When everybody's talking about the credit crunch, it's difficult not to see it everywhere you go
It started in New York. I was on the subway last December when I saw an advert for a very timely service. “Are you tired of endless bills?” it asked. “Then call 1-800 BANKRUPT!” I can't quite imagine how you would go about declaring bankruptcy on a toll-free number. Is it automated? Press 1 for insolvency! Press 2 for forced liquidation! Press 3 to freeze assets now at no extra charge!
As well as a funny photo opportunity, the sign was a bellwether back in those heady, frantic days. Bad times are a-coming, it said. America being roughly six months ahead of us in terms of the financial cold snap currently making consumers shudder all over the globe, I am expecting to see those bankruptcy ads on London tubes any day now, with perhaps a www.goforbroke.com link thrown in for added measure. But maybe, in a way, the message is already there.
The recession is a gigantic collective fallacy like Santa Claus or the Candy brothers. Until we stop believing in it, it won't go away
Call me a cynical journalist, but everywhere I go these days I see evidence of a rapidly tightening economy. Wandering around the supermarket a few days ago, I found myself double-taking at price tags. Houmous at £1.08? Wasn't it £1.01 last week? I'm sure there used to be six tomatoes in packs this price.
Then there are the adverts. Green cars that reduce your petrol use in these “challenging times”. Mobile phone contracts that allow you to hold onto the purse strings. “Don't want to travel abroad this year?” asked one, in the newspaper. “Why not holiday in Suffolk?” There would seem to me to be rather more answers to that question than the advertisers perhaps intended, but the message is the same - people are tightening their belts. No jet-setting this year. Take Gordon Brown, who with characteristic prudence will be feeding his family lard and water by the sea at Southwold this year rather than flying off to stay with his predecessor's holiday patron Cliff Richard, or whoever the dour, Scottish showbiz equivalent is. Taggart, perhaps.
I blame the media. Not only is the credit crunch all I read about, it's all I write about
I blame the media. And being a small but noisy part of it, I blame it even more. Not only is the credit crunch all I read about, it's all I write about. Everybody I speak to - be they architects, property developers or builders - reports doom and gloom throughout the sector. It's no wonder I've become a bit obsessed with it.
I see a tramp on the street near my flat - it's the credit crunch. He was probably a bonds trader this time last week. My train is late - there's no liquidity in the markets. Drivers are on strike. My coffee is cold - blame the global downturn. They can't afford electricity.
Then the realisation hits me - this is how it works. The recession is entirely predicated on people like you and me believing there is a recession. It's like a religion almost, or a gigantic collective fallacy like Santa Claus or the Candy brothers. And until we stop believing in it, it won't go away. But with houmous prices at record levels and Surrey experiencing a boom in hotel reservations, I doubt my financial pessimism will dissipate any time soon. Time to call 1-800 BANKRUPT.