TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
The UK has limped into statistically insignificant (0.1%) GDP growth, which may be revised downwards. If you gave 200 billions of pounds to banks, ran up a national debt of nearly a trillion, cut consumption taxes and subsidised the car industry and only got that growth, wouldn't you be annoyed?
In a wider context, though, what the UK is experiencing is globalisation 2.0. The first version was in appearance benign; cheap credit and energy was accompanied by cheaper manufactured goods and a boom in services, as the UK exploited the growth of poorer countries but maintained a lead in higher-end industries and finance.
Now, though, those developing countries have started to provide their own services; the financial cupboard is bare; the productivity gains from investment in education have turned into legions of frustrated, wrongly-qualified graduates with no jobs or part-time jobs; and energy, credit and commodity prices are being pushed up by competition from the formerly developing states.
The UK therefore will soon be under a compulsion to do a few definite things. It will have to pay down debt; it will have to cut spending, save more, and export more; government will have to shrink and taxes, to gain yield, will have to be flatter and fairer, with better treatment for job-creating small business. Debt is largely index-linked, so inflating out is difficult, and the UK will therefore face lower disposable incomes.
A benefit will be a pressure against the tremendous waste of privatisation in the public utilities and monopolies, which were subsidised off the books by various schemes designed to keep bond markets happy. We'll have to either fairly fund railways and banks, or break up universities and schools and healthcare to survive, or both.
The number of elected officials is going to have to decline. Schemes to cover up regional and deindustrial unemployment with government jobs in former pit-areas and steeltowns that grew up in the industrial revolution, and the associated parasitical administrative class that went with them, are going to start vapourising.
We can do this intelligently, or stupidly. Stupid would be to declare victory in the great recession, drive up house prices, and go for retail growth and foreign takeovers disguised as investment whilst grinding workers down and inflating the domestic economy.
Stupid would be cap-and trade, which would only create a new derivative market based on a different cult, and windmill programmes that lead nowhere. Stupid would be more taxes, more rules, and the socialisation of more private company debt. Stupid would be listening to the media.
Smart would be breaking government monopolies in education up, much higher rebates for individual taxpayers, flat low company taxes and the elimination of a large portion of subsidies, tax breaks and offsets disguised as industrial policy. Smart would be an end to propaganda and a smaller, more flexible core of school curricula with languages, science, and mathematics prioritised, but delivered in any number of ways.
Smart would be much fewer elected officials, and ultimately smaller and more local retail banks. It would be more regional and Asian trade, and less dependence on North America for political and cultural succour. Smart would be embracing conservation, coal and nuclear power, and dumping green nonsense.
Globalisation 1.0 promoted finance ministers and technocrats, whilst falsely 'empowering' individuals with an inflated sense of living standards achieved by debt. It globalised by centralising and depoliticising, and consumed ports, airports, security concerns, planning law credit, insurance, and commodity markets. It was a party for some and a disappointment to many. It did at least lead many in Africa and Asia to the chance of wealth for their children. In the west, it was accompanied by a ruthless, atheistic, destructive and arrogant cultural agenda based around narcissism and materialism. It was fun while it lasted, for a few. I was one.
In globalisation 2.0, we pay, but we can proceed or just fester whilst peak oil's coming tornado slows and spins before touching ground and gathering speed.
Which road, stupid or smart, do you think our political classes are really going to embrace?
The painting is Carraci, and represents 'The Choice of Herakles'. I do like the Baroque, and the Carraci family inspired a good deal of it though they are now not as recognised as they should be. The big man is faced with hardship and glory, in the form of virtue, and an easy life of vice (though vice does look at least as though she'd keep you warm on a cold night). The tale was much liked by Addison, who wrote this account of it in 1709.