Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Questions No-One is Asking

So, once again we have to bail out our banks as tax payers. And we probably have no choice, because if the banks go under, so do our savings and pensions, let alone all the businesses that will no longer be able to transact their day-to-day business properly.

But it struck me yesterday as I read from the book of Proverbs that we are laying up a mass of trouble for ourselves and our children.

Proverb 6:1-5 is a warning about standing surety for another's debts:

Dear friend, if you've gone into hock with your neighbour or locked yourself into a deal with a stranger,
If you've impulsively promised the shirt off your back
and now find yourself shivering out in the cold,
Friend, don't waste a minute, get yourself out of that mess.
You're in that man's clutches!
Go, put on a long face; act desperate.
Don't procrastinate—
there's no time to lose.
Run like a deer from the hunter,
fly like a bird from the trapper!

The Message

Interesting that the next five verses go on to encourage us to learn from how the ant thrives through long hard work and saving in times of plenty ready for times of austerity. The exact inverse of what we have done as a nation in the UK and indeed a lot of the Western world! So much so that the question is now being raised of the UK becoming insolvent!

The first questions that is not being asked is how we have let this mess happen in the first place? How could unsustainable borrowing be allowed to have got so out of hand? In other words, why did we think increasingly levels of unsecured debt would lead to long term prosperity? The second question that is being dodged is how much criminal activity by the banks or their employees has been going on, and how much has that stoked up this crisis? They are beginning to ask these questions in the US, but the British government and regulatory authorities seem unwilling to address this. The elephant in the room is quite simply that an economy based on debt, get rich quick schemes and out and out fraud, rather than genuine wealth creation, saving and mutuality, will always eventually collapse – and the higher the tower of cards is, the greater the collateral damage for ordinary people. But it seems that we are setting out to increase the level of unsustainable debt to try and dig our way out of the recession. It feels dangerously like trying to dig your way our of a hole only to find oneself further buried and unable to escape.

We need a change of heart as a nation, and we need our government to hear that we are not happy with propping up this situation. Unless there is massive institutional reform, history will just recapitulate. But the change has to start with us as citizens – unless we give up our debt fuelled lifestyles, and regain the values of the ant, individually and collectively, then maybe we are doomed to see the cycle repeat itself endlessly.

You lazy fool, look at an ant.
Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two.
Nobody has to tell it what to do.
All summer it stores up food;
at harvest it stockpiles provisions.
So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing?
How long before you get out of bed?
A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,
sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next?
Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life,
poverty your permanent houseguest!

Proverbs 6:6-11 The Message

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