Sunday, 29 April 2012

Rockets, Riots And Rich Lists

The news this morning that the authorities intend to put an anti-missile facility (one likes to keep up with the jargon) on top of the disused water tower at what is now a block of residential flats adjacent to the Olympic site in East London could only provoke one response.

Please, please, could we have one?  We have the relevant experience.  This neck of the woods was once the route by which the V1 and V2 rockets of World War 2 tracked aimed at both our many airfields and military sites as well as for central London.  It would not take much retraining for us to become adept at banging off the missiles.

This blog has had something to say about Olympics security and costs going back three years to early in 2009 with added comment since.  It is intriguing now that it is only very recently that we have begun to hear much about it in the media and from Westminster

Additionally, around the web what some of the police and related people are saying is that the stripping of provincial forces and other services to meet the needs of London this summer, it is not just the Olympics, is going to create added risks if there is another summer of discontent with riots and the rest in major urban areas.

Given the theories about how these may occur and why with hot weather on long summer days suggested perhaps our clergy and others should be praying for the rain and weather of the last few days to persist until September.  So long as the English asparagus crop comes up nicely it would certainly suit many of us.

But the reason for trouble on the streets should not be attached solely to the events of this year.  This has been building for some time.  It is a matter of too many young men and women with too little to do and for whom work is not an option.  It is not just lack of jobs it is a major economic and cultural shift in our society. 

We are going to find out soon that repression might be the answer from government and the easy going, non-judgemental, avoid the problems policies of recent years can no longer be sustained.  We cannot go back to a better past only forward to a nastier future.

The latest “Rich List”, although the figures need careful analysis seem to suggest that the rich have become richer despite all the problems of recent years.  It is not a surprise since many of these characters have caused the problems.

They have also bought the politicians who strive to funnel money in their direction extracted from the population as a whole and made available to the rich on terms which allow them minimal tax payments.  The Murdoch caper now under scrutiny is one incidental example of all this.

The PBS Channel ran a 2009 programme called “Black Money” a couple of days ago about the extent and nature of corruption in the arms industry over recent decades.  It is not a nice story and London is at the centre of it. 

What is more troubling is that all those countries where these armaments have been used are represented in London by disaffected groups who seek violent answers to their questions.

They have a ready hearing amongst many who are at the bottom of social scale and who are easily persuaded to.  As they look at those who seem to be above the law and free of the ordinary restraints of conduct they do not see why a “rule of law” that serves the few and not the many should not be available to them.

The attrition to the real economy and in the UK the shift to “growth” being seen as money being sloshed around the accounts of the rich and centred on a financial sector heavily dependent on a rigged and state supported London property market is a major factor in the disastrous failures of policy of the last few years.

The block of flats on which the missiles are to be sited are a conversion of a former factory.  This would have provided jobs for hundreds of people and in addition been a part of a London where industry and manufacture was once the major activity. 

Now it is close to an area that is riot prone and being lauded as an opportunity for investment in property because of the Olympics legacy.  Guess who will benefit from this.  Guess who will be under the fall out from any successful anti-missile strikes in the general area.

It is a mad world my masters and the madness is in all of us.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Life In A Global Junkyard

With Nokia debt apparently down graded to Junk Bond status in line with a number of sovereign states, Economonitor asking “Are The Big Banks Insolvent”, including America-Citibank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo amongst others and Financial Crimes look at the figures suggesting that Barclays actually made a loss, the world is certainly turning.

Meanwhile the Murdoch Circus begs the question of where did Nellie the Elephant get to and why.  She is not replying to her phone messages.  Koo Stark has launched a legal action against Newscorp which should keep much of the media excited for a while, doubtless to be followed by any number of publicity hungry celebrities.

The fall out from all this is hitting the UK government, impacting on the Euro block and this in turn will affect the elections in the USAGermany it appears has a Pirate Party now contending for political support which will certainly upset the electoral system there to an unknown degree.

It promises to be a difficult summer with unknown and unpredictable events.  It is tempting to try to guess but at best it will be a wild one and with little hope of either accuracy or reliability.  Fuses will certainly blow, but which part of the global machinery will begin to grind to a halt or suffer badly is open to bets.

Meanwhile we in the UK are debating how much government spending and on what and for what purpose.  A school of thought is demanding Keynesian policies, that is increasing spending to promote growth.  Others feel that cuts are still needed to bring debt down and concentrate on what matters.

That it is possible on the one hand there might be spending that could have a beneficial effect whilst in other areas cuts are a necessity is less discussed. 

Probably, because it is difficult in that where spending may be beneficial is not much in the way of being media attractive whiles cuts or tax increase are all too likely to affect a lot of very noisy people.

There is the sloppy thinking that almost any spending is good.  This suits the politicians who for many decades and more have sloshed money in the direction of big items with the advantage of suiting their friends. 

How often have we had major spending on vast dead loss capital projects that at some later stage just about manage to have revenues covering running costs to be told that this is a “success”? 

How often has spending gone in a direction where waste and fraud is endemic that has actually had long term adverse effects or results in damage impossible to repair?

In how many areas of government does spending go up inexorably despite it being increasingly evident that it is time for the party to stop and indeed to cut back seriously on the drinks bill?

In most of the major states at present we have governments of amateurs who know little else beyond spin and spend confronted by the need for serious appraisal in a world of scarcer resources and greater problems.  Simply throwing money at it is not going to work.

Add to this by the end of the year the political scene will have changed again and more radically, but the incomers will be no better than those at present in charge.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Her Cutty Sark, o' Paisley Harn

A few months ago on the train we were sitting next to a couple of men, one from Nepal and the other from Alloway, by Ayr in Scotland.  The “Cutty Sark” had been in the news and the Scot was explaining the meaning of the name and the way Robert Burns had told the tale of Tam O’Shanter and how the ship at Greenwich had come to bear that name.

We did not say anything it was a private conversation and butting in on others is better avoided.  But it did remind me that there is much more to the “Cutty Sark” than we think and why she is worth preserving.

In 1869 when “Cutty Sark” was built on the Clyde at Dumbarton, on launching she went down river for some final work to be done in Greenock.  Two of my Great Great Grandfathers were resident there with their families, one a ships carpenter, born in Leith in 1815 and the other an iron worker born in Ayr in 1808 who married in Paisley.  “Harn” is a word for coarse linens, a fabric much used by the lower classes. 

Did either of them put in some work on the ship?  Given the number of other family connections, I like to think that someone did.  Given their home addresses adjacent to the docks and yards they could hardly avoid seeing her or marvelling at her construction.

One researcher has produced a book of the crew lists that could be found and I must try to find a copy to pore down the lists of names.  The chances are against it but there might be just one of the extended families who sailed on her.

Given the number of men who did work on the vessel in construction originally and later or sailed with her on the many voyages, there must be quite a number of people around the world with a connection.  In my own case I know them to be scattered around the UK and inevitably in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.

It is possible to complain that the work and events down the years have meant that what is left of the original “Cutty Sark” is limited.  But it was a working ship and the ropes, the sails and a lot else have to be changed.  The wear and tear of service inevitably meant reworking and replacements.

But the survival of what we have tells us of the incredible skills and strengths of the men who built and sailed her and something of the abilities of our past generations.  Above all she was a merchant ship manned by ordinary men for ordinary trading purposes. 

Now she is a tourist attraction located on The Thames and will never sail again.  Moreover, her survival in part is due to Royal interest and persistence in wanting her to survive.  The Duke of Edinburgh was a naval man and his body language never lets us forget it.

Soon we will go up to see her again in the new guise and with the new facilities and all the rest.  It will be a day, I hope with a stiff Sou’ Wester, wet and with the white flecks on the waves of the Thames to give a taste of reality.

But if only she could sail again.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Whene'er I Foregather Wi' Sorrow And Care

The recent run of stories and reports about conditions in many UK Care Homes have revealed a number of problems.  Staff who are over stretched, or not trained or simply have little experience of working with people of great age are commonly found.

In the last decade or so there have been managements, again some with little expert knowledge or experience but given targets to meet which have an adverse impact on care and which do not take account of either the practical difficulties or the variation of issues that staff face.

Above all has been effect of the finance management driven ownership and control of an increasing proportion of care homes, compounded by the retreat from this kind of Care system by both local authorities and others.  Even many charities have cut back on provision and facilities.

All this has occurred at a time when not only are the numbers of very aged increasing but the complexity of their conditions and treatments also presents a wider range of problems, notably in the several forms of dementia or other neurological issues.

The answer given by too many prattling politicians is the notion of “Care in the Community” that is to keep people in their own homes, of one sort or another with carers and others coming in to help.  This now is becoming badly over stretched and the real work being done by many people who are even less trained or aware.

This in turn impacts particularly on the National Health Service and with little realized effects on both Ambulance and Police services who both are facing increased demands which are becoming more and more difficult to tackle.

Perhaps we think that this is just a UK problem and we like to imagine that if there is one country with the wealth and organizational abilities to cope with it might be Germany.  Apparently, this is not the case as a report in their Local New shows:

Who are these people who are being treated like this?  One of the sadder parts of the developing tragedy is to imagine who the aged are and what they might have been in the past. 

Sometimes it takes only a look at a photograph on the wall to show that this unpleasant demented old person who cannot cope and who is a trial to deal with and has other severe problems was once lively and smart with both intelligence and ability.

They are often left isolated, put to bed early and got up late, left to develop hydration and nutrition problems on top of the medical issues, are left to deal with confusing and potentially damaging medication needs, with their personal washing never done and living in uncleaned homes.

Yet when you look at the residential alternatives they are little better and maybe worse in terms of personal treatment and respect.  The title is a quote from Robert Burns.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus

There ought to be a competition about Christmas Dinners you would prefer to avoid, if only because of the company.

The revelation that the Prime Minister, David Cameron was with James Murdoch of Sky etc. and Rebekah Brooks/Wade, late of the late “News of the World” and others begs a number of questions.

Who dressed up as Santa?  Surely not Rupert himself?  Who found the sixpence in the pudding?  Possibly, Cameron called in a detachment of Royal Engineers to act on his behalf. 

The possibilities can be lurid.  Who kissed who under the mistletoe?

Inevitably an old poem comes to mind.

It was Christmas Day at the Murdoch’s,
The Camerons were troughing there.
Watching Sky on the telly,
And betting on who got the boot.

A voice rang out from the speakers,
And echoed around the room,
“What do you want for Christmas”,
And all of them shouted “loot”!

Apologies to whoever thought up the one about harems never mind the original referring to Workhouses by George Sims in 1879.

Time for an election?

Monday, 23 April 2012

The End Of Manifest Destiny

At the moment we are all fixated on our own troubles.  In the UK we are bothered about the price of pasties, The Olympics and the reform of the House of Lords.  In Europe more serious matters are in hand.  Politically, it has become sticky in France, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece with Germany to come.

So the USA seems to be pottering on in its own way with the lobbyists and Wall Street fixing it with the President to ignore a Congress which they have bought anyway whilst a Presidential election is going on.

But all is not well there and the stresses are beginning to show.  Whilst the Empires of Europe have long crumbled into corrupt foreign adventurism the USA could well be soon at the point when the policy engine of Manifest Destiny, central to its thinking since 1823 goes into reverse.

The map above shows what the USA in 1820.  It is very different from that of today.  Were you to have maps of the disposition of American troops in 1820 and that of 2012 the contrast would be startling.  Then there were confined to limited areas within its own sphere, now they reach across the world.

It was President James Monroe, (how many people in Europe have ever heard of him?) who put the strategy into effect.  There is plenty in Wikipedia and the web on both him and his ideas.  It became the template for the expansion of the USA.  But it also proclaimed the need for Europe to keep out of the America’s and for America to keep out of Europe.

For almost a hundred years it worked fitfully and with many lapses.  The City of London was still important at times but impacted little on actual policy or how events unfolded there.  Where it did tell was in helping to create the American business model relatively free from traditional European encumbrances.

Eventually, America could not keep out of European trouble, if only because of the trade and monetary implications of allowing them to cut each other’s throats.  So in 1917 they joined in the First World War. 

In 1918 when The German Empire finally collapsed, with others, it was the USA who took the initiative and controlled much of the subsequent treaty making but then withdrew from the follow up engagements, leaving a nasty mess that eventually resulted in World War II. 

The USA made its own contribution to the mess by failing to control or manage the financial mayhem in New York of the late 1920’s that culminated in The Great Crash and Depression. 

This reinforced the latter day Manifest Destiny ideas of avoiding Europe.  In 1941 they were forced into wars again by foreign policy failures arising from the increasingly muddled interpretations of the Doctrine.

For the rest of the 20th Century and into the second decade of the 21st Century, Manifest Destiny came to mean that the USA would control or influence as much of the world as possible.  It was reinforced when the home oil supply ran short of demand and meant a dependence on foreign imports.

This was accompanied by a massive increase in fiat money supply to fund all the relevant military, diplomatic, economic and others measure to maintain and expand that influence.  A major consequence was that the money men began to run riot with the inevitable consequence of crashing the system.

Now the policy engine of Manifest Destiny has stopped working.  The USA is at the point when it cannot afford or maintain all that effort and soon the system will fall apart either quickly or slowly. 

It is slow it might be managed.  If it is quick then the impact might not just be beyond the borders of the USA.  Given its constitution and the lack of regard being shown to it in Washington DC and New York how soon will it be before we begin to see the sort of disintegration that history shows us can happen?

Some historians think it could be like the Byzantine Empire, others the Ottoman Empire.  But what if it is like either the Soviet Empire, where corruption rules or the British Empire, where chaos and stupidity rules?

Which stars of the flag of Stars and Stripes will be the first to go?  In our local church we have the coat of arms of a branch of the Washington Family from the early 17th Century, stars and stripes.  These arms have only three stars.

Could it happen?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Allez La France

The French Presidential election is under way and we are being made aware that this could be an event of some importance.  For the average UK citizen the workings of French politics are a mystery even greater than their own.  Perhaps it was time to renew my acquaintance with that place at the other end of our local tunnel.

So off we went to London and to the performance of “La Fille du Regiment” at Covent Garden starring Ann Widdecombe doing a fractured French/Franglais/English turn.  The part of La Duchesse de Crackentorp is essentially a pantomime routine but with her experience in the House of Commons she was very much at home.

The opera, a comedy romance with troops was written by Donizetti in 1840 and has been a favourite in the repertoire ever since.  With its combination of satire, fun, and gentle romance it is easy to watch.  Unlike most opera’s there is no body count and an absence of tortured anguish and misery.

There are one or two interesting features.  Designed for a French audience it features the then 21st Regiment of Infantry as a unit that won all its battles.  The regiment certainly had successes, including Moscow at first.  But the Retreat from Moscow in 1812 and its defeat at Waterloo were perhaps best not to mention.

The other is that the toff’s lost out; things were not as they appeared to be and at the end the foot soldiers triumphed in romance to leave us with a happy ending.  But all the signs are that in the French 2012 Presidential Election there will not be a happy ending, whoever wins.

Whilst in the Euro Zone Germany is supposed to be the “strong man”, France has the role of “Strong Woman”, very much a Marianne leading the charge to save the Euro and the zone from financial collapse.  This is arguable. 

Those who believe that politics will determine the financial future think that they will.  But there are an increasing number, amongst which are those who believe that economics rules, that do not like the numbers in the French economy or the prospects if the financial and related problems drag out for much longer.

Some extremists argue that it will not be a Spanish debacle that finishes off the Euro, it will be a French crisis and that is a serious possibility.  The French method of running their financial sector, the complicated structures of their banks and state organisations have left them very vulnerable to any major disruption if the crisis amongst the PIIGS worsens.

Added to that the inherent elitism of the French administration at the centre and the way the interests of that group are enmeshed in the way the economy has worked makes it reluctant to either face up to or to implement the radical reordering of both policy, the relationships with Europe and the organisation of the economy.

My own connection with French politics is very slight.  There was a day nearly 40 years ago when we camped at Desvres in the football stadium and went to look at Etaples, visited by Grandfather in 1915 and then to Azincourt (or Agincourt) via Hesdin.  We were taking the D roads back to Desvres when we were pulled over by a couple of large motor cycle police.

At fist I assumed that the family singing the “Agincourt Carol” in Hesdin might not have been a good idea but the cops took little interest in us.  After a couple of minutes suddenly a cavalcade of police and big black cars came racing by.

It was The President heading North by the back road.  As I was being watched by the cops I took off my cap as a gesture of deference and when they moved off they signalled for me to follow.

So for a few minutes on the road to Desvres I could claim to be at the heart of French politics.  But what I wondered might have happened if my car had just broken down and blocked the road?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

It's All Very Depressing

As the UK government takes the philosophy of “muddling through” to new extremes  those old fashioned enough to try to exercise rational thinking probably would be best giving up, going away and hiding and watching DVD’s of the saner and happier world of the 1970’s.

The general idea then was that we ought to be functioning on the basis of the idea of democracy, after all women had now been voting for almost fifty years and were beginning to get the hang of it.  Also, there was the happy thought that with the right arrangements we could all look forward to being better off.

This is what we were promised and what we were assured would be the result of electing one party or another.  Whilst they disagreed about many things, Labour had several versions, the BBC liked the East German model and the Tories had almost as many versions as they had M.P.’s.  Somehow somewhere over the rainbow would be prosperity for all and a happier more secure life.

Our democracy now looks badly flawed.  Many people do not vote, very few are active in any of the major parties, only a minority take much interest in politics and our Houses of Parliament only represent themselves and a narrow self appointed elite, with few exceptions.

But it the government soon will have to tell us the bad news.  If it does not and continues with the happy slappy versions of policy of the last thirty years then it will soon be apparent to even the least thinking or discerning members of the public.  Even those who read the Murdoch press.

Firstly, we are not all going to be better off, the great majority of us are going to be ever shorter of the readies and realising what marginal attrition of spending power means.

Secondly, we are no longer going to be secure, in fact personal and national security is one of those fantasies politicians talk about in the same way that film makers tell you the next mish mash of violent idiocy is the best ever.

Thirdly, we are not going to be living in a world community where all the people will work as one for a happier future.  His happy future is my misery my happy future is his disaster.

Fourthly, the time for flinging around predictions of “growth”, “development”, “progress” has now gone.  It is all guesswork done by people whose analysis of past data is no better than the chemical hyped up Oracles of Delphi.

Fifthly, “democracy” is dream world with a media under the control of the money barons and the money barons in control of the politicians and with most of the working populations of the world on the payrolls of public sector activities.

Greece may have given us the notion of “democracy” but the “democracies” of the world will look ever like the present Greece and the authoritarian states more like Ancient Rome if we are lucky, Ancient Egypt if we aren’t.

And space travel is not an option.  We cannot afford it.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Shake Rattle And Roll

It was 1 a.m. and the fridge had yielded unexpected delights so it was time for a breath of fresh air on a cold night.  Touching the window to feel how cold I felt a very slight vibration and realised there was sound out there. 

When the window was open it was apparent that it was one or other of the clubs in town belting out the low frequency decibels.  What it must have been like for those very close could be imagined and the effect on the actual buildings.

There have been many times in the past when the vibrations have not been good.  One “digs” I was in for a very short while in Earls Court seemed a great deal.  When I realised that it was over the Piccadilly and District Lines the reason for its cheapness was all too clear.

The lady who owned the flat was the widow of a man who had fought the Zulu’s, the place was full of shields and memorabilia and I felt that at times it would have been quieter to have a Zulu Impi in full cry.  She had lost her hearing as a result of blast in World War II and did not understand my point of view.

Sound carries physically and there have been other times when the shaking of earth has been apparent as well as hearing the cause.  Living on steep hill close to a gas works with a lot of lorried coal traffic was one and there have been others.  The old trams could really kick up some vibrations under certain condition.

Then there was the long period we lived in a mining district.  With the loss of almost all the mining industry has come the forgetting of the scale and severity of much of the subsidence that resulted from so many years of the getting of coal.  We were caught out and our neighbours had half their house rebuilt.

They were re-housed for some months but it was not all bad because the then National Coal Board did a decent job and put right all the faults that the original builders had left, so they were better off at the end of it.  We could not complain, we were fully redecorated and damage dealt with.

But along our street it must have cost a good deal of money and after the end of the NCB and under the new regime of the 1980’s there was a much harder and meaner line taken with people whose houses had suffered damage.  It became much more difficult to have work done and cost much more to the unlucky householder.

Now we face a potential energy crisis in the UK as a result of the dilatory and cowardly failure to work out sensible ways of dealing with the future.  It has become clear that all the publicity stunts and photo opportunity wheezes are not going to provide the energy that either we currently need or will need in the future.

So now we need to go fracking for oil one way or another.  This may deliver energy but for those who read the “Oil Drum” site not necessarily will it be cheap nor will it be free of the effects.  One unlucky consequence is the perturbation it can cause in the earth and rock structures around the workings.

In short vibrations and movement big enough to be described as “earthquakes” the location of which will be difficult to predict in terms of incidence and density.  One worry that has escaped comment to date is that modern building methods for housing are not designed much for either settlement or instability.

Also, in some areas where a great many houses in the past have been put up quickly and on the basis of minimal foundations or under structure there are extensive vulnerabilities to movement and deformation of the surface.

Long ago the damage that resulted from economic activity of many kinds including mining for coal, salt or other things would be called the price of progress.  There is still going to be a price for any progress but who is going to pay?

Don’t expect any sense from Westminster, they are shaking in their boots.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Welcome To Bustamania

Renaming the different bits of the Atlantic Isles could be quite fun.  Last week’s jolly jape by “The Economist”, which I always used to buy for the cartoons and the funny articles called economic forecasts featured a place called “Skintland” on its front page. 

It upset some people in Scotland, especially those attached to the “Brigadoon” (see Wikipedia) concept of nationalism.  But it is possible for Scotland to detach itself from Westminster and be solvent.  The trouble is not on the basis of most of the policies being advocated by the major parties.

Two can play at that game however.  So I introduce a new nation that is called “Bustamania”.  A map is attached and being lazy I will leave it to you to name all the parts within it.  We could all have a lot of fun with this, for example Westminster could become Worstminister and Ealing become Squealing.

The basis of “The Economist” article is that to assume prosperity for Scotland might be misplaced.  As to assume prosperity for almost all the masses in the various nations in the world at present is likely to be wrong the real issue is how much worse might it be anywhere.

It is possible that with wise policies, its own soundly based and managed currency and careful stewardship of its assets any small nation might just about ride the storm that is brewing.  But it will not be easy and may not be popular.  Also, it may require controls over personal finances now absent in the UK as a whole.

The big problem in the Atlantic Isles is The Great Wen, as it was once known.  After a period in the mid 20th Century when some vestige of control was maintained by the government and parliament it has now been surrendered.  London is now in control of the UK and also essentially under the control of foreign interests.

A choice example of this has been the head of our tax office, Hartnett, cheerfully giving the Swiss a free hand to siphon off our taxes.  On this subject it seems that the Mayoralty of Greater London which dominates the media coverage of local elections is being disputed by two of our pre-eminent tax avoiders.

So Baron Boris of Bullingdon and King Ken of Kilburn are the main men of the moment and none of us need to bother about anywhere else much.  Given the centralisation of UK government they play a larger part in the affairs of almost all parts of the UK and Ireland to an unknown degree.

In the Atlantic Isles there is the potential for a lot to go badly wrong with an impact greater in some parts than others.  It has happened before in the past and can happen again. 

It is not so many generations ago that many parts of the South East were very impoverished in stark contrast to the wealthy parts of London that even there were cheek by jowl with areas of vile slums.

So which part of the Isles may fare better and which may fare worse is a serious question. 

Anyone for an independent Wessex?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Memories Are Made Of This

This is a brief post but on a big subject.  In the Vox site this week there is an article by Charles Goodhart (see Wikipedia) and Wolf Wagner.  Another Wikipedia entry is Goodhart’s Law which relates to the article.

Essentially, Goodhart and Wagner argue that one of the roots of the major money problems of recent years arise from a lack of diversity and variability in the banking world of today as opposed to the past.

The thesis is that we need to restore something of the past to remove many of the dangers now inherent in the system:

There is a grim irony in this in that Goodhart is a Professor Emeritus at LSE and currently the School is under the cosh again arising from matters to do with the Libyan connection.

This is all about oil.  Around eight years ago I was at a session in the board room of the then ING at which Goodhart discussed the history of the Gold Standard with an Economic History group.  He did not touch on his Bank of England work.

But afterwards I was lucky enough to have a chat with him.  What interested me was the lack of memory in The City about severe financial conditions of the past, notably the Secondary Banking crash of the early 1970’s.

It was around this time that I had come to the view that the “Goldilocks” economy could blow fuses in a big way and there was also a growing problem with pensions and future liabilities.

In wondering what could go wrong, I suggested that nobody seemed to be aware of what might happen if there was a sudden major increase in oil prices, which was a feature of the 1970’s crash. 

Goodhart agreed that it might all become very difficult and moreover given the lack of memory and the interconnectedness of the developing world financial system it was possible that few people would be able to cope with it.

I wonder what happened next?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Place Your Bets

It is not so long ago that the fanciful notion of a major state with an economy and trading capacity to match might implode under economic and social stresses arising from financial mismanagement seemed impossible.

This was because our advanced knowledge of mathematics as applied to the control and exercise of trading financial services together with the power of computers and the application of the highest qualified personnel would make it so.

All it needed was for sympathetic politicians to allow this to go forward without too much interference and questioning and for the masses to be bought off one way or another.  The media would shout “Are we all happy?” and then the media would reply on behalf of all “Yes, we are!”

It does not seem to have worked.  Goldilocks is now in therapy in intensive meditation classes.  The captains of industry are heading for the boats first taking the cash from the safe with them and the men in the engine room are wondering which rivet will be the next to go.

Meanwhile those allegedly in charge are now prisoners of events and try to survive by throwing more cash at people who will either keep it safe for themselves or lend it to governments frantic to keep the public quiet.  This means that those in charge are probably really lending to themselves in order to spend.

That is why a major state doing this may implode shortly unless there is a radical change.  Greece does not count as a major state but it is large enough to be a factor in the collapse of whichever is the first big one to go.  At present there is a debate as to who is most exposed.

Meanwhile, in the USA it appears that the Mexican border controls could soon reverse their operations to prevent the mass migration of Mexicans in the USA back to Mexico

Also, in the USA the people will either re-elect someone alleged to be really an illegal immigrant, who has been unable to control events or someone alleged to be a tax avoider who will just try to keep the financial show on the road.

But if the USA is not to be about to implode, then if such an event occurs in Europe the election could well be affected by the consequences.  Anything could happen and probably will.

Which brings me to the “what if” question.  Which of the other major states around the world unexpectedly and more or less without warning could suddenly run into very serious trouble for some reason?

All of those who are candidates apparently to be safe or have enough reserves to resist the worst have weaknesses in their economic structures as well as problem areas of management.  Although apparently better placed to deal with problems failure is not out of the question.

It is a little like watching the Grand National Steeplechase.  At the off theoretically all the horses are capable of finishing.  But you know they will not and any of them could fall including the favourites.  More to the point some horses that fall bring down others.

Of the runners in the race this year, should I bet on “Any Currency”, “Always Right”, “Organisedconfusion” or “Shakalakaboomboom”. 

It is a difficult call.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A Retreat From Spain

One of the more extreme notions peddled in this blog in the past has been the idea that if things went badly in Spain there could be a good many migrant Brit’s coming back to dear old Blighty to enjoy all the opportunities of life here.

Marylebone, Mablethorpe, Margate and Morecambe are very decent places and perhaps once good places to retire to, but with the best will in the world they are not quite Malaga or others blessed with sun and the rest in Spain.

Hamish McRae touched on this in today’s “Independent” in passing but seemed to be concerned about how we would bail out the Brit’s in Spain if the cash machines stopped working.  He then went on to say that a stronger pound would make our holidays cheaper.

John Redwood, also today, discussed Spain’s problems pointing out that it is the private sector there which is taking the worst hit. This has an effect on consumer spending and other activity that is holding back any recovery.  It is not looking good in the long term.

The property market in Spain has bombed.  There has not been the flush of cheap money maintained to prop the prices up as there has been in the UK.  The result is that any Brit’s trying to sell are in trouble.  If they do, they will be in worse trouble coming back to the UK without the necessary to buy into our inflated market.

Many Brit’s in Spain may be in the bad situation of having had their incomes squeezed so badly that they cannot afford either to stay there or to come back to the UK without substantial UK benefits support when they get here.

Quite how many might come back is not known.  Perhaps a figure might be thought of as an expert government estimate.  Then for practical purposes you would need to either double or treble it.  It depends on how bad it becomes in Spain.

How then does a local authority allocate housing to these migrants?  Elderly couples without dependants would be in a weak position against migrants coming in with families or other dependents.  So where would they go? 

There is an interesting potential political difficulty here.  At present the homeless in London are mostly people in the middling and younger ages.  Having hordes of grannies littering the pavements and begging for alms could put off the tourists. 

Even the London Political Media might notice if they blocked the way into favoured restaurants.  If the government managed to pack off many of these returned souls to the provinces the situation would not be much better. 

Of course, they might be billeted in all those second and holiday homes in the country or by the seaside but it is difficult to see our Parliament choosing that option to deal with the emergency, should it arise.  The reasons for that are all too clear.

It is a long while since we have seen major population movements of this kind in the developed parts of Europe.  Even the “folk memory” of the shifts of the 1940’s has been forgotten with all the strains that occurred across Europe and even in parts of the UK.

The picture above is of The Retreat to Corunna that occurred in late 1808 and into January 1809.  The Battle of Corunna is in Wikipedia and other net sources.  My direct ancestor, same name as myself, was there with the 43rd Regiment of Foot.

Despite their courage and the brave fight at Corunna it was a sorry looking lot that later disembarked in England, many unfit for further service and all of the rest having to be re-equipped and restored to health.

But that was only a few thousand, if we have another major retreat it could be many hundreds of thousands.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Sugar Is Sweet

One of my closely guarded personal secrets, to be shared only with my nearest and dearest and anyone surfing the internet, is that for some time I have been partial to muesli.  Yes, I know, it puts me in the “health freak” marketing segment.

It all started as long ago as 1951 when I found myself halfway up a Swiss mountain and looking at what was on offer at the breakfast table.  It was not a meal that I could hope for at home or at any decent seaside boarding house.

The “filler” part of it was the mix that was muesli as it was then.  It was rarely found in England, one of those things like olive oil or spaghetti or some such that nice people did not talk about in public.

It was many years later before muesli was encountered again and with it the realisation that you could either buy it or make your own mix.  So many kinds were tried and many home mixes made from time to time.

They would all have sugar or some equivalent sweetener but then came the day when the growing man, horizontally rather than vertically, had to cut out the sweet stuff and resort to other flavours.  And it became back to making your own mix.

This was because when going to the shops and superstores it was almost impossible to find a mix without sugar or some equivalent sweetener.  The premium brands had fancier and “healthier” sweeteners but still carrying too great a whack of weight potential.

Event then the realisation that a lot more foods, many deemed “healthy” were also carrying a hefty portion of sugar or sweetener had not dawned.  This came only slowly when for other reasons we had to start checking out the content of all the food products we bought in detail.

There has been a good deal of attention paid to this recently as the obesity issue has become a major health concern.  Even today, the Daily Mail had a large piece in its health section on many items carrying an unexpected heavy sugar load in content.

This is not the place to debate all the issues and the problems that have arisen and are not likely to away quickly.  There are now three generations born to the sweet stuff most of whom possibly cannot like foods without heavy and sweet flavours.

It was all so different and we all liked our candy:

There was once a time when the tea break came up and we sat on the barrows with a pint mug of strong tea with a good four or five spoonfuls of refined sugar, or better, the best part of a can of condensed milk.

How times change.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Cameron Appeals To The Workers

As long ago as Spring 2010, (remember the old days?) there were those who wondered whether any new government could manage to clear up the mess that Labour were leaving behind.  One compounded by their “scorched earth” policy and determination to ram as much complicating legislation through as possible.

The answer seems to be “no” and it is not just this government that cannot do it there is the horrible thought that nobody can, least of all a new Labour lot who would then be tasked with clearing up their own mess and the further difficulties created by what seems to be a group of the unable leading the unwilling.

The difficulties with the budget are not just a case in point.  In the mid 20th Century, Sir Stafford Cripps was roundly blamed for the loss of the overwhelming Labour majority of 1945 by the need for “Austerity”. 

It is arguable that there was a lot wrong with his policies.  The difficulty is that the “right” ones may have been even more unpopular with the core Labour vote at the time. 

Since then governments faced with the need to scale back some activities and make significant readjustments have courted serious problems.  Much of the comment on the mining industry in the 1980’s concentrates on Scargill’s mad strike instead of the complexities of energy and chemicals policies of the period.

With large numbers of pensioners who are unhappy and many voters in the middle strata of the electorate also unhappy, it means that Cameron may have to go down the risky road that some Conservatives have tried before, that of appealing to the workers.

There is an intricate issue here of who are the “workers”.  With so many of the lower income groups being pensioners or out of work or for whom “work” is the ultimate four letter word, this means they are a category hard to define precisely and equally hard to judge which way they might vote.

Especially, in an electorate that is becoming less and less inclined to vote at all, prefers narrow self interest and is more interested in pasties and promotion than in policies or productivity.

Also, worrying is that we have a Prime Minister being distracted by the whirl of world politics and foreign matters in a Cabinet that is showing distinct signs of tiredness and media fatigue. 

The government seems to be dealing with matters on a day to day basis because of the overwhelming complexity of it all and trying to resolve a past mess in terms of a rapidly developing present and future mess.

If suddenly Cameron and the others start talking about a “clean sweep” it will be time to become really worried because it will mean that we could be heading for a period of everything being on hold until the next election campaign.

But what happens if the chimney blocks and the fire goes out?