Waiting for the apocalypse

Reading the financial media, it is hard to get the words of that REM tune out of your head: “It’s the end of the world as we know it”.

The list of doom-mongers is long and distinguished. Martin Wolf, the chief economics commentator of the Financial Times, has said in relation to pro-market ideas that “another ideological god has failed”. Warren Buffett, probably America’s most famous investor, has said the world economy has “fallen off a cliff”. Meanwhile, the World Bank is forecasting the world economy will shrink for the first time since 1945 this year.

But perhaps, perversely, the most scary is the Time magazine piece on “five reasons for economic optimism”. Having thought of four obvious ones (the stockmarket is no longer overpriced, the government is on the case, consumers are adjusting to the new reality and re-invention is what America is all about) it concedes “OK I couldn’t think of a fifth reason”. The article goes on:

“Maybe you have one to spare? I also have to admit that as I look back at the first four reasons, they’re all exercises in either a) finding silver linings in really bad news or b) wishful thinking that has yet to be backed up with hard evidence. All the actual economic news at the moment is negative, there’s no clear path out of the recession in sight, and optimists have been made to look like idiots for two years running.”

Although times are tough it is hard to resist the view that they are panicking. Capitalism has proved resilient in the face of far greater challenges in the past. And if it does collapse perhaps it could even be replaced by something better?