Friday 15 December 2017

Anton Savage: Just what is it about economists that makes people ignore them?

The Central Bank on Dame Street
The Central Bank on Dame Street
Irish setter Jagger
Bruce Jenner

The Banking Inquiry rumbles on, steadily uncovering things we already knew.

It's no surprise that it has uncovered precious little of value - no mystery was better understood than the banking collapse. In fact, many of the experts appearing at the inquiry prefaced their attendances by saying they doubted the process would uncover much.

The point most of the witnesses seem to be now re-hammering is that eyes were taken off balls - regulators, economists, politicians, government and bankers failed to pay sufficient attention and failed to challenge warm consensus.

We're told it won't happen again. Capital rations of banks have changed, lending criteria have changed, the style of regulation has changed and the scale and competence of the Central Bank (inset) has changed.

The problem is, there's one group who were fundamental to the collapse who are no different now than they were then: the voters.

In 2007 there were no votes in economic prudence. No one lost a seat because they called for greater tier 1 capital ratios. No constituency's final slot was filled because a candidate was fired with a passion to shift from light touch regulation.

That changed for only a brief period, when we cared about economics, we listened to reports on ECB bond buying, and we watched a catalogue of economists from Gurdiev to McCarthy trot across the media for our delectation.

When we were terrified, we cared. Every analyst was a superstar, every statistic a threat or a reprieve. As the fear subsided, so did our interest - and that's a problem.

The factor that could prevent another collapse happening is an electorate caring about the management of the capitalism on which all our lives are based.

Not 'caring' in the sense of throwing a chair through the window of a McDonald's and roaring something ill-thought out about globalisation. 'Caring' in the sense of paying attention and maintaining an understanding. Precious few of us are doing that anymore. Because it's dull.

So at this stage, do we know if a bank in Asia is starting to flood the world with debt backed by worthless assets?


Do we know if the European Central Bank is flinging IOUs into the air in a massive gamble to prop up poorly managed economies?

Do we know if governments are making sensible long term economic decisions or are they deluding themselves about their nation's economic strength? For most of us, the answer is 'no'.

Sure, a few economists may have insights into those issues, but you know the problem with economists?

When they are not explaining something that is terrifying us, they are - mostly - boring. Those who are now appearing in front of the banking inquiry telling us that they 'called it' or warned us, seem to miss that lesson.

It may be the nature of their profession, it may be the nature of their personalities, but something conspired to make the electors ignore them.

They have not changed, and neither have we.


You know you've made an odd life choice when you're perming an Afghan

Crufts got a lot of attention this week thanks to an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery involving an Irish setter, Jagger, and a possible poisoning.

It's now a matter for the British and possibly Belgian police, and will hopefully result in the poisoner (if one exists) being caught. The whole issue serves to distract from just how weird Crufts is, even without added murder-mystery.

Hundreds of men and women, spending thousands of euro and infinite man hours breeding, primping, clipping and styling dogs, before gathering in a warehouse to ask a third party to decide whose dog is not only best looking, but also follows a set of criteria known as the breed standard.

Before you say it - I know there is more to Crufts than that - there's agility competitions, shows of working dogs and displays of every conceivable product for a mutt.

All of which makes sense. But they are sensible window dressing around the core oddness of a group of grown adults getting together to see who has the prettiest dog.

One of the four-legged contestants (a terrier) was pictured preparing for display with rollers in. Terriers don't have opposable thumbs. They cannot put in rollers.

That means a grown human had to blow dry a terrier and wind its fur into curlers. Surely, when you're trying to give a dog a perm, a warning bell should go off in your head, and at least a tiny part of you should say 'what the hell am I doing with my life?'.

It's time to bring back One Man and His Dog. No shepherd has ever reached down to pat a collie and thought: 'Sure he can herd sheep, but wouldn't he look great with a fringe?'.


He's annoying, but Jeremy's lucrative

Following his latest gaff (allegedly punching Irish producer Oisin Tymon,), people have begun debating if Top Gear would survive without Jeremy Clarkson. There's a simple answer - no.

He ain't just an annoying, over-opinionated presenter. He's a driving force behind the show (and once owned a large chunk of it, as well as its live spin-offs and extensive merchandise).

Once upon a time, Top Gear was a simple motoring show, doing reviews of the latest Ford Sierra and assessments of the future of British Leyland. Clarkson was the man largely responsible for turning that into one of the BBC's biggest cash cows. They'll still have a show if they can him. Just not for very long.


Sex-change should not be a spectacle

Thank God for Bruce Jenner's decision to cancel his decision to make a reality show about his transition into a woman. That process is one which people do not undertake lightly and which has a massive impact on the person and their friends and family. It is a delicate and, for some, difficult time. The least people in that situation can hope for is that the wider public treat the process with some respect.

If Jenner had made a reality show of his experience it could have seen something personal become fodder for mockery and public ridicule. Not because the process of procedure merits such a response - rather because anything associated with the Kardashians does. They attract viewers because a large chunk of their audience watch to sneer. That's not ok when the subject means so much to so many.


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