Ye are many - they are few
For most of my life the amount I knew about economics could have been written on the back of a postage stamp. And worse than that, I really didn’t want to know any more. I was so sure of the truth of Wordsworth’s poem:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
I truly believed that economics in, would mean poetry, music and art fell out.
Meantime I got on with money and life by a process of observation and unquestioned prejudice. I was brought up poor, the kind of slightly genteel poor that is uncomfortable with its inability to buy the children shoes, new school uniform or enough blankets for the beds. Life was not always predictable or comfortable. We moved sixteen times one year and were finally homeless. In the council house we were so glad to get, the hot water heater was only lighted on Sunday evenings, when the bathwater was used one after the other by the whole family. No harm was done but it’s not what we expect today. My father didn’t make things easier by liking a flutter on the horses and as a war pensioner he had too much time on his hands and there were too many betting shops around.
So I worked out some simple rules:
1) Spend as little as possible
2) Get educated and then be securely employed
3) Save money in the bank – you might need it suddenly
4) Don’t gamble or get into debt
Peers and younger siblings took a different path – offered money by willing banks, they have borrowed. In the property boom they acquired property. They bought cars and had holidays. If they caught me darning socks and mending the kids’ clothes in the late eighties they laughed and told me “You just throw them away”. Yet they were not professionals or high earners, they had ordinary jobs and sometimes none. Driven by fear, it was me who had the profession and the comfortable income.
Now I stand and look into an abyss called our “economic situation” and all my rules are worth nothing. The banks and insurance companies and pension funds have my money and it is so twisted and bound up with their debts and over valued assets that all savings are at risk. We are, as a result of bank bail outs, in debt and paying the price, all of us, whether we like it or not. Education is no guarantee of a good job, or even any job, especially if you are young. The security I spent a lifetime chasing is come to this. And if I think I am in a scary place, how much worse is it for those in personal debt too.
Nicole Stoneleigh , economist and blogger, took Transition to new places through her talk at the conference in 2010. In April she visited Lancaster and her analysis of the economic situation is still troubling us. Put simply, because that’s all I can manage, we are in an economic “bubble” and as with the bubbles of the past it will run its course, according to the rules by which these things operate. With accuracy she anticipated the crises in Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy. She looked forward to a time of such economic rigour that local government, health services, police would be stringently cut. When house prices would revert to pre bubble levels (can you remember how much it cost to buy a house in 1980?). Talking to her afterwards, I wandered what the worst of it would be like. She spoke of planning for 3 or 4 years of real austerity, of the need for cash, credit would be worthless, and good reason to lay in supplies of those things we thought essentials. Food presumably being the most obvious. Her final comment was perhaps the most chilling – we need to work to make sure our communities stay together, build social capital, make alliances between the generations. Political groups, particularly the far right will seek to use the situation to spread blame and fear. How long did she think we have to prepare? Eighteen months she said – and that was in April.
But when Nicole spoke to us, there was no Occupy movement and there seemed very little hope that many people would ever understand let alone protest the situation we are in. My heart beats a little faster these days. Maybe times are a-changing. I want to hope so whilst I fear conflict and violence but far worse than that manipulation and disillusionment. When the discussions are over and the time comes for action, will those actions create a fair and secure world for the future, for the young, who are in words of David Malone, The Debt Generation?
I think we are back to the end of Shaun’s blog where he asked of the Occupy movement:
“can we build alternative, independent systems to support us, even in a period of energy descent?”
For an answer try The Automatic Earth blog for 12 November which contains an article by Nathan Carey: The Revitalization of Rural Economies, about Hardwick in Vermont. Here is a model for sustainable living created by a community that is pooling its resources to create the resilience it wants. It isn’t called Transition but that is what it surely is. It seems to me that they are just a step or two ahead of Black Isle, Totnes, Norwich, Omagh many other Transition communities. There, as in some places here, somehow people have begun to put their real money into the systems that support local life. It is time to do the same everywhere, time to recognise a new relationship, an unselfish economic relationship that puts the support of community at its heart and leaves individualism, wise or profligate, at the gate.
We have to take Occupy on from the streets into the hearts and minds of the people who watch or pass by or have no chance, leisure or inclination to sit on pavements. How? Well I hope you other bloggers and readers answer that. Why? Because then there is hope for the future. I will close with the words of another poet, writing after the brutal suppression of an Occupy movement in the nineteenth century, Peterloo.
'Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.'
Pictures: William Wordsworth, cartoon Warner and photo Mildred's Daughters from Automatic Earth 12/11, cover "The Debt Generation" (well worth reading) Peterloo by Richard Carlile