x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Leaders should stop panicking

It is the time when the leaves start to turn golden and fall from the trees, at least in the northern hemisphere.

It is the time when the leaves start to turn golden and fall from the trees, at least in the northern hemisphere.

If you were a poet you might be tempted to talk about "mists and mellow fruitfulness"; if you were a gardener you might head to the potting shed for a smoke, once you had rounded up a few piles of leaves and burnt them.

Both the poet and the gardener know that after six months or so, green shoots will appear on the branches and within a few months there will be a canopy bearing fruits and nuts and a place for birds to sing and squirrels to dance about.

But if you were a politician or a policymaker, you'd stare at the leaves swirling in the air, kick them with an air of frustration and say: "Something must be done: the trees are dying and we must revive them."

Committees would meet, wise men would expound at length, television pundits would agree that something must be done - but what? Received wisdom would split into two camps: those in favour of stimulus, fertiliser perhaps or electric shots pitted against those who deemed cuts and pruning to be the order of the day.

"Ve must cut ze dead branches," says Dr Slashandburn, being interviewed in a city park. "Ven ve see ze leaves begin to fall, ve must cut, cut, cut. That vay ze leaves still on ze branches will turn from gold to green. Theey vill thrive. It is unlucky for those that are cut but zere is no alternative." A sudden breeze parts his hair and a flurry of leaves falls to the ground.

In another television studio in a different part of town, Professor Stimulus does not agree.

"Not for the first time, my illustrious colleague is talking piffle," he says. "The trees need help. They have fallen into a temporary stupor, a coma - but they can be revived. They don't need cutting; they need fertiliser, they need watering. Prince Charles must come and talk to them. But we need action. Maybe we can make more leaves and stick them on the branches. That will encourage other leaves to grow."

In the background, a sudden wintry gust blows down the high street, turning umbrellas inside out and leaves flying into the air.

"If we don't do as I say," says Prof Stimulus, "we risk another ice age. And we all remember what happened then."

Meanwhile our pal the poet is writing furiously, burning books to keep warm.

"Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too."

Wiser still is the gardener. He's made a nice little fire in the potting shed out of dead branches and is roasting chestnuts. He will do a little over the winter but not very much, because he knows that come the spring, there will be a renewal. The rivers will thaw, the days will grow longer, the leaves will reappear on the trees.

So it is with the economy, although you wouldn't know to listen to the pundits. I am a great fan of doing nothing unless it is strictly necessary but this no longer seems an option for world leaders and their minions. So we have some countries, such as Ireland, Greece and Britain, deciding sudden, drastic action is needed.

"We are spending beyond our means," David Cameron, the British prime minister, has declared. He is scrapping the country's aircraft carrier and the new ones won't carry planes for the next 10 years. "I say you chaps, would you mind awfully not launching any invasion for a decade because we're not quite ready for you?"

It must be tough being a defence minister these days, defending the indefensible.

I have always thought the best way to deal with a crisis is to spend your way out of it. That seems to be the view in the US, where enormous government stimulus plans - cash for clunkers anyone? - have failed to produce anything more significant than a huge yawn or greater indebtedness.

Here's the view of Time magazine: "Economists from Wall Street to the White House, meanwhile, are thinking 'too little, too late'. Manufacturing looks to have bottomed, inventories are being sold off and consumers are still spending - the contraction that began in March is expected to give way to some form of recovery in the next six months. An extra US$75 billion [Dh275.46bn] to $100bn in tax cuts, extended unemployment and extra health insurance might add a few tenths of a percentage point to GDP growth in XXXX — but it's not going to change the schedule appreciably."

The missing year is 2002. Economists always think it's too little, too late. Older readers will recall that the British economy only really gathered pace in the early 1980s after 364 economists had written a letter to The Times complaining about then prime minister Margaret Thatcher's idiotic policies. There was "no basis in economic theory or supporting evidence" for the policies, they wrote, for it threatened Britain's "social and political stability". Idiots, the lot of them.

My advice to politicians and policymakers everywhere is to put their feet up for six months, read poetry, smoke a pipe or even have a nap. When they wake up they'll discover that, in their absence, the economy has revived and the trees are covered in leaves.