Thursday, April 29, 2010

How long can we stay lucky?

There's been an interesting change in the mood of people I deal with over the last couple of years and in the public discourse at the top end of town. The kind of blowhard boosterism which was evident only a few short months ago (Prime Minister Rudd last year saying he made "no apologies" for a big Australia, but running away from that comment now) has been replaced by a much more measured and sombre view — the comments by the chief executive of the ANZ Bank on the "contagion" from the Greek collapse are a case in point.

So the Greek economy is melting down and now we can see that it is only the beginning. Goldman Sachs are on the back foot in Congressional hearings in the USA — no matter that they may be in the clear legally — people finally want blood and the "winners" make the most satisfactory sacrificial victims in a situation where there are many sore losers. More on this later.

We have been very lucky in Australia — so far. Many of us are starting to realise that this won't last much longer. I have been labeled a negative voice in the past by a lot of people I know, but that is starting to change as it becomes obvious that it's only a matter of time before the contagion reaches us.

I draw no satisfaction from this. I will gain nothing from being right, and are just as vulnerable to economic ruin as any other citizen of this wide brown land — more so in some ways because I'm fairly crippled physically (bad back) and have no great resources at my disposal. And I get no pleasure from seeing any individuals or groups brought down by this disaster, because I don't see the disaster as being anyone's "fault". It is just our fate to live in these times.

All I want to do is avoid unnecessary pain, for myself and those close to me. That is a normal human urge. It is also a normal human urge to find someone to blame for one's own suffering. In our society this primitive urge has been recognised for what it is and been held in check by a sophisticated legal system, built up over many generations. No death penalty, no torture of suspects, no eye for an eye justice. Unfortunately such refinements are easily swept away when things get tough. Already the blame game has begun — see Goldman Sachs — and it will continue. In the end the victims of the blame game will be anyone seen as different and "doing too well". Be warned.

My weakness is I want to understand what I see and tell other people. By doing so I put myself in some danger. But I'm not looking for a fight and will skirt one unless it is absolutely unavoidable. We shall see how that goes!

In the meantime, you stay out of trouble and stay lucky, but not too visibly, obviously lucky.

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