There must be some kind of way out hereThe first lines of Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower* spring to mind as I watch the world teeter on the brink on economic meltdown. There must indeed be some kind of way out of here, but it's not going to be pleasant. A face-off between young protesters and their banker foes will not, however, produce any roadmap as to the exit route from the crisis.
Said the joker to the thief
I can sympathise with the voice of a generation whose prospects are getting bleaker by the day, the Occupiers of Wall Street or London or Spain's Indignados and other groups of protesters. My problem with them, however, is that they have no solution to the problems besetting the global economy; all they can offer is a generalised list of woes that anyone can pick up from reading the papers.
Problems. Take the eurozone crisis. We all have a good idea of what would happen if, for example, Greece were to replace the euro with a new drachma. A run on the banks, capital flight - wealthier Greeks taking suitcases of euros out of the country to havens safe, printing new banknotes and minting new coins, making adjustments to bankomats** and vending machines, re-pricing all products in all shops. And the economic fall-out - suddenly, Greece would be the cheapest place in Europe to holiday, but, as the Greeks don't actually make anything, everything they need to fit out hotels and restaurants has to be imported from a prohibitively expensive eurozone.
We don't know what course of action to take. Keep the Greeks in, or push them out? Pain one way, pain the other. Greeks? Who's next? The Italians? A problem one order of magnitude greater. Then who? France? Germany? Britain? The USA? China? Contagion! Panic! The Great Depression, all over again. Just 80 years on.
Let's look at the root causes. I go back to Student SGH's brilliant essay from early last year, in which Bartek looks at the two main drivers of the market, Fear and Greed. He postulates that it was not so much Greed that sank the markets, but Lack of Fear. Now, I'd also like to add another root cause, namely Entitlement.
When anybody thinks "it's my right (to get money from the state for doing nothing/for leading a bank into failure)" then you know that Absurdity has got the upper hand. Entitlement-thinking leads to sub-optimal performance in the market place. Mnie się należy.
- Because I'm the child of wealthy parents, I deserve an iPhone 4S for Christmas.
- Because I'm a single mum, the State has a duty to provide me with free accommodation.
- Because my company is French (or whatever) it should be protected from global competition.
- Because my company is state-owned, and I'm in PSL, I must be Prezes.
- Because I graduated with a Third in Media Studies at John Lennon University, I deserve a job.
- Because my bank's Too Big To Fail, I deserve a huge bonus from the tax payer.
- Because my parents will leave me a big house, I don't have to work too hard right now.
- Because the value of my house will keep rising, I'm entitled to exotic holidays and flash car.
- Because it's done so up to now, my company's market share will keep growing indefinitely.
- Because my parents are wealthier than my grandparents, I'm going to be wealthier still.
As you can see from the above list, entitlement thinking affects people across the entire spectrum of society. The blame cannot fall on the bankers alone. People should take on more responsibility upon their own shoulders - should your bank fail - take the blame, sell your mansions and helicopters and put the money into the accounts of the small savers who've taken the blow. Take the blame for your own fecklessness rather than expecting the taxpayer to bail you out. Less entitlement - more individual responsibility.
Young Poles certainly feel less entitled than their British peers. They know that life's hard, work's a grind, but there's no one around to spoon-feed you. If they can't find a job in Radom or Gorzów, they'll fly to the UK to look for work. Hence the Polish barmen with Master's degrees in engineering and Polish chambermaids with Master's degrees in law.
Sustainable Growth, the chimeric Grail that corporates strives for, cannot be achieved by armies of pushy salesmen foisting unsuitable financial or insurance products or endlessly updated consumer electronic technologies upon unwary consumers. (Incidentally, I have yet to meet one person to rave about the wonders of BlueRay discs.) As consumers, we must save more and spend less. When we do spend, we should part with our money for things that we shall treasure, not junk destined for the bin. (How much of the money the Britain currently owes China is buried in landfill sites around the UK?) Business should accept that only true innovation is the way forward; consumers should pull things out of factories rather than sales forces push them into the consumers' living rooms.
The economic crisis will not go away quickly. It will be here, tainting the lives and prospects of a young generation just ready to enter the world of work. It will hit those societies that have had it too soft for too long. The injustice of it all is that the politicians, bankers and corporate leaders that have misshaped the world economy up to 2007, with all its absurdities and imbalances, will among the last to feel the pain upon their own skins. And that is what the Occupy movement is all about - a frustrated yet impotent cry of anguish. But no solutions.
AFTERTHOUGHT. I look at the title again. What rubbish! There will never be an end to the Entitlement way of thinking! It will return once this current crisis is gone and forgotten, it will return once another generation of political and business leaders says "an end to boom and bust", starts thinking that we're on a upward sloping trajectory that will continue upwards for ever. Once that thinking sets in, all manner of people will start believing that "it's owed to me".
* Jimi Hendrix recorded the definitive version.
** Bankomat - a word that needs to be adopted into English.
This time last year:
West Ealing - drab and sad suburb
This time two years ago:
To Poznań by train
This time four years ago:
Late autumn drive-time