Positive Austerity

Riding on the road today, I was sure there were fewer vehicles around than there would have been once. I know it was was just a nothing special Wednesday morning, but I’ve ridden on plenty of similar mornings before and I’m sure they used to be busier – the run of the mill daytime traffic.

From a cyclist’s point of view I’m not complaining. For what it might signify for the economy I’m not so happy. I’d also say my horse-index* is still showing a downward trend.

I suppose it’s not surprising if it is true: the price of petrol is stupidly high, inflation’s growing, uncertainty is rife and just today the unemployment figures showed yet another rise. If we’re all less sure than we used to be about the future being generally good, then of course we’re all going to cut out the unnecessary spending. And there’s been a terrific amount of that. If you look at what’s being sold with anything like a dispassionate eye, then it’s starkly clear that the vast bulk of it is a long way from being anything like necessary or essential.

It sounds glib, but buying stuff doesn’t equate to buying happiness either. It’s a difficult one: I mean, good grief, I have a lot of stuff. But I like to think that at least the majority has been bought for a purpose – books, music, bikes even; I’d say they all are enabling products. Have a need then find a product to fill it. In contrast, it seems an awful lot of products are made and then a need has to be created to make people buy them. There was a tragic UN report published today about how kids in Britain are the most consumerist and the most unhappy; that they ‘have’ to have the ‘right’ stuff or else they’ll get bullied, but having the right stuff doesn’t bring them happiness. If that’s not grim reading I don’t know what is.

So, maybe you can posit a silver lining in austerity. Maybe being forced to buy less will lead to some re-evaluation and some good will come out of that. Maybe.

The trouble is, there are an awful lot of people making a living out of the selling of stuff. The same is true of the consequences of a declining horse-index: fewer horses means fewer jobs looking after them, one way or another. It’s all very well to think that fewer animals being kept for leisure may be no big deal, but the knock-ons might well be.

It’s difficult to imagine what will fill the resulting void in the job market if we all end up buying less stuff. A degree of austerity is one thing; abject poverty is another. If you look ahead far enough, it’s not hard to see that the really huge underlying problem that’s looming – on so many different fronts – is that there are too many people.

* The Horse Index

Nothing Grows For Ever

Just a gentle pootle about today with Charli, passing Crowsley Park (of Sherlock Holmes / Conan Doyle fame), Wyfold, Woodcote, Goring Heath and back in to Caversham.

Dappled light is always difficult and the brighter the light the deeper the shade, and the more difficult spotting the pot-holes gets. These days I’m old enough to back-off and make sure I can see what the road’s like. I say that but I don’t think I was ever that gung-ho. I think I’d call myself naturally cautious, so heaven knows what others might make of me. More than likely the answer to that one is ‘wimp’.

If ‘The Horse Index’ is a valid idea, then on that basis you can say for sure that things still aren’t going too well for the economy; I’d say we saw more horse-free paddocks today than ever before.

I’m not an economist, not even an arm-chair economist. I suspect it’s a bogus ‘discipline’, little better than poking around in animal entrails for a clue about the future. People go on about this economic factor or that and they may be right or they may be just groping in the dark. I don’t know. What does strike me, though, is that it has to be a work of fantasy to postulate the notion that there can be constant growth. We live on a finite planet. Duh.

We need a different model of what constitutes a healthy economy and a healthy society. An approach based on never-ending growth cannot be sustained – and when it goes wrong, as it’s going wrong now, the consequences are perceived as far worse than they need to be. We have a lot; we need to nurture it, cherish it, value it, conserve it, appreciate it.

The Horse Index

The Horse Index

Today and yesterday were simple, solo road rides around Berkshire. There’s a lot of money around the county and the rides reminded me of an idea I had last year – the ‘Horse Index’ as a measure of a recession.

My theory is simple:

  • horses are kept by the better-off, and a lot are kept on farms that have gone over to offering a livery yard;
  • if times are hard then a horse is going to be an expense some might find themselves needing to do without;
  • thus you might be able to measure the impact of a recession upon the better-off in a given part of the country by the number of horses to be seen in farmers’ fields in that region.

And, sure enough, if you ride around the Reading area – say, a 30 mile radius – there are a lot of empty fallow fields adjacent to visibly under-utilised livery facilities; there are noticably fewer horses.

Empty Stabling

The Horse Index

Just as relevant if you’re looking to gauge something about the society we’ve developed, there are a few properties around that are obviously keeping their own horses on their own land – polo fields and associated stables; large walled estates with paddocks and so on. These seem to be doing as well as always. That’s how it is for the very rich; it’s the classes climbing up the greasy pole beneath them that seem to be feeling the pinch.

It rained at last, overnight 6th-7th. Whenever there’s been a long dry spell you can pretty well guarantee punctures as soon as it rains heavily; the run-off brings down those evil small but sharp flints that will go through anything. Yes, it happened to me today near Remenham. You just have to live with it – take a couple of spare inner tubes and don’t get annoyed.