Dreadful stuff, oil. Anything you can pour on a bird to fuck it right up is awful in the simple layman’s world I like to think I live in, but of course without oil you couldn’t have, well, anything. Oil powers everything and is responsible for all the good and bad things you can buy in the world; there’s no product that oil hasn’t had a hand in, from the enormous new TV you lick with joy when you get home to the internet that rules your life but you can’t actually touch, to the bottle containing the Lucozade Sport you mistakenly think will cure your hangover to the entire floor of horrifying sex toys you’ll find in Tokyo department stores that also sell Lego and Pokemon because wow it’s a strange place is Japan.
And oil, right now, is cheaper than it’s ever been. That’s fantastic news, says the idiot – everything we consume and shit back out without thinking will be cheaper. We can share the boon with businesses that we’ll allow to reduce the prices we pay a bit less than the reduction in oil prices. We win, they win. A victory for the system.
No. It turns out the lower the oil price the more completely wrecked the world’s economy becomes and the worse it is for everyone. There are people on the news horrified that the oil price, presumably set by people rather than by the oil itself, is so painfully low. Sheikhs can no longer afford huge cars they won’t allow women to drive. Aberdeen is about to be demolished. That’s economics.
Two years of pretending to listen to a teacher we used to call ‘Scrippy’, for reasons only entertaining to schoolboys and which with hindsight were stunningly misogynistic, taught me that economics is a dull, largely worthless subject. Perhaps my hatred of capitalism, combined with my guilty acceptance and use of it, stems from my A-level in Economics, in which I got a C.
What’s absolutely certain is that those two years taught me nothing. I have no idea how capitalism actually works.
I’ll give you another example: inflation. Inflation has hit an impressive low of 0.5% in the UK in the last week. Excellent, this must mean the price of things increases slower – that much I did learn from the A-level – which is a good thing for people who don’t own many, many boats laden with supermodels.
No. Inflation being low is bad you imbecile. The Bank of England has a target of 2% inflation – the economy is healthy if this time next year everything is 2% more expensive. Does anyone understand why that is? Is there an obvious reason I missed when poor Scrippy was scooping her mercantile shite into my ears that means it’s strange that prices should change at all? Is it the height of buffoonery to suggest that the price of things should remain the same unless there’s a shortage or surplus of whatever materials are used to make those things?
To make matters worse, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who strikes me as some kind of sprite, appears on the news to explain to us all that inflation being low is a vindication of the government’s economic strategy. Only he knows why, and the only thing that’s abundantly clear is we’re all fucked but they’re all right, plus ça change.
Were I a cynical man I might suggest that there are some among us who would use economics to dishearten and dumbfound the rest of us. When the majority have absolutely no idea what’s going on, when logical statements such as ‘lower prices are good’ turn out to be nonsense, the few people who assert they know what they’re talking about can claim triumph when defeat seems more inevitable than lower back pain in old age. Everything, if you look at it from the right angle, can be both superb and abominable.
The people with all the money get to decide how the money works, what the money does and where the money goes. There are slots on ‘news’ radio shows dedicated to economics and every three months some defiant berk at the head of a supermarket chain has to come on to explain why their devastating financial figures are both good for the economy generally and definitely good for their customers. Mr Tesco, I contend you may not be allowed to retain that Victoria Sponge you’re currently feasting on.
A final example of the madness of economics. To mind mind, there aren’t more cows than there needs to be, and probably not more farmers either. Explain, therefore, how the price of milk has fallen so low now that it’s selling at a lower price than it costs to produce it. Cows are expelling their juice for our benefit without the people manhandling them getting paid enough to make it a worthwhile endeavour, and though milking a cow is probably wondrous the first time you do it, it probably won’t be on at 5am on a Tuesday morning in December.
Is that good news or bad? Milk is cheaper for everyone, and everyone buys milk, so that’s good. But the people who produce the milk are getting stitched up and might then stop producing milk, so there’s then less milk, and the price goes up, and is that bad or good, and where am I? Maybe we’re meant to hate farmers, because they have big sheds that nobody’s allowed in, and inside these big sheds are twenty-foot high chickens, because of all the chemicals they put in them. And these chickens are scared.
Economics rules our lives and yet makes as much sense as the lap-dance dream sequence in I’m Alan Partridge. As far as I can gather, the most I got from Scrippy’s lessons was the knowledge that I will have to live within an economic system that makes no sense at the same time that it controls everything all of us do. For all we know it might be good for us, or it might be 2008 again and we’re all fucked for reasons none of us understand.
Either way, Robert Peston’s voice will still be the most atrocious sound you will hear of a morning.