Thursday, 29 March 2012

Honey, I Shrunk the Economy

So, you want to know who broke the economy? I admit it:  it was me.

(See how I've heeded the lessons of good journalism by opening with a snappy but exaggerated claim which I'll go on to caveat heavily until its interest is eroded to nothing?  Here I go...)

Okay, not just me, but the demographic to which I belong. And okay, not broke exactly (that was the bankers, we all know that), but at least left in tatters.

The thing that struck me about the UK's flailing attempts over the last fours years to save us from a financial meltdown, is that the two main waves of attack seemed oddly opposed. First we had Quantitative Easing Brown (which sounds dodgier than I'd hoped) with his plan to spend spend spend our way out of trouble; and then came Osbourne's message to tighten the purse strings and pay down the debt (both his and ours).  It makes you wonder where we might be right now if we'd done nothing all along. But of course, it's more complicated than that.  Well, actually, no it isn't more complicated, it's really simple. What we really need, is both. We need the people who have money, to spend it. And the people who don't have money ... wait for it ... to not spend it. That's it in essence, but trying to promote this behaviour via government policy isn't so easy.

This is where it becomes my fault. Because I am in the fortunate position (like many in fact) of having benefited from the Global Financial Crisis. Not life-changingly, but I still have a job ... and my mortgage rate is lower than ever. So, it is in part my responsibility to give something back. How? Well, I could buy a new car a year-or-so earlier than I was planning to; or upgrade my TV like I've being saying I would forever (12-year-old CRT still going strong!). And this extra-extravagance on my part would help, of course (if others like me did similar). But it's not really very sustainable. It's basically getting the economy going via the policy of throwing stuff out - which I can't begin to promote. It's also not a very direct stimulus. Buying Panasonic isn't going to greatly aid the local community.

But there is one other commodity that maybe I, and maybe lots of people who can afford to, should invest in more of ... time. Not investing time, but investing in time. Buying it. Because the nub of the problem is this. There are millions of people who can't find work, and there are millions of people who work too much. I am at the most financially secure of my life and yet I work longer hours now than I ever have, if you count the 2hrs commuting a day (something I said I would never ever do). There is enough work - it just needs to be shared out a little better. The most extreme method of redressing this inbalance is for more people - those who can afford it - to work part time. But I'm not suggesting this at all.  For there is a way of buying time at a much lower price. In fact, there are hundreds. Especially if you are a low-skilled lazy-ass like me. Let me just reel some off...

Firstly, no brainer in my opinion. Get your groceries delivered.  It costs five quid and saves an hour of your life every time; and give a packer and a driver a job. Next, get your windows cleaned by the local man with a bucket. Maybe consider a cleaner for the inside of your house too. Pay a youth to mow your lawn. And don't put aside that weekend to paint your house, get the decorators in, and take yourself to the seaside. Don't struggle with DIY tasks that an odd-job man on the next street can get done in a fraction of the time. You see, it's all about specializing. You do what you're good at every day at work.  Offload some of the other jobs to other people. Go on, buy yourself some time - you've earned it. And the economy needs it.

Give yourself a break. Give someone else a job.

Addendum:  Please don't take any of this the wrong way - (a) This is mostly directed at me (and a subset of the economy) and (b) I don't know what I'm talking about.  Tomorrow, however, I genuinely will reveal how you can generate value from nothing!  Quantitative easing, without the downside.  Watch this blog.