Malcolm has commented previously on the incongruous views expressed in the Sunday Times Business section, so contrary to the negativism of the news and views elsewhere in the rag. This week the dissident is David Smith’s Economic Outlook.
He sets out his stall thus:
It may seem odd then to say that things could have been a lot worse. Part of my mission is to take the “dismal” out of the dismal science of economics.
Even that would be enough to cause expulsion from the high table of Jeff Randall at Sky or the Telegraph. In the Mail, Sun and Express it would be unthinkable that there could be anything less than gloom, doom and despond (all personally plotted, with malice aforethought, by one G. Brown).
David Smith then proceeds to tick the boxes on the annual report card, and it comes up pretty positive: the stock market, the state of housing, the value of sterling, avoiding deflation:
As it is, I would much rather have Britain’s problems than those of Japan.
Best of all is the job market. Employers and employees have shown huge flexibility to get through this recession. Wage freezes, cuts and shorter working weeks mean employment has fallen by only a third of what it was reasonable to expect…
… as we … say farewell to a fascinating year, probably never to be repeated, we can breathe a sigh of relief that it was not even worse.
Over at the Observer, though, there’s a real goody. William Keegan has his moment of cheer, but mainly spends this week bashing the dirty politics of bankers:
I did not expect the banking system itself to go bankrupt.
What was more predictable was that the bankers would not recognise their own condition and would want to carry on as normal.
But I am not convinced our policymakers really know what to do with the banking system – at least not while there is not enough competition within national banking centres, but too much competition between banking centres, with bankers cynically playing off one government against another.
Then he goes for a bit of therapeutic shin-hacking:
… there are some retired Treasury hands – and a lot of Conservatives – forecasting dire things, sterling crises and the need for further cuts. That the Treasury, under whatever government, is planning to halve the deficit in four years and carry on reducing it is not good enough for them.
A bunch of fives
Over his head, Ruth Sunderland is at the same game, but it is her side-bar which has the gem of the week. Again, it seems missing from the on-line edition, and deserves repetition:
I’m not sure whether British Airways boss Willie Walsh is a fan of the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood, but he should have a look at her book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. In it, she describes an experiment with capuchin monkeys that illuminates industrial disputes. Scientists taught the capuchins to trade pebbles for slices of cucumber; so long as the monkeys got the same, they were all content. Then the scientists gave one of them a grape. The other were so upset that they threw their pebbles out of the cage; some were so angry they went on hunger strike. Atwood says: “It was a monkey picket line: they might as well have been carrying signs that read ‘Management Grape Dispensing Unfair’. “
That demonstrates how deeply the concept of fairness is hardwired into the simian and human brain … However much rage BA cabin crew provoked by threatening to strike at Christmas, most ordinary employees would identify on some level with their sense that they are being made to pay for mistakes made by managements, bankers and politicians.
She sees the BA affair and the bankers’ ramp as:
… a wholesale violation of people’s sense of fairness. Does this matter? You bet. Unchecked, it will lead to more industrial and social unrest. Disaffection will also hobble the recovery: building a healthy post-cruch economy will require committed, creative and innovative entrepreneurs and employees. It’s not just sour grapes.
Now, think on: just how helpful to that healing process would be a penny-counting, job-cutting, benefits-chopping, us-versus-them Thatcher-lite Tory government?