Friday 25 July 2014

The recession is over, apparently

I see dead people: they don't know they're dead
It's a "Big day for Britain" says The Telegraph as the economy bounces back to pre-recession levels. Such self-congratulatory preening will doubtlessly be greeted with incredulity by anyone living outside the Westminster bubble. It's a matter of semantics, you see.

To economists and politicians the word "recession" means that GDP is in decline. To just about everyone else it means a decade of wage freezes, long term unemployment, debt problems, job insecurity, belt-tightening and a fear for the future. While policy wonks and Tory politicians are slapping themselves on the back for a job well done, the rest of us look onward with dismay. The numbers on screen look a little different to reality.

This is where less honest writers would dive in to describe a scene of Dickensian decay as children starve in the streets and families are forced to eat their firstborn. For sure there are now food banks and marginal cuts to marginal government services, but as far as recessions go, this has been a pretty weird one. We have not seen mass strikes of any significance and certainly we haven't seen the kind of civil unrest that comes with times of hardship.

For many, what was billed as the worst recession in living memory turned out to be the dog that didn't bark. For sure, if you're a Northerner you have job insecurity, debt problems and wage freezes, but that is pretty much the natural state of existence, - and for Scotland, the economy for most Scots was in the toilet even at the height of the boom. This is not to say life has not been tough for a great many more since 2008, but in terms of material wealth, most people in the country can count themselves as wealthy by contrast with the majority of the planet.

If you were looking for the typical imagery you would associate with a recession of this magnitude such as bankers leaping off tall buildings, food rationing and wheelbarrows full of cash to buy a loaf of bread, you will find no such thing. But there is an underlying, more subtle decay in all this.

We don't see queues around the block for food handouts, but instead we do see queues around the block of people waiting to be seen by a magistrate, as thousands of people are summonsed for council tax arrears and business is booming for bailiffs. Our courts are no longer places of justice. They are merely state revenue collection branches.

Moreover the fundamentals of the economy as as rotten as they were in 2007 and little, if anything has been done to address them. If you can see past the creative accounting by shifting pension liabilities around and double-counting of savings, the deficit is still wildly out of control, and the national debt stands at around one and a half trillion. More employment red tape and more taxes prohibit any kind of meaningful employment growth, and what red tape doesn't deter, energy costs will.

We are told there are record numbers of new businesses starting up, but this is essentially individuals registering as a limited company, taking contract work now that permanent jobs as we know them have been abolished. The banks have been brought back from the brink of a fiscal apocalypse but our society is much more transient, less financially secure and many of working age wonder if they will ever manage to retire at all.

There was a time when a life of savings would provide an adequate private pension. But not any more. Pensions are a black hole into which you pay lot's of money with the same uncertainty you would feel if you were throwing money at a blackjack table. The only people who can now be certain of a decent retirement are our public sector CEOcracy. There is a justifiable feeling that we are being robbed blind.

It's inescapable. More of our services which are notionally covered by the taxes we pay now carry charges, and we know the direction of travel for that trend. I wouldn't mind if it came with a proportionate tax cut so that we might procure these services for ourselves, but here we have the worst of all worlds: big government, big taxes, but "privatised" services we have already paid for. I've never believed in the Leftist concept of equality, but I do believe in the concept of fairness, and if you or I tried what our parasitic corporates and governments tried on, we would find ourselves in jail.

We are on a slow march toward a more hostile, less free, expensive society where those who have license from government to prey on the citizen can do so unhindered. Because we are a docile population brought up to belief that government is inherently a good thing, and that paying our taxes is a civic duty of a sort, we have become pushovers for authorities. They can now treat us any way they choose. Some people are brave enough to show a bit of backbone and complain, but the state can pick us off one by one and throw the book at us.

One of the most telling runes to read is the gradual retreat of police into central police fortresses. The service is becoming impersonal and remote. Police are now policy enforcers rather than public servants. The service has departed entirely from the Peelian Principles and they are gearing for a defensive role; not to defend the people from the state, but to defend the state from the people.

While the GDP numbers look good on screen, I get the feeling we are a zombie country. The essence of what makes Britain free is gradually being replaced with something much uglier and sinister, where the state fears us and seeks to monitor everything that we do.

Rather than allow us shape our own destiny, it borrows in our name to "create jobs" but with no idea how we are ever going to pay for them - and government is digging a fresh grave for us all. While the clapping seals of Westminster pop their corks at today's news, I am far less optimistic. I am reminded of the film The Sixth Sense and that most poignant exchange...

Cole Sear: I see dead people.

Malcolm Crowe: In your dreams?

[Cole shakes his head no]

Malcolm Crowe: While you're awake?

[Cole nods]

Malcolm Crowe: Dead people like, in graves? In coffins?

Cole Sear: Walking around like regular people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead.

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