Travel changes your perspective, not least upon wealth. Tourism used to contribute 10% to Sri Lanka’s GDP and was last year just starting to recover with the lifting of Covid travel restrictions. But the current unrest there, fuelled by a corrupt, incompetent and nepotistic government, debt crisis and eye watering inflation will mean further hardship. Sri Lankans struggle to afford food and energy, and find themselves struggling at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. No wonder then that there’re protesting on the streets of Colombo.
One advantage that country has over the UK is that it’s so very fertile and agriculture is often on a small, local scale with few food miles and basic farm machinery. Though the price of food is spiralling, those living in the countryside at least stand a chance of growing their own.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century Marie Antoinette ruled over a France that again, whilst rich in resource, failed to feed its people. Though she apparently never said, “Let them eat cake”, she was nevertheless known as Madame Déficit for her profligate spending. The crowd that stormed the Bastille to kick-off the French Revolution that removed her and Louis XVI’s head, were driven by hunger and ignited by corruption and unpopular political decisions (as were the Cubans who toppled the Batista government in ’56).
Money’s perhaps only useful when it’s circulating, facilitating trade, being borrowed for investment etc., but that’s not how its been used for quite some time. Instead it quickly finds its way into the pockets of the rich who hoard it in offshore tax havens, spend it on vanity projects or use it to maintain their position and lifestyle: Russian oligarchs, US industrialists, monarchs, political elites, the super rich…
Let’s be clear money doesn’t “trickle-down”, as Thatcher would have us believe, the reason being the third cardinal sin: greed.
As a nation we’re indebted to some loan shark institution or other to the tune of £2.2 trillion, that’s roughly £32k for every man, woman, child and pensioner, and we’re far from the worst of the “developed” nations. With annual government expenditure running at 103% of gross domestic product, the sovereign debt will never be repaid. Owning and running the printing presses raises inflation which government bonds that, unlike gilt securities, are largely issued in foreign currencies unfortunately won’t touch. We’re stuck with the “vig” and the debt or, horror of horrors, risk our credit rating being downgraded by Moodys. It seems pretty simple: you can consume or trade, either more or less than you produce/earn.
So what’s really going on?
Well without diving into Marxist theory, it looks like a scam, with national and international financial structures resembling those cakes where instead of a nice brioche, there’s squirty cream and sparklers atop a pile of fatty, sugary, sub-prime shite. Let’s be clear, the UK makes money through selling its housing stock for investment and pimping out its old colonies as anonymous, unregulated, tax havens to shadowy “shell” companies designed to avoid scrutiny and accountability. Yeah let the rest of us eat cake and die of a coronary.
Marx predicted capitalism’s inherent contradictions would be its downfall i.e. capital over-production (printing money) and increasing exploitation of workers (profiteering, zero hour contracts etc., and like Mao, he thought change would come from the barrel of a gun. But these days a moan, another loan and an Aldi shop seem more likely than civil insurrection.
Though nowhere near Sri Lanka’s, the cost of living is rising steeply here in the UK with inflation currently running at 10%, whilst opportunities for fulfilling/rewarding employment evaporate, pension provision dwindles, affordable housing and health and social services disappear. The burden of getting things done increases under piles of useless, impenetrable bureaucracy – just how good is navigating through layers of telephone menus only to be greeted with: “We’re experiencing unusually high demand just now, the average waiting time is 17 minutes, thank you for your patience.”, especially when calls are charged @45p/min.
It could be that this jaded and pessimistic perspective is de rigeur for a grumpy old dude, but just in case, 1500 Earl Grey teabags sit safely in the wardrobe waiting for either rationing or the revolution.