Perhaps to my shame I have noticed lately that, whenever I hear journalists, politicians or economists warning of a collapse of western civilisation and an ensuing Stone Age brought about by the credit crunch, I find myself asking if this recession is a wholly bad thing.
I know that some bad things are happening. Unemployment is up, house repossessions are up and the banks appear to have stopped doing what banks are meant to do and are instead all hiding behind a big sofa until the people knocking on the door all just go away.
But the economy is talked about these days as if it is some kind of giant bear, sitting somewhere in the middle of the country, maybe on top of Wolverhampton. It is cross and overtired, it feels abused and it needs placating. So we need to feed it free money and some people’s livelihoods to persuade it to raise from its slumber and afford us the circumstances where we can once again line the high street with shops that sell plastic ornaments or furniture that falls over when you put stuff on it.
So far, we have not lost too many essential things, have we? Frankly, we have enough cars so making fewer for a while is not so bad. But the human cost is very important. The loss of the unwanted products is not.
Inevitably, the recession will seep from the peripheries to the heart of social organisation and the news that the NHS hospital building programme could be severely disrupted by the credit crisis is no big surprise. The private finance initiative was never just a way of gathering funds to build hospitals. It was also a way for banks and businesses to make huge profits from the public purse.
But am I alone in wondering: if we leave our sleepy old bear of an economy alone, rather than – as appears to be the case – trying to kick-start the brute so that he can recreate the havoc that got us into this mess in the first place, isn’t now an opportunity to find different ways of organising ourselves, or to clarify our priorities?
Rather than constantly thinking of how we can create wealth, shouldn’t we be thinking about how we can generate something like well-being? The illusion seems to be that what people want is more money so they can buy more ‘stuff’.
Perhaps I have been around the health service for too long but, actually, I think mostly people want to be happy and healthy and that is underpinned by decent public services. In essence, if we are in a crisis of production, shouldn’t we think about producing other things? And ensure we protect the things that are most valuable, like our public services?
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