Talking ’bout our Great Depression… October 10, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Society, The Left.
It sort of hit me this week how tired I am sitting in taxi’s listening to drivers my age (early to mid 40’s) or a bit older, or sometimes a bit younger, telling me how the younger generation won’t know what hit them if the economic situation gets out of hand. And it’s not restricted to taxi drivers either.
It’s a bit like a sort of economic displacement activity. Talk and talk and talk about how only those hardened souls like ourselves who experienced the 1980s really understand what a recession is like and how that somehow, in some unspecified manner, positions us to ride out the storm, or at least endure it, more easily than those who haven’t had the pleasure.
It’s not that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind or that I haven’t on occasion nodded complicitly when the point was raised but there is a problem. It’s rubbish. Firstly, who is able to face a recession with any degree of equanimity, other than those who have very very deep pockets indeed. Secondly, how precisely does ‘experience’ of the 1980s, or the 1970s, inoculate against it. A jobs a job. Unemployment is unemployment.
I’m fairly certain that having been in my late teens and early 20s during a particularly bad economic period it does nothing to steel me in any way to future redundancy. Fairly certain because I lost my job in the early 2000s after years with a company. This was at the height of the boom and all I can say is that the sick feeling when I was given notice continued with me for perhaps a year or so after. It was something between panic and fear. I was then in my late 30s with an okay but not great track record in my area of work and hugely conscious that there were scores of people younger than me and better qualified by experience. It was, to be honest, scary as hell and even thinking back writing this it raises thoughts I’d rather not have to think. As it happens I managed eventually to get contract work, but even now half a decade or so later many of the habits I formed then, such as taking almost any work I was offered, have remained. One thing I took from it was a sense that no job is safe, that security is an illusion. Maybe that’s a good lesson, but it’s not a pleasant one. It also made me more self-dependent. Again, that’s perhaps good, but perhaps not.
Would it be easier if all around me were losing their jobs too, or not? That I don’t know. What I do know is that if economies are built on sentiment, as they appear to be after the last couple of weeks, well, so are lives. Continuity and expectation, or continuity of expectation, in a life depends upon stability. That can be dull, but it can also be a refuge. I don’t want big surprises, and I’ll bet neither do most people.
Nor am I certain that those who have known relative (and it has been relative, dependent on who you are and where you live) prosperity are doomed to emotional collapse as their iPods (and mine, come to think of it) and cocktails are pried from their uncomprehending hands as the bailiffs storm in. In fact what does it mean when people say that others ‘won’t know what hit them?’. They certainly will – and it’s not as if there weren’t a couple of wobbles along the way. It’s apparently forgotten now how there was a mild recession in the early 2000s. Now, most over 25 would remember that, even tangentially and many would have had some sense that – as the ads say, shares can go down as well as up.
Nor is it as if the entertainments that currently exist were exactly unknown in my youth. For better or worse cinemas were open, pubs full, gigs – well, arguably better. Life goes on, but so too does a grinding struggle.
Again, it seems to me that there is a hint, or more than a hint, of puritanical distaste for people enjoying themselves. Now, this isn’t new. Many years ago I remember reading an Arthur C. Clarke novel years ago and being struck by a phrase that went something along the lines of ‘… the inevitable envy the old have for the young…’. But I’m not so certain it is envy, although that plays a part, as much as simple dislike. And since this would appear to be a continual process that refuels itself in each and every generation (watching a BBC4 programme on Dance on Sunday evening it was very striking how 20th century dance forms were a perpetual source of offence to those older than those dancing) there’s more than a touch of hypocrisy about it – after all they (and we) got their chance to dance too.
Part of it is a distaste about the conspicuous consumption that we’ve seen. And it’s a neat inversion, this sense that the young are somehow pampered, that they’re somehow got above their station. But it’s worth noting that relatively few have experienced the worst excesses of same and for every one that has there are thousands more whose lives have been rather less exalted. Or put it another way, the comforts of the boom were not restricted to those between 18 and 30. And any of us who have canvassed across the last ten years will know that the fruits of that boom were distributed a lot less widely than some commentators make out.
And perhaps there’s a little bit of fear, which I do understand, the sense of ‘…oh, no, not again’. Because as with so many other topics of conversation all too often the real subject is the individual speaking. It’s not that others will have it bad, as they invariably will, as the unstated recognition that in a recession almost everyone is touched in one way or another. Which leads to this sense of bizarrre superiority.
Either way… glib talk on this, or vainglorious posturing, does no one any favours. Already for many this is a source of anxiety. Maybe for most of us. And for a smaller but growing band of people the reality of recession and global finance crashes have come home quite literally. A sense of solidarity mightn’t go amiss. Yep, solidarity – there’s a word to think about.