Posts Tagged ‘Economy’

In City AM this morning: Jobless nearing 2 million

That’s just to September. I’m sure it’s worse now. Somehow, these figures don’t really convey what’s happening. For this hombre, it’s been very difficult to find work in the UK since September and it feels like everything is just locked down. Possibly this is partly psychological – headlines blaring 1929 Redux for two weeks straight are bound to have an effect – but talks of a ‘looming’ recession are bogus. The recession, in the UK at least, is very much now.

I’ve never known this country in boomtimes. Just one month after I moved here in 1987, Black Monday hit and thus began the last prolonged downturn. I lasted here another couple of years – and I have to admit the first couple of years weren’t bad at all. For a young guy like myself, in London, work was pretty easy to find and if the pay wasn’t great there was always the dole. And squatting. Not having to pay rent made it easy to live in London.

But by 89, you could feel the gloom which had suffocated the rest of the country since the 70’s closing in and by 91, when I came back, London was just plain depressed. The only job I could get was Roadsweeping in SE London. I met guys there who had mortgages, car payments to make, who’d made a good living as satellite dish installers or other service jobs, who were working 92 hour weeks sweeping roads just to make the bills. The IRA was in full swing and every other day the tube or the trains shut down because of a bomb threat. A permanent gloom seemed to hang over the city. The experience was so depressing I didn’t come back for nearly three years.

By the mid-90’s the gloom wasn’t so thick but it wasn’t great here. Jobs weren’t easy to find and people were still by and large depressed. Service was non-existent. Ask a question in shop, pub, at work and the inevitable response was a blank look, followed by a sort of whining ‘don’t konw’. No one wanted to be bothered. Even by 97, on my next trip back, things didn’t seem much better.

But when I returned in 2000, London seemed an entirely different city. More outgoing for one – people did seem to look at each other on the street then, to have some contact in bars and pubs. The food had improved dramatically – in my week back, I didn’t have one bad meal and everyone I knew here had good jobs, was making enough – and yet London itself hadn’t changed a great deal, so you could still find the old neighborhoods, the old pubs, the litle cafs. London felt exciting again, an echo of the city I first expereinced back in 87.

I’m sorry now I didn’t move back here sooner. By the time I got here in 2006, the city had changed again. You could just feel the gloom starting to set in – the pay didn’t match the prices and there was a sense of a society spilling out of control with the insane binge-drinking, the rise in popularity of drugs like cocaine (cocaine! So very 80’s! So very boring!). Little things, like the independent bookshop closing down in the St. James Mall, that last independent sort of store in the area.

And more than that, a general unhappiness. People here seemed deeply unhappy.  This is a very unhappy society – you only have to look at the children, possibly the most miserable I’ve seen anywhere – to realize that. I wonder if the recession will bring out a different sort of spirit here, and where this city will be in two, three years time.

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They have more money. A lot more money . . .And they come to England to go Partridge Hunting. 

Piece in the News Of The World – lending itself credibility as a newspaper for once – about AIG bigwigs spending £50,000 to go PARTRIDGE HUNTING!! Private jets, vintage wines, private manor – nothing’s too good for our betters in the financial district. At least Maureen Dowd at the Times had the temerity to call for a Wall of Shame for these guys.  But why does it take a columnist? Why indeed aren’t the guilty all over the front page of the Times? Why aren’t they in jail? 

To continue: From the Guardian: Wall Street banks in $70 billion staff payout. This is such a blatant looting of the economy, along the lines of the Soviet nomenklatura and KGB stealing the assets of the crumbling Soviet state before they set themselves up in business as mafiosi and other riff-raff. Wonder if the same thing will happen in the US. 

As Mark Steel in the Independent writes; If we stop their bonuses, bankers are hardly going to go on strike. And if they do, who will miss them? 

People seem to forget that class war existed for a reason. I mean, what do these guys do exactly? Besides hunting partridge and looting the economy? How do they benefit society?

 And, yes indeedy, why aren’t they in jail?

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Black Friday . . .

Work getting so scarce, you have to chase it like a boll weevil through the underbrush. At the JobCentre – known as the dole office in less PC times – they’re hiring more staff to take on the rush. You get £60 a week on the dole now, up from the £28.80 a week you got in my day in the early 90’s. Back when a pint of beer could still be had for £1.50.

Life in Britain . . . called Brook Street, one of dozens of agencies I registered with this summer and fall, none of whom have found me a fucking thing. Woman answers, regional accent, shrewish voice. “We’re busy right now . . . if there was anything we would have called you.” – then she hung up. Last week when I called in, she hectored me for not calling in more often. Hard times brings out this very Teutonic bullying quality in a certain kind of British person – the taste of power.

On the way home, the train was packed. Absurdly – you could hardly breathe. Usual plethora of people nattering on their mobiles. A black girl waving her arms around, acting out everything she was describing, smacking the other passengers. A woman just down the aisle, YELLING: “I can’t believe the fucking shit they make me put up with, I won’t take their FUCKING SHIT!!!”
I mean man. Five minutes on that train exhausted me. Wait ’til the pain really hits.

You see it in the ads: ‘Competitive rates: £7 per hour for admin, or admin work at minimum wage, less than £200 a week. How do you live in London on less than £200 a week?
Meanwhile: Bonuses for City high-flyers will be hard to reign in.

Seems Britain’s high-flying and obviously very valuable City execs, traders or whoever the fuck these people are will simply go to Mumbai Dubai Shanghai if they don’t get the million plus bonuses they feel they deserve. 

Well, let ’em go I say. Enough to make you a goddam Bolshevik. 

How about you readers, are recent events turning you into a Bolshevik?

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The papers were full of it Friday. We are ‘sliding into recession’. So we’re not actually IN a recession yet, but ‘sliding’ into one. Some figure on a ‘shallow but painful’ (whatever that means) slowdown over Christmas, and a ‘difficult’ first half over 2009. Some say we’re in for 1992. But no one is predicting the Apocalypse, at least not for the moment.

This after the headlines, and not just the redtops, but all papers, have been trumpeting the return of 1929 and the Great Depression. For the last two weeks. Since economic cycles are so much about perception and confidence, it’s hard to see how this helps. Why, perhaps, such scaremongering, isn’t illegal.

The real trouble is that all this scaremongering creates intense anxiety without giving a clear picture of what’s going on. Sure, the US gov’t is about to siphon 700 billion dollars into Wall Street – a move that most commentators, liberal or conservative, Stateside or over here, seem to feel is a necessary evil. But will the aftereffects have a greater impact on everyone’s life than, say, the tech crash, the Russians defaulting on their loans in 1997, or even the lull after 9-11? And since the last few years of the ‘boom’ – the post 9-11 years, as far as I can see, have mostly been propped up by debt (‘If you don’t shop, you let the terrorists win’) – then how, in real terms, will the next year or two be different for the average man than they were before?

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If you haven’t seen the headlines – splashed one after the other in front of every newsagent, on the TV, radio, pretty much fucking everywhere – the dissolution of Lehman Brothers, the take-over of Meryl-Lynch by Bank of America (who only stand out in my mind because they’d put up ugly orange awnings all over New York this spring) , and Halifax by Lloyds, the near collapse of AIG – is being heralded as the harbinger of a new, 1930’s style depression.

Where the hell did this come from?

A little over a year ago, things were supposed to be just fine. The City boys were awarding themselves bigger and bigger bonuses, we were all working, albeit for lower wages, housing prices were on the up and up (for those of us who had property – those, who didn’t like yours truly, had to scramble in the ever-tighter rental market). No warning about any of this.

Now we’re cryin’ like it’s 1929.

The Tuesday morning Metro at least had a sense of humour: SACK MONDAY!! But what are we supposed to expect? Ten years depression? Bread lines? Another Adolf? I mean let’s get a grip – is this going to be worse than the late 80’s/ early 90s? it doesn’t feel anywhere near that bad – not yet at least not yet? Worse than the Open Cartel in 73? Worse than the late 40’s early 50’s when rationing was still in place and basic infrastructure that had been destroyed in the Blitz had yet to be restored?

Someone had enough lolly to pick up Damien Hirst’s Taxidermy for a whopping 100 million and change. Pounds that is – nearly a quarter million US for glorified pickled herring. If there’s a better symbol of why things gotta change, then I ain’t found it.

I’m sure it ain’t gonna be good for the next little while. But they haven’t been great for a lot of people for a long time. The best scenario I could see would be to return to some pre-turbo-capitlistic phase where the state had some say in running the economy and actually took care of it’s citizens. Wait, you say – the welfare state didn’t work! State intervention didn’t work!

Oh, and turbo-capitalism does?

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O Happy Days . . .

Good news on the train on the way in . . .

Tube fares to soar in the New Year. Food Prices is already risen by 8.3% this year. And some feller in the Guardian say the recession is gonna make people happier. Claims he already see it happening. Claims people are gonna go back to consuming sausage and chips (did they stop?) to save money instead of eating healthy. 

   Well I don’t know what Britain he’s living in, but I ain’t seeing more happy people in London. Not by a long shot. 

   I’m sure this sick joke of a summer is part of it – the Gulf Stream too far south this year or something. And Londoners didn’t seem happy last year either – hell, I’ve never known people in London to be happy – but they sure as hell seem a lot LESS happy now. Walking into my friendly local recruitment agency this morning was like walking into a morgue for all the glum faces – which I take to mean there’s not much recruitment going on.  On the train in, aside from the ubiquitious mobile phone rabbits filling the carriage with pathic bursts of their elevated, one-sided and profoundly annoying voices, everyone looked like their favorite pet had died just that morning. With all these glum headlines – economy in worst crisis in 60 years!! Gas prices going up by a zillion percent!! Gas companies record profits (another great British tradition – screwing the common man – that has never changed at all) – you don’t have to look far to find what’s behind all these sour faces.

   Fact is, you could feel the anger crackling just below the surface here even before the downturn. Wonder how things will be in six months, a year from now. And having been here for the middle of the last recession – 1991/ 92- I can say being broke back then didn’t make people happier. It made people in charge drunk with power and just plain mean. It made people depressed and desperate and anxious to get out. And people way up top made more money than ever.

   But maybe the Guardian feller has a point. Not about the sausages and chips – some traditions deserve to die – but maybe an end to the good times (that weren’t that good, either here or over the pond, for a whole lot of people) might make people return to some kind of values. Might make them think about their neighbor or spend more time reading or go back to that truly great British tradition, of fucking around on the job and taking the mickey out of the boss-man and generally screwing the system as much as possible. Of not taking things too serious. Might make this a fun place to be again, instead of the turbo-capitalist rich man’s palace that London has become in latter years.

Might bring back some form of real socialism, instead of the turbo-capitalism with a PC gloss that New Labour, Livingston et al have been peddling. Might. But folks are gonna have to get real unhappy first.

What do you think, readers? Are folks getting happier because there’s a recession on? Are you happier?

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Depressing News:

Britain’s economy as bad now as it was in the 70’s

Even if the Independent likes to go for the sensational on their front covers – wasn’t it the Independent who forecast methane fireballs rising from the sea before the century is out, eviscerating all life as we know it? – things do feel slowed down. Frankly, with this sick joke of a summer, they don’t just feel down, they feel depressed. I didn’t go to the Notting Hill Carnival this year – crowds just too intense last year – but I’m sure even that felt grey.

More beggars for one thing. Even the return – admittedly only one, in the form of a short little guy with a beard and a beret who appears over and over on the train to Victoria – of aggressive begging. But you’re starting to see more beggars on the high streets, around the train stations. Regional accents mostly, but a few downtrodden Londoners.

But mostly you feel it in the job market. More ads flogging ‘fantastic’ roles for 15,000, 13,000 a year, or 7 and even 6 pounds an hour. Rents don’t seem to be going down but a few more sales for dress shirts, shoes.

But most importantly, you feel the change in the crowds. Little of the ebullience I felt when I first came back to Enterprise Britain one year and a half ago, when the little matter of all that personal debt was not considered to be a real problem, either here or in the US. Now . . . it seems to be a problem. A big problem. What do folks do when they can’t make the payments no more?

But back to the Independent article, didn’t a recent study find people in Britain were happier in the 70’s than they were now? After all, we had better art. Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola. Punk rock. Hell, even disco seems refreshing now. And we had socialism, of a sort. Whatever the flaws of the pre-Thatcher era – and they were legion – turbo-capitalism sits uneasily with the British.

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