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Is the economic crisis really that bad?

18 March 2009

There’s definitely a lot of talk going on about the global economy — along with the obligatory wailing and gnashing of teeth — but it’s either an incredibly slow slide, or perhaps something else is going on or it’s not as straightforward as it appears. I say this after conversations with colleagues and friends who — aside from preventative job losses and the news about banks — have not really seen what all the fuss is about.

Of course it may be that myself and everyone I’ve chatted to is sufficiently insulated from the situation that it’s not affecting us directly yet (it certainly didn’t take long back in early 2001 when I experienced my first redundancy). Yes, it’s likely that one of our glorious capitalist system’s regular “busts” is happening, as part of the recognised boom and bust cycle, but is it actually any worse than the 2-3 such situations over the last 15-20 years? It’s hard to tell when you raise your head above the reportage, which seems prudent as the news media are hardly objective sources of information.

I’m beginning to wonder if this might be a combination of regular bust — exacerbated by globalisation, monopolisation and near-absent regulation (if they’re bringing in the money…) — combined with media hysteria, post-9/11 politics, and the changing face of media and advertising. The news media are currently saying that it’s the worst economic situation since World War 2, which is a highly emotive statement in the UK and Europe. I’m guessing they’re leaving Great Depression references to pull out as a trump card at a later date. Perhaps it’s time to declare shenanigans.

The post-9/11 politics of the West, in particular, is markedly different to society before 2001. These changes can’t be justified by saying it’s a more dangerous world now, as countries like the UK have suffered terrorism from organisations such as the IRA since before World War 2. A cynic might say that the rules changed when an attack happened on American soil — and that might not be entirely incorrect — but that notwithstanding, there has been a systematic worldwide change in global politics since those awful events in 2001. There seems to have been a visible shift in government’s perspective on the public, resulting in a state of perpetual suspicion of the citizen and systematic erosion of hard-won liberties. And with the advances in technology such as biometrics has followed unending attempts at forcing or sneaking through legislation to mandate biometric identification of populations – with all the idealism, hopes, fears and dread that such measures make. And none of that deals with the wars we’ve created and funded, whatever the validity or justification, and the economic costs of prolonged warmongering.

And of course the media hysteria. Thanks to the proliferation of what currently passes for journalism, the public seem convinced that every male teacher is an unproven paedophile, that they will be mugged if they walk any town at night, serial killers exist in every village, all parents who discipline their children are child abusers, that all teenagers are knife-wielding, crack-smoking, drunken, granny-bashing louts, that violent games/films cause violent acts (yet comedy doesn’t cause humour on the streets…), and so on ad nauseum. Just watch Sky Two in the evenings, or read any Red Top or Daily Whatever newspaper.

But is there any reliable evidence that it’s statistically any worse than it was a century ago? It reminds me of the 1970s song by the Australian band The Skyhooks, called Horror Movie: Horror movie… it’s the 6:30 news. (I couldn’t find the uncensored lyrics, so you’ve got the video instead). If you go back to 1970 or 1940 or 1910 you’ll find the exact same “society is falling apart, we’re all doomed!” spoken as fact. I’m not sure it hasn’t always been like that so, instead, please cast a skeptical eye on the spoon-fed news and political talking heads.

I don’t know the truth, but common sense suggests that it’s not neat enough to fit into a 15 second soundbyte or 3 newspaper column inches.

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