The prospect of recession has done wonders for black humour. In our collection of visions of 2012, Paul Mason says we’ll be hunkering down, eating baked beans, our only luxury an iPhone. If we haven’t taken refuge in the cold comfort of an actual Welsh farm, we’ll be in a “farmhouse of the mind,” he says, invoking that buried sense that the western mountains are a last refuge from apocalypse.
It has been a bad year for those who believe that governments can fix problems—and a good one for those who think they’re to blame. President Obama and Congress are in a standoff; France and Germany are unable to devise plausible rules for the eurozone; Italy and Greece have installed unelected technocrats as leaders; the easiest course for southern Europe is to give in to picturesque decline, with nothing left to sell but the sun and classical ruins (Bettany Hughes). In the simmering Middle East there is the threat that Iran will get nuclear weapons and the chance—although small—of the turmoil of a pre-emptive Israeli strike on those sites.
Britain has no claim to unusual surefootedness through these hazards. The coalition government, edging its way along with cuts here and a bit of extra spending there, has avoided putting words to the proper, big questions about the future. If people’s expectations are now fantasy, it should say so. On the urgent question of the banks, it has said too little. As Adair Turner tells Prospect regulation before the 2008 crisis was the product of a “giant intellectual mistake,” which new rules will only partly correct; he understates his case.
As we predicted in February, it has been a year of protest. Yet in Britain, that mood has not yet acquired political force. James Macintyre, our politics editor, spent a night in the Occupy London camp at St Paul’s asking: “Who are they and what do they want?” The answer is that a lot were homeless, they wanted many different things (including hot soup and shelter), and they dissipated their message in arguments about process. They haven’t yet found their voice; those looking for a rallying cause will struggle to find it on the cathedral steps.
But this mood is not the whole story. As Stephanie Flanders writes, in Britain, debate…