For more people than might actually be prepared to acknowledge it yet, a threshold of catastrophic hardship is fast approaching and this could well be the year it is tripped over. Not all those who survived 2011 will survive 2012. The herd is stampeding. Stragglers will choke on the dust and be picked off by the hounds, the vultures cleaning up with their pay day loans at 2000%. The values of houses, mortgages, pensions and investments are purely hypothetical to most, but it is this narrative that preoccupies even the political left in the third millennium. Commodity prices, inflation, fuel duty and the rest are recurring themes in all debate, but they don't hit the middle as hard as they hit those down here and so are relegated.
Put simply, while rising fuel prices might mean trimming one of this year's holidays for some, saving a bit less for others, even “eating in to savings” for the “desperate,” for many it can mean hardship on a more steeply sliding scale anywhere from simply driving less through eating less to selling the car and watching their children go without things that recent generations took for granted. For some, bankruptcy and homelessness are considered to be the only “escape.” In a conceit of some magnitude, a new industry is emerging predicated entirely on the human misery of unmanageable debt Cameron's precious City requires to keep its interests sweet.
The wealthy, as they never tire of telling us, use public services less than the poor, too – though, they don't turn their noses up at triple bypass operations on the NHS, indeed, they are more likely to avail themselves of expensive services than the poor as they tend to live longer, every single extra minute of generally comfortable and often inordinately luxurious retirement being on the state's account; the rich only deal in large numbers. Thus they are cushioned yet further by these “necessary” cuts. For them, economic recovery means a return to the rentier society, where capital begets capital and debt begets debt. Unemployment is not their problem. Quite the reverse. As everybody knows, it pretty well neuters what remains of the trades unions' awkward squad and instigates voluntary pay restraint and all-round compliance and deference of the kind Thatcher couldn't have dreamed of. It is far more important to the moneyed that a bouncy castle of property speculation be inflated forthwith than that perfectly avoidable poverty be tackled. After all, there will always be a Poor, won't there?
For the majority of people, even before the banks got found out, the idea of saving enough for a washing machine, let alone a private pension, has always been as fanciful an idea as diving with dolphins. If a vital household appliance is needed, catalogues and credit cards are now simply part of an established process of acquisition. Credit is a norm in a way it never used to be and needn't be and we should be wary of any politics that sees personal indebtedness as an economic driver.
Getting to the end of the month without drowning in a sea of debt has always been an achievement in itself. If we have anything left over, armies of advertisers will see to it that we spend it as quickly as possible. There is always something new to want and always somebody to tell us that not only do we want it, we need it. We dutifully comply, year in, year out, some more than others, but all wanting more all the time and the prospect of this all grinding to a halt terrifies us. It is odd that the less well-off are considered somehow feckless and a drain on the economy; we spend all our money, every week, much of this on servicing the industrialised personal indebtedness on which the market economy depends; most – 97% - of the money now in circulation is electronically printed, that is to say it was created on the issuing of either a loan or an investment, which ultimately defines all financial transactions outside of the exchange of money for goods and services.
This government admonishes us on the perils of printing money, but the financial model they advocate so stridently has overseen the invention of money out of thin air not seem since the Weimar Republic. Every time a mortage, overdraft or loan was granted, new money came into circulation to represent this supposed new wealth. Few were remotely concerned about this until the banks got found out in 2008 when, suddenly, the public sector became public enemy number one and the banks behaved like wounded innocents who had been coerced into skullduggery because, essentially, Gordon Brown hadn't told the not to help themesleves.
Brown's biggest miscalculation was in assuming that nobody would take undue advantage of such a lax regulatory regime, which was astonishingly naive given the nature of the beast. Bankers will take liberties the way dogs lick their own genitals: try moralising with a dog, for who that hole in the garden fence provides not only an opportunity but almost an obligation. He handed the last election to the Tories through this and at the same time gave them the scapegoat they needed; a pantomime baddie red under the bed.