Art Deco Economics

6 mins. to read
Art Deco Economics

The Chancellor talked of a new, unwelcome economic cocktail the other week. His message was to warn us that the contents may not be good for our economic health and his own budgetary predictions. It was all a bit like an Agatha Christie ‘who dunnit?!’

Now trimmer and more elegant-looking (as a result of fasting to attract the admiring glances of voters) he has adopted a Julius Caesar hair cut – what you might call a ‘power cut’. It reminds me of President Mitterrand’s imaginative description of Margaret Thatcher: “the lips of Marylyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula.” In this case perhaps, the hair style of Julius Caesar and the smile of a Cassius – who as you will recall from your William Shakespeare, was “Yon Cassius, he has a lean and hungry look.”

Anyway, George’s trim appearance seems appropriate to talk of cocktails, which are a very nineteen-thirties, art deco concoction to cheer people up in a world of growing uncertainty, after a major catastrophe like the First World War, or in our case, World banking crisis.

It seems to me that the world has come to resemble the nineteen-thirties. There may be no ‘Uncle Jo’ in the Kremlin but we do have Uncle Vladimir, who resembles a nineteen-thirties leader characteristically preoccupied with his nation’s humiliation (after losing the Cold War) and pushing outwards against its constraining frontiers. Military rearmament; conquest of neighbouring territories; a national youth movement; loyalty to the Leader: it all gives one that feeling they call déjà vu.

Meanwhile, in Germany and other European nations, we see stirrings of the far right – first in Hungary and now Poland, where the newly elected administration seems to have absorbed its national broadcasting service, as a new department of the executive arm of government. In the USA some Republicans (presumably when they are not attempting to push the US Administration into technical bankruptcy) are campaigning to put the dollar back on the gold standard. It’s déjà vu again!

In the UK, David Cameron seeks to negotiate peace with Europe, although Croydon Airport is sadly no longer with us for propeller-driven photo opportunities. Nor does David Cameron sport an umbrella on foreign visits. On the Opposition bench there is a thirties-style, old fashioned socialist-cum-CND Labour leader, waiting to take the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy, with a Clement Attlee lack of frivolity.

We also seem to have a deflationary (or at least under-inflated) consumer economy: people just do not have the money despite the low level of inflation and falling unemployment. We do not yet have a Winston Churchill; but we know, as a fully open secret, that Boris Johnson covets the part and has been rehearsing madly. In a dream, he tells people that MPs would go up to the great man and say: “Winston, you remind me so much of Boris Johnson!” “Well it certainly isn’t the hair,” growls the great commoner. The fact that this conversation is historically impossible does not prevent Boris, as in my dream, from reporting it with Denis the Menace like gusto to those that will listen, whilst stranded in a ski lift chair.

So who has spiked the international economic cocktail and with what? George Osborne has arranged a party to which he has invited the famous Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot to examine the evidence through his pinez spectacles, as he sifts it across those little ‘grey cells’, in prelude to ultimately informing us: “Who ees guilty of the strange death of the New Year stock exchange rally and who paralysed the market?”

As the great detective addresses us, his back strangely warmed in the heat of a real coal fire roaring in an elegant nineteen-thirties fireplace, he enquires: “Who ees thee guilty party, my friends? Perhaps it is you Monsieur Ozburne?” he says, turning accusingly and abruptly, on a small heel, to face an elegant, lounging Chancellor.

Being a very modern politician, George steps back as he calculates the political odds of confessing his guilt or pleading his innocence. Which will play to the Government’s short-term advantage in tomorrow’s headlines: innocence or guilt?

“It’s not me!” decides George. “I was, as everyone knows, at the time attempting to sell Hyde Park on a long lease to our new friends from Beijing.”

“An entirely credible alibi!” responds the one time Belgian refugee with a waxed hipster moustache and a strong Belgian accent. “That is exactly the sort of thing to be expected of a nation with too few bricklayers, too little in the way of manufacturing exports to pay off its balance of trade deficit and thus, a serious addiction to hot money.”

He pauses to crimp the ends of his moustache with tweezers kept in a top pocket, and continues affably:

“Nevertheless, my dear Ozburne, was it not your budget that envisaged the growing indebtedness of consumers, to make room for you to balance the government’s own budget most austerely, and return the GDP ratio to a level last seen under Gordon Brown?” There is gasp of astonishment amongst the assembled cocktail-drinking classes at this remarkable revelation. “It was 41.8% when monsieur Clark left the Exchequer in 1997 but only 30.0% in 2002.”

At that juncture, a figure rises from an arm chair. It is the almost forgotten Gordon Brown, attired like the phantom of the opera, in a dinner jacket with a woven white silk opera scarf around his neck. As he draws on a Sobranie cigarette with a gold wrapped filter tip, he confesses: “Yes, I was too busy fixing the roof and so did not see the bank crash coming! But I did manage to get the government ratio down to 30% of GDP – below the 41.8% that Chancellor Clark left behind.” Another gasp!

“Can you deny this Ozburne” demands the mincing detective? Ashen faced, the Chancellor replies “Yes! Damn you Poirot!”

“It ees in the National statistics which nobody ever reads, ees it not?” persists the Belgian inquisitor. George says nothing but gazes forlornly at the green Wilton carpet.

“But now my friends,” continues the great detective, his little grey cells now fermenting like champagne grapes in a second distillation of enquiry, “we come to the matter in hand. Who murdered the market?”

“It cannot be Monsieur Ozburne because, as he informs us, he was in Hyde Park on Her Majesty’s service, busily trying to get his hands on some more hot money, to which he is now fiendishly addicted. So you see my friends, it was the hand of international circumstances that slipped a pill into Monsieur Ozburne’s metaphorical and malignant cocktail, most harmful. First the oil: the Americans with their dastardly fracking; the response of the Saudi Arabians with their dastardly over production; and the Iranians with their newly discovered commitment to peaceful, non-nuclear, harmony and love. Second, it was the gradual decline in the Chinese GDP growth rate. Third, the devaluation of the currencies of oil and mining production economies trying to out-compete China.”

Poirot pauses and points an elegantly manicured index finger to the equally elegant ceiling. “But were these things unknown, my friends, to George Ozburne!? No! They were not! The cocktail was not spiked, because the story of the new and unexpected cocktail was introduced by Mr Ozburne himself, as a metaphorical device to hide the unbalanced nature of the UK’s economy, its pathetic dependence on hot money, the budgetary dependence on indebted consumers, and the low levels of labour productivity investment: all of which makes a return to economic normality, by raising interest rates sometime soon, all but impossible. No wonder the Governor of the Bank of England has changed most decidedly his hoped for intentions!”

Poirot turns triumphantly, an irritating little smile hovering about the lips and gazing triumphantly upon the ashen Chancellor.

At that point, George rises from his chair, draws a small revolver from his pocket and shoots Poirot through the heart, muttering “Damn you Poirot.”

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