Thursday, 25 December 2008

NOT PJ: What's the Reason for this Folly?

"All I want for Christmas," says Bernard Darnton, "is Christmas":

I wasn't one of those who bought a house near the top of the market with a hundred-percent mortgage and then extended the loan six months later to buy a bloody great big shiny new TV, so the recession has so far passed me by.

The worst effect I've seen is that austerity is now fashionable, even amongst those who aren't feeling the pinch. I hope it's a passing fad and I intend to ignore it, much as I ignore most passing fads. Not having a bloody great big shiny new TV I don't usually find out what the passing fads are until they've passed by, reached their destination, gone to the pub, and are having a lonely drink to drown their sorrows having been deserted by their followers.

Regarding the TV thing, I should add that I don't have anything against shiny expensive gadgets – Note to Santa: I quite like shiny expensive gadgets – it's just that I don't want a top notch telly when the programmes are so crap. Shite in high-definition is still shite.

The worst aspect of austerity-as-fashion-accessory is that it has invaded that stronghold of glorious consumption, Christmas. I know there are supposed to be religious reasons for Christmas – Jesus or Sol Invictus or something – but as far as I'm aware no verse in the Bible mentions the real highlight of Christmas, a fat bloke dressed as a Coke can.

This year our family has decided to cut back. That is, one person in our family has decided to cut back and told everyone else to comply. I certainly wasn't part of this daft decision, being merely a hanger-on by marriage. (And I only find out about this stuff after the fact. Mrs Darnton does all the present buying and associated carry-on at our place.)

I don't think any of us is in financial trouble. I suspect the dig-for-England mentality is just a bit of vaguely Puritan middle-class guilt. A bit like when your mother told you to eat your dinner because people were starving in Ethiopia. Which makes as much sense as putting your coat on because it's cold at the North Pole.

We are now subject to strict present buying rules, which have been laid down by the central authority. Each participant is to buy one present, addressed to a designated recipient, up to a legislated maximum value.

Excruciating Christmas morning horrors await. The primary failure of the centrally-planned Christmas is that not everyone knows the plan. The Christmas Control Authority has been too polite to tell some people that the trimmings have been trimmed. Those without inside knowledge of how the systems works will arrive arms laden and expecting full festivities. Their generosity will be cruelly punished.

The Christmas Control Authority has also become the clearing house for problematic gift-buying decisions. Those who've been assigned a difficult relative or someone they don't know well seem to believe that a bureaucracy clever enough to make up all these rules also knows exactly what everyone wants. No. Expect resources to be misapplied to the novelty sock and amusing coffee mug industries. I'm almost praying for scorched almonds.

On the upside, the atheists are going to have a good time regardless. While the churchgoers are going to church, the atheists will get in a two- or three-bottle head start to make the proceedings bearable, perhaps even entertaining. Without an explicit liquor ban, this will be the festive outlet of choice.

The question for next year is: will the failed experiment result in a return to laissez-faire or a second round of regulation to correct the problems caused by the first lot.

I wish you a raucous and regulation-free Christmas and hope that Santa hasn't been turned back from your place for the crime of overloading his sleigh.


  1. "The worst effect I've seen is that austerity is now fashionable, even amongst those who aren't feeling the pinch."

    I suspect that folk are thus as they have a less than 100% expectation of maintaining their current employ.

  2. "I suspect that folk are thus as they have a less than 100% expectation of maintaining their current employ."

    Those "folk" would be feeling the pinch then.


    Walking down McQ St in Central Sydney I saw a woman crying outside an office building recently. Then I came across several groups of people crying. Across in Hyde Park there was a larger group of people- all very unhappy. Turned out that the lay-offs were cranking up significantly. First it is the financial services sector and adminisration people who are getting the boot. Fair enough. But soon other sectors will experience the same troubles. Expect to see that playing out big time this fist 1/4. I don't expect to see any govt employees similarly affected though. They should be safe.

    I thought what was going on in Sydney was bad, but recently at a dinner some colleagues from London and NYC described what they'd seen. Thet were horrified. They reckoned mass lay-offs in NYC meant that tens of thousands of people were out of work and would stay that way (unemployed) for some time to come. For a young or middle aged person this redundancy is a disaster as they'll likely not get another chance to resume work in their chosen sphere of activity for at least five years. That probably means leaving NYC and finding a new place to live and a new livelyhood at sharply reduced salary without much chance of promotion. Many of these people had good incomes and substantial expenses. Worringly most do not have transferable skills. Worst of all was that not many have appreciable savings ("savings, are you kidding?"). London is supposed to be experiencing far worse than NYC. I'm sure glad I'm not involved in that mess.

    After dinner I thought about how all these supposedly educated and "knowledgable" money-people couldn't see what was coming- yet it was obvious (for years) and necessary. It appears vanishingly few were prepared. Few, if any, took even the simple steps to insulate themsleves from what is occurring (or about to). These were supposed to be the "experts"- university trained and qualified. Fact is these turkeys had not a clue. None of them had a basic understanding of what economics is, let alone what it means. They offered opinions, advice and analysis as if they had something worthwhile to offer. All if it was fictional- a blind faith rested upon mounds of bullshit. What they did succeed in achieving was destroying value- mostly that of other people. There is still (unfortunately) much more of the reckoning to play out.

    On another matter:
    CF, I was wondering whether you'd had an oportunity to read any of Von Mises' books? What about "Socialist Economy"?



  3. I suspect that folk are thus as they have a less than 100% expectation of maintaining their current employ.

    Given that NZ's economy is 90% bludger we can only fucken hope so!

    I don't expect to see any govt employees similarly affected though. They should be safe.

    We sure as fuck can hope otherwise.


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.