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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

December 01, 2005

the pensions crisis... and some other stuff

It seems to me that our society is facing three serious problems at the moment. All have been in the news a lot lately, but - as usual - the media report on them all separately without really pulling them together. The three problems are as follows:

  • Looming energy crisis
  • Looming transport crisis
  • Looming pensions crisis

Why are they all related? They all result from the policies of the Conservative government of 1979 - 1989. I think after that date, the realisation dawned that everything the Thatcher government had done was built on foundations of sand, but before that the nation went along with the illusion, and we're all paying for it now. Our children will pay a higher price still.

The common factor in all three crises is the attack on collectivisation that underpinned the Thatcherite ideology.

I'm not personalising this, by the way. She was the figurehead, and I'll use her name as shorthand, but she was advised by whackjob economists and voted for by a selfish, greedy, and deluded electorate. All of us who were of voting age during those years are collectively responsible.

What do I mean when I talk about the attack on collective activity? It's not difficult. First of all, Thatcher wanted to crush the unions. So much is obvious. This resulted in an Alice in Wonderland energy policy. Close down the pits, buy in cheap coal from abroad in the short term, and convert power stations to run on gas.

What happened? The precious natural gas resource which was one of the central planks of our "four fuel economy", has been used up far more quickly, and - 20 years later - the end is near. Meanwhile, yes, there was still coal in the ground. Forget global warming, because that's a red herring. It's far easier to make a coal-fired power station more environmentally friendly than it is to re-open a closed coal mine.

Coal was produced in a labour intensive way by trade unionised workers who demanded rights. Gas is largely produced by a far less organised, far smaller, workforce and a lot of technology. As was the case with Rupert Murdoch's attack on the printing unions, a collective endeavour has been replaced with a technical endeavour.

Costs are irrelevant. Supply and demand dictate costs, and once a certain price is reached, extracting coal/oil/gas remains economically viable. But the attack on pit unions and coal mining communities was ideological rather than economic.

So much for the energy crisis. The transport crisis comes from the same root. Public transport is a collective activity with a unionised workforce. Motorists are private monads. Small attempts have been made to organise "fuel strikes" and so on, but put people on their own in cocoons of plastic and metal, and they naturally become selfish bastards. Break up the rail network, privatise everything, and public transport becomes a bad joke, endured by those who have to use it, and avoided by those who don't.

But now our roads are choked, and our economy is suffering because every time a truck driver tries to fit his rig through the eye of a needle, the whole country grinds to a halt.

As with transport, so with pensions. The cheapest way to give everybody enough to live on in their old age is to have everybody saving into a huge pot of money, which is invested in various ways, so that the winners always compensate for the losers. A kind of huge National Savings scheme. Not massive returns, but safe and guaranteed.

What happened with that? First of all, complete privatisation of the pensions industry and fragmentation of savings, leading to increased risk - because private companies can and do go bust, and share prices can go down as well as up, leaving people stranded, with nothing to show for years of salary sacrifice.

The other side of the Thatcher effect is the obsession with property. Because we know that pensions are a joke, we're obsessed with making money on our houses. Which means we all end up with mortgages that are too high and properties that are over-valued: bubble after bubble, to burst in spectacular ways.

And because our mortgages and other debts are so high, we're not a nation of savers. We're a nation of debtors. And the saving grace of the debtor is inflation, but we don't even have that any more. Because of all the debt, more and more children have to be dumped in child care facilities, which costs. That's where my "savings" have gone, the past 8 years: child care.

(Even with both kids at school, we pay £150 per month for pre- and after school care, because we both have to work, because we have to find a grand a month to pay the mortgage.)

And because we don't have inflation, everything is too cheap, everything seems to affordable, so instead of saving to make the odd big purchase, we just run up more debts. Because it's ridiculous that you can buy a DVD player for £29, or a decent guitar for £179, or a new car for £7000, or a flight to Italy for £1. We're not paying the real costs of these things, not immediately, anyway. The real cost comes when you can't afford to retire, when you can't afford to tell your employer to stick it up his arse, and when you realise that your every waking hour is dedicated to servicing debt.

And, the final insult, very few of us have real jobs to earn money to pay for these debts. We're not miners and manufacturers and train drivers. We answer the phone and check emails, take orders for cheap stuff from China and load supermarket shelves with more cheap stuff from China.

Anyway, chin up. This short lesson in How Everything Is Connected was brought to you by the Paranoid Nutters of Milton Keynes-on-Sea.


  • hear hear

    By Blogger dog, at 2:32 am  

  • Well said.

    A right punch up the cock to the rest of 'em.

    By Blogger SimonHolyHoses, at 2:33 am  

  • I was really thrilled to hear someone on the radio (Mr Pickering who wrote one of the previous pensions reviews) say that for people in their 20s - even 30s - there WERE more important things than pension to pay/save for. Like clearing debts and establishing financial security. Well, hu-bloody-rah. thanks for that.

    Oh yeah, did I say: fantastic post.

    By Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg, at 3:32 am  

  • Good one - but has anyone told Tony that Thatcherite policies were built in sand? He seems as wedded to them as ever.kxenugok

    By Blogger Rob, at 5:43 pm  

  • Last word of previous post is what happens when you type the word verification stuff in the wrong box.

    By Blogger Rob, at 5:44 pm  

  • Rob, I thought it was a Mayan god.

    Thanks for all the comments

    By Blogger bot37363838, at 11:10 pm  

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