A Topsy-turvy year jam-packed full of ups and downs is drawing to an end. Fortunately an enormous anchor of stability, home life, helped to retain a semblance of order and sanity in a year where change, crisis and trepidation were rife…
Talking of trepidation funny how for the first part of the year the main topic of discussion, from staff canteens to forums, was the doomsday scenario “December 21st, 2012” …as if there was nothing else to talk about… and then, halfway through the year, reality caught up with idle speculation.
While some people were still talking about the announced apocalypse general consensus had steered away from the outright apocalyptic cataclysm, as the Mayans had predicted it. Imperceptibly, at first, then with more and more conviction doubt was forming over the veracity of the predictions (i.e. Mayan mysticism vs. 21st century pragmatism?). People were asking if it would happen at all and, given the current situation, wouldn’t it be more reasonable to say a fundamental change in the way human race lived it life would occur rather than an outright cataclysm? A sort of metamorphosing from ugly greed and ignorance into harmonious omniscience?
The protagonists, with their: “ Oh my god, why haven’t NASA or Richard Branson–the genial and visionary conceptor of space flight for all – built a space ship to carry the human race away, to a distant planet where the human race could live happily ever after?” were slowly being muted by the antagonists with their rather more philosophical : “Que sera, sera” approach, proclaiming, in their turn, that it was naive and erroneous to say that an apocalypse, such as normally predicted with each change of millennium, would happen precisely on December 21, 2012? To the antagonists it was pure fantasy, opium for the plebeian that warranted investigation by the Sherlock Holmes of conspiracy theories: Jesse Ventura.
Yes there would be an alignment of planets, the one that happens once every 500 hundred years or so, and Yes, the level of the oceans was certainly rising and Yes, cities like Miami and New York might someday sink beneath the waves, but to say that a catastrophe – one that would do away the human race, sending it into oblivion as announced by the Atlanteans, Incas, Mayans, Aztecs…and Nostradamus… the way it did the Atlanteans, Incas, Mayans, Aztecs…and the Dinosaurs– would happen on December 21, 2012 was pure speculation and about to doused by the reality of 2011.
In retrospect people had been so overwhelmed with the 2012 scenario (sic. opium for the plebe) that most of them didn’t grasp the situation until later on in the year. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, a series of events started appearing in the international media and the instigators, or if you prefer, the culprits weren’t the aligning planets or global warming but world markets, traders, investment funds & consorts.
Fueled by global market trading and nebulous hedge fund imperatives a financial crisis, that had started back in 2008, some say with the crash of the Lehman brothers bank, was finally coming to a head. At the time only government experts and a few initiated had any idea of the real situation and had been discreetly evaluating impacts and ramifications, wins and losses, but with the news of huge subvention packages being paid out to cover sub prime losses and failing banking institutions making the headlines it wasn’t long before a broader sector of the public started taking notice.
IMF bailouts and other corrective banking actions that normally would have only appeared on inside pages of the Financial Times started appearing “above the fold” in the international mass media press and still the whole crisis remained an abstract concept for the general public.
As long as IMF bail-outs had been limited to 03rd world or emerging countries it was all vague and distant but as soon as people realized the problem was on Europe’s doorstep they started paying attention. But even then and so long as higher profile media events – such as the war in Libya, the DSK affair in France, or Fukushima in Japan – retained the public interest, the full potential impact of the financial crisis, like some mega tsunami, had still to hit the general public, and not just in one country or zone, but all over the world.
It was a tell-tale sign to see institutions such as financial service companies, notably S&P, Moody’s and Fitch – themselves subsidiaries of bigger more obscure conglomerates – appearing in the news, going from total anonymity to front page headlines. Companies that had acted as financial barometers for decades, functioning in broad daylight, but unseen by the general public were now being scrutinized and questions being asked (i.e just how infallible are credit ratings?). An unthinkable situation a year ago but for the first time in modern Financial history bastions of commerce such as Germany, Japan and the USA herself, once impregnable, were under siege, not to mention of course France and the UK. The impact on the general public was starting to be felt.
Thanks to some intelligent, independent transmission of information, specifically by certain economic journalists, but more generally by internet, people were at last starting to understand that the once vague and abstract financial crisis was going to hit their pockets…the Mega Tsunami was coming… countries were announcing changes. Inflation, austerity and rigor, once forbidden words were now being openly spoken.
Ireland had already received billions in bailouts from the ECB and the IMF and Greece and Portugal were next in line. Italy looked in bad shape but, in spite of the antics of “Il Cavaliere” Berlusconi, was holding out, In Spain the boom, fueled by the building industry, had burst and unemployment was very high, ≥20%, Greece was experiencing social unrest against a harsh but necessary social measures, i.e. reducing the number of civil servants, raising the retirement age, installing new measures to collect billions of euros of unpaid taxes (imagine, the Greeks didn’t even have the necessary computer IT structure to collect taxes!)…
…and then the Mega Tsunami struck. Amidst intensive “anti-austerity” protest riots the Greek government toppled, The Italians ousted “il Cavaliere” Berlusconi, Portugal voted in a new conservative government, Spain too, Fitch had downgraded the US’s credit rating. France, Germany and 13 other members were put under negative surveillance by Standard & Poors. Germany failed to issue the totality of €6bn 10-year bonds, during a recent auction, probably because at 1.72% the yield rate was too low compared to >7% Greece or Italy have to pay and then the UK defaulted at the most recent euro zone bailout summit vetoing a revision of the EU treaty, a real conundrum for the British PM, but, at the time of writing, that s a story still unfold.
So where does this leave the likes me out there in the streets of Europe?
Ironically I just read that, to be politically correct, the EU commission passed a law requiring that all insurance companies within the EU abolish preferential tariffs for women drivers, (i.e. being less accident prone women pay less than men). Bureaucracy at its best! I suppose it’s a start but there’s a long way to go before parity for all is achieved and until then the John and Jane Does of the world can stand side by side and watch in vain, powerless, as retirement ages are raised, – I wouldn’t mind if the chances of staying in the same job until retirement were guaranteed but statistics go against this – watch as pension schemes are seconded to subvention State deficits (the image of a snake swallowing its own tail comes to mind), watch as VAT, interest rates and prices rise, wages capped or even reduced and watch as inter-regional or even international mobility is imposed on workers to “encourage” employability!
BTW. Why do Poles, Ukrainians Portuguese and Greeks massively migrate, and more easily than the French, Germans, Dutch or the British? Lets have another look at that question in 10 years time.
Speaking of which, apparently the next 10 years has, from an economical stand point, already been labelled “the Lost Decade”. A rather bleak, even dystopian outlook and it makes you wonder who could possibly benefit from disseminating such an idea? The Orwellian Goldman Sachs, a world company par excellence? People can live with the prospect of global warming and even come to terms with the idea that parts of New York could sink beneath the waves with the next Force 3 storm to hit the region, Wall street is ± 500 meters from the sea front, but writing off a whole decade because of a series of current day financial parameters is irrational and fails to take into account mankind’s inherent predisposition to getting itself out of the mire.
So where does this leave me in respect to the 2012 doomsday scenario? Well personally 2012 is going to be a busy year so by the time December 21st 2012 finally comes around, and I’ve a job, I’ll gladly go out buy a telescope and watch the planets align but until then, like for millions of others, life is going to be about getting out of bed in the morning, going to work and making sure ends meet.