And so the recession is finally upon us like an apocalyptic tidal wave, sweeping along with it all the property shows, home improvement magazines and ‘buy a new place in the sun’ paraphernalia that has been ubiquitous over the past decade. In much the same way the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah must have gossiped excitedly at drinks parties about the meteoric rise in value of their riverfront property, oblivious to the deluge of fire and brimstone sweeping up behind them. Despite innumerable warning signs, the collapse of the sub-prime market and the accompanying economic downturn were not expected by many people and were met with incredulous disbelief. My theory is that this is due to a secular reinterpretation of the Judeo-Christian tradition. With the arrival of Christianity, it came to be believed that history had directionality and a predetermined goal, which was human salvation. In the enlightenment this idea was hijacked by intellectuals like Rousseau, Saint-Simon and Comte who instilled the belief that civilisation is moving towards some kind of a global society based on science. In the 21st century, having shorn the past and future of its metaphysical significance, people seem to believe that history’s goal is to increase the value of everyone’s house, ever onwards and upwards till we reach some glorious utopian future where the British middle class are enthroned as the privileged aristocracy of Europe, all the menial jobs are done by Polish wage slaves and everyone owns a second home in Bulgaria and the Algarve. In pre-Christian Europe and eastern cultures, human life was understood as a series of cycles and history was seen as tragic or comic rather than redemptive. I would argue that in terms of economics this view is of considerable merit. Events such as the ‘South Sea Bubble’, the ‘Dot.Com’ boom and the ‘House Price’ revolution can best be understood as a series of tragic-comic cycles with people becoming overexcited and irrational about the value of their over inflated assets, only to be brought back to reality with a resounding thud once the market begins its customary plunge. The nature of the economic asset changes, whether it be shares in non existent companies, barrels of oil or bricks and mortar; but it is usually accompanied by the same cycle of greed, volatility and hubris; and finally nemesis, decline and eventual collapse.
The central tragedy of my life is that people are always phoning me up to ask me questions on topics I couldn’t care less about. Perhaps the best example of this occurred a couple of years ago when the office switchboard number was mixed up with the information line for Marks and Spencers travel insurance. As a result I was subjected to a torrent of enquiries from holidaymakers looking for information about their potential coverage and eligibility. When I told them that I couldn’t help them they sounded deeply wounded and had enormous difficulties coming to terms with the fact that they had the wrong number. Above all they were extremely resentful, as if, despite not being an employee of Marks and Spencers, I should at least have the decency to find out something about their travel insurance to pass on to them, or that I had fooled them into calling me through some piece of Machiavellian trickery. If anything I should be the one who is justified in feeling aggrieved. I would have few complaints if my number were to be advertised as ‘The Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow hotline’ or the ‘Battle of Stalingrad information desk’, as then I would have something to say to people. As it is, people assume I must be the world authority on such matters as ‘the availability of parking spaces in the vicinity of Edgware high street’ or ‘the layout and topography of British motorways’ but are loathe to question me about things I actually have some knowledge of. Unfortunately tedious information is the currency of the universe.