x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Money is a rich man's game

Today's world view is predicated on the axiom that growth is good and that business must keep growing and thus we "need" big business. But is this really true?

The eurozone is in crisis. Greece looks set to default. Italy is in trouble and so is Spain. The credit rating of the USA has been downgraded. And winter's coming, so no more long summer evenings. Depression, anyone?

Where did all the money go? We were living the high life and then one day it all disappeared. Was it the United States's $3 trillion spent on wars in the Middle East?

The initial expert diagnosis was a crisis of economic confidence. If we kept telling each other it was fine, then it would be fine. Mutual delusion would keep the system afloat. That, and spending more money. Governments would impose austerity, but we poor lowly consumers had to go out and spend, spend, spend.

With every global crisis, money was always the answer. Climate change would be solved by carbon trading. That is to say, someone costed up the price of various bits of the environment, and then pretended that buying and selling them would save us from melting ice caps and homeless polar bears. The bankers created dubious products like subprime mortgages, upon which have teetered our collective financial futures.

Guess what the suggested solution was? More money! We just had to bail out the bankers to solve our woes. And to keep the best talent in the business, we had to give them more bonuses. But if they have brought the global economy to its knees they can't be so talented, can they? Can't we get rid of them and get new ones please?

This month a movement called Occupy Wall Street has taken off, with thousands protesting in a street that has become synonymous with Gordon Gekko and the phrase "Greed is good". One protester summed up the goal: "CEOs, the biggest corporations, and the wealthy are taking too much from our country and I think it's time for us to take back."

The super-rich in the West want to stay in the money. They are grumbling because tax rises are being mooted in various countries. It's class warfare, they cry. We're being persecuted! Um, no. If you've got a lot of money, then a bit more to the state won't hurt, will it? Alternatively, you could just pay workers a decent wage, then the state wouldn't need more taxes for social services.

Today's world view is predicated on the axiom that growth is good and that business must keep growing and thus we "need" big business. But is this really true? Is it even possible when the planet has finite resources, and does it make the world a better place?

In Egypt, for example, GDP was on the rise, and the economy was growing. Yet what we got was a revolution.

If you are an economist, banker, chancellor or head of the IMF, you are probably shaking your head, saying: "If only it were so simple … If only you understood economics."

You might be right. But I know I'm right about this: you don't borrow beyond your means. Especially against things that don't exist. You can't commoditise things of shared value like the environment, social responsibility or welfare. And people should bear the consequences of their actions, and fulfil their duty to society.

Do I sound cheesed off? I am. Here I was dutifully paying off my mortgage, planning for a pension, and making all the right savings. I admit that I am fortunate in the comforts I have.

But should I prepare myself to witness the end of The Matrix whose delusion we currently inhabit? What will the new reality look like? We'll need some imagination - and that's something that you can't throw money at.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and writes a blog at www.spirit21.co.uk