From the sixteenth century onwards, it was quite a treat for London dandies to take themselves plus a few ladies down to Bedlam, the infamous insane asylum, where for a few pence they could amuse themselves watching people in paroxysms of mental agony. Thomas More referred to a visit, writing afterwards how “thou shalt in Bethleem see one laugh at the knocking of his head against a post”, and a century later, the Governors of Bethlem (transmuted eventually into everyday language as Bedlam) noted “that greate quantity of persons that come daily to see the said Lunatickes”.”Swarms of People” descended upon Bethlem during public holidays, and by the 1760s it was not uncommon for a hundred people to be watching the jolly japes at any given time.
Much the same sort of sport is provided today, in that one can, by making an appointment, go and watch anything up to 620 yelling and jeering mad people in Westminster banging their heads against metaphorical brick walls. On grand occasions, one may observe the Madness of Chancellor George as he raves on about taking every consumer’s job and money away in order to stimulate an economy built solidly (but unwisely) on the deranged fantasy of infinite growth based on, um, mass consumption. At times, lucky attendees might even catch a glimpse of Fallon the Foole as he explains how society can only function effectively on the basis of 3% of citizens owning 78% of the wealth.
As far as I know, there is no such entertainment put on in the Berlin Bundestag, Brussels Assembly or Greek Parliament; but I am at a loss to know why, for they’re clearly even further off the scale of fairies and fiery chariots than our lot. For some four years now, the Brussels-am-Berlin economic strategy for setting Greece back on the road to recovery has been to destroy the wholesale food distribution infrastructure upon which tourism depends, steal its energy rights, sell it two submarines but only deliver one, fire almost the entire population, and insist on a debt repayment schedule that mathematically guarantees the debt can only get bigger.
The theory underlying the strategy (lying is, I think, a far better verb than pinning in this context) seems to run something like this: the more savings that are made, the more the bond markets will be reassured, and thus Greece’s cost of borrowing to carry on repaying the debt will fall. At this point, a miracle will occur, because workers will be so desperate that a wage of three buttons a month will seem attractive, and thus the economy will spontaneously recover as confidence returns. Exports will become dirt cheap, and in no time all will be well again.
The truly astonishing thing about this cobblers is that the Prime and Foreign Ministers of Greece – Samaras and Evangelos – also signed up to it, spending the entire year of 2013 saying Greece would recover in 2014, and from then on the three-pronged lending fork employed to jab Greece in the buttocks would leave the Stage forever. I was in Greece for long periods of time last year, and never failed to be baffled by the sound of otherwise intelligent people nodding as thinbrain and fatbelly served up this unhinged prospect week in, week out.
But then, 2014 dawned and oops, Greece couldn’t pay its debts without more help. Now the OECD has issued a report finally hinting at the fact that next time, it might not be a good idea to let the Bedlam internees run the asylum. In fact, OECD could easily stand for Organisation to Examine the Criminally Deranged bearing in mind what you are about to read.
This is the precis of disaster as described by perhaps one of the most respected institutions on the planet:
- growth up almost entirely in services
- jobs up but hours worked massively down
- the deficit down and the National Debt spiralling rapidly upwards
Now we are securing Britain’s economic future with:
- manufacturing promoted manufacturing as a % of the UK economy is precisely where it was four years ago – tiny.
- working rewarded but on lower wages across the board.
- saving supported er, with Zirp rates.
With the help of the British people we’re turning our country around. No, you’re turning logic upside down
We’re building a resilient economy.” No chum, you’re electioneering.
Would that Dr Johnson was with us today. His account might have gone something like this….
Let’s face it, we are offered a choice between neoliberals dreaming of a future that cannot work, and liberal socialists pining for a past that is no more. It’s why everything now has the air of the Bedlam peepshow. But unlike the Dandies of yesteryear, we cannot enjoy the brief acquaintance with madness and then return to normal life: for us, there is no escape from the madhouse to come.