Monday, 13 October 2008

So tell me - am I a Luddite?

So the renovation funds are safe, apparently. Thank you, Mr Darling. My view of life, the universe and everything, however, has not remained similarly unscathed.

Sometime in the last ten or so years the world as I knew it - or at least thought I knew it - appears to have changed without my really noticing. Call me sheltered and hopelessly naive if you like, but it's taken the extraordinary and cataclysmic (add your own superlative) events of the last week to really bring home to me the way in which The Market Rules Okay and the extent to which so much of western life has been underpinned by credit, credit and more credit. When the markets no longer have faith in the institutions and the system that they themselves have created; when the supply of credit funding that we once believed to be bottomless is suddenly no more; when governments all over the world have to sit and watch as traders swiftly and systematically reduce the value of commodities and institutions to a pittance; when all of those things happen at the same time, as they did last week, the once revered political and economic theories that created them reveal themselves to be no more than a house of cards. When they collapse, they take down more than a few banks and big companies. They take down with them our sense of safety in living in the world, for nothing is as we believed it to be, and therefore nothing is to be trusted.

Here's an example. I read an article by Seth Freedman on Guardian Online last week arguing that savers don't deserve to have their savings protected. "Anyone entering into a contract with their bank, in which they loan the bank money in return for interest paid" he wrote, "should do so in the full knowledge that there is no guarantee they will see their money again – an entirely fair and proper situation, as in any other free market financial undertaking". I'm sorry, but what????? Is this really how I'm supposed to be thinking these days? I'm not making an investment, in which case I'd be told by innumerable wealth warnings about how the value can go down as well as up. I'm depositing my savings, for which I've worked bloody hard, into a bank who agrees to pay me a reasonable but certainly not startling return for the privilege of being able to use or invest it themselves for a while. But rightly or wrongly I do so in the expectation of being able to have it back when I choose. That's the deal.

Tell me, am I the only one who still thinks this way? A financial Luddite perhaps? A hopeless idealistic liberal who for many years has banked and saved and insured with mutually or co-operatively owned companies? (Except Icesave of course ...). Who doesn't change her mobile phone every six months or borrow money to buy the latest clothes or expect to have 'it' (whatever it may be) just because she wants it? Who sees nothing wrong with some appropriate regulation and doesn't believe that because the market has dictated it, it must be right? Who finds the kind of bonus regularly paid out in the financial world not only outrageous but downright immoral?

Yes, I'm angry, because I'd failed to see how low we'd collectively sunk; and yes, I'm sad, that I and countless others had to find out the incredibly painful way that was last week, and may yet be this one too. The question is, dare I also be hopeful that things will never be the same again?

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