So, I guess I stole the title. But then Ken Follett's 2007 book title (good book, by the way), and the track of the same name from Laurie Anderson's 1994 Album "Bright Red" could just as easily have been taken from any Thesaurus.
Look. No apologies and no beating about the bush. We are in the middle (or perhaps not yet!) of a financial and social crisis. I hoped it might be different and that good sense would eventually prevail. I believed that Governments would ultimately be made to see they were not grasping the nettle firmly enough and, through strong leadership together with a willingness to take some tough decisions, would show responsibility through appropriate and measured actions to stem the bleeding. Yes it would be painful; operations to save a life or a limb often are, but the surgeons were either "retiring" or wanted to retain their house jobs.
I am a closet optimist. I spent most of my banking career preaching caution and common sense, to the chagrin of some who thought I was merely being awkward. But, I was brought up to believe that bankers (commercial ones, anyway) were supposed to be responsible. I haven't changed those views, but I also always secretly hoped that my preference for caution would be proved wrong and people would take decisions based on fact and informed opinion, leading them to a better outcome than expected.
My comments 11 months ago in "What, Me Worry? - Yes, Me Worry" were written because I was genuinely worried but thought, even back then - and despite the feeling that the USA was already in recession (since confirmed) - there was time to act. My thoughts in June this year in "Let the Good Times Roll, Crisis Over?" reflected a continuing concern that not enough was being done. I claim no "rights" of guruhood, I merely try to reflect what I hear from the market place and put it into words that are factual and non-sensational. Maybe that's a mistake! But then the media does a darn sight better job than I ever could of stirring up peoples emotions - and they do it without ever thinking of the consequences.
So where are we?
Without any real leadership, it seems, and a media out of control. (I am a firm believer in "freedom of speech" and have said so elsewhere in these columns, but as the various media forms roll us on to the next perceived disaster, as reported by their own staff, they are often guilty of creating self-fulfilling prophecies.) We have some newly nationalised banks, particularly in Britain, full of taxpayer money, which they then refuse to lend out. Perhaps they are short of good credit officers who actually understand how to evaluate businesses - I know a few who would probably be pleased to return to work if they thought they would be listened to this time! We have growing unemployment around the world, and that is going to lead to greater hardship, socially.
People ask, therefore, is this the end of the free world - a return to protectionism and socialism? Is globalisation dead? Are centrally controlled economies the answer? I, for one, hope not.
Globalisation is not the greatest creation of the free world, but neither is it a disaster. It has been responsible for bringing more people out of poverty than anything else, although it has undoubtedly created problems in some quarters. Rather it has been the failure of nations - usually those that already enjoy developed economies, at whatever historical cost - to fully embrace some of the provisions of the various WTO deliberations and subsequent agreements.
A return to protectionism seems quite likely in some quarters, and given that some industries are already in the throes of becoming Government bodies, so too does socialism. Both would be a mistake, no matter how appealing the concept may seem to some in the short term. A descent to the lowest common denominator is not the answer. It will not encourage the innovation that is going to be needed for the creation of new industries, new ideas and new jobs.
Yesterday an old established British firm went into administration. However, unlike other recent examples of companies in trouble, a buyer has been found, saving about 1,000 jobs. It's a start!
The day before yesterday a friend and neighbour came to see me. He has left his former employer under circumstances that are not entirely clear. Nothing untoward - more a question mark over "left" or "pushed ", but it doesn't matter. The point is he came to have a chat about a few ideas he is working on for the future. About five or six of them, as far as I could tell. All potentially viable - some in a longer time frame than today's market will allow, but some relevant to today.
Here we go again - closet optimism? Think about it. We are in a mess. When does the human race become creative? - When it is faced with a crisis! This is not going to go away soon, and there will be pain and suffering for many - and frankly, no matter how bad we all feel, it will probably affect more people in the underdeveloped economies than the developed ones. There will be severe social pressures, which need to be understood and dealt with, to avoid mob rule and anarchy. We need leaders - and they are definitely out there - who can do just that - lead! We need rational thought, and not be subjected to the latest insights from "The Daily Lemming!".
The world is not going to end as a direct result of what has happened, but a failure to treat the problem may create a more difficult scenario than is necessary. Or, as in the words of Laurie Anderson's first record - "It's Not the Bullet that Kills You (It's the Hole)".
Here's to 2009.