2010, Oil on Italian Linen, 152 x 152cm
Every era has its economic diviners, auguring omens into theory. For half a century economic rationalists such as Milton Friedman and his followers held sway, extolled free market efficiencies such as exporting manufacturing, en-mass, to the corners of the globe with cheap labour. Embraced by corporations, when viewed through the prism of an individual company’s balance sheet (saved money and increased profitability) the results appear to make sense: provided the macro-economic implications are ignored.
With every society containing a natural diversity of workers ranging from the most capable and educated to the least, inevitably many of the newly unemployed are unable to establish alternative careers. And after 50 years of industrial decline and ever-increasing under-employment, the costs are manyfold. Not particularly voracious consumers, the unemployed can’t facilitate growth. Nor can they contribute to a nation’s commonwealth via taxes. And with the responsibility of supporting them falling upon the rest of society, the decisions of corporations are borne by entire nations.
Internationally, the issues compound. Increased imports coupled with the resulting decline of collective wealth has found some supposedly “wealthy” post-industrial nations unable to fund their appetites. To make ends meet they have to borrow from the supposedly “poor” manufacturing countries, who in turn have no choice but to keep lending so they can be paid. The symbiosis of debt and consumption is sustained only by more consumption - which can’t be paid for. Boston University Professor of Economics, Laurence Kotlikoff, has likened this Catch 22 to a six decade Ponzi Scheme.
As the light and importance of the era fades, on the docks new debt is piled onto old into an ever more unstable tower. Lacking the rational means of support, this teetering edifice is cemented together only by hope - and the fear that any deviation will precipitate it all crashing down.