 October 2010, hosted by nef.

Paul Coleman, London, October 2010

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