Tuesday 18 October 2011

Poverty and Riches - and Priorities

You may have noticed that at the bottom of this blog I've pasted in a link to ONE, a campaign organisation that works to eliminate poverty worldwide not by charitable giving but by political pressure. I'm not by nature an activist (quite apart from hating the word, which it seems to me is jargonistic and means nothing) but I do feel that a lot of the problems human beings face today are to do with a lack of political will to make things better, rather than to do with intractable problems about which no one can do anything at all. So I thought I would support this idea, and see what happens. If anyone wants to join me, you can press the red button below. But no pressure - we all have different ways of doing things.

I worked out last night, as I thought about poverty and deprivation, that the amount it costs us every month to send our daughter to independent school would pay for two children's education for a whole year in many poorer countries. I love my daughter very much, and we sent her to independent school for good educational reasons and not for any considerations of social status, but it made me think. Can one really justify taking so much for oneself, or even for one's child, when others have so little? There are times when it is right, and I don't feel guilty about the time she has spent at that school, because when she left her state primary school she really needed to make the change to somewhere that would give her a learning experience geared to her Giftedness. But as she comes to the end of junior school, I've found myself looking at the local comprehensive to see whether it would meet her needs at senior school. I don't say we would give all the money we saved away to educate poor children, but we might be able to give some.

And the same applies to other things, doesn't it? If we are really to care about the poor - who sadly are "always with us", as Jesus remarked in another context - perhaps we do need to go down to the roots of our own will, as well as pressurising governments. For many people, these more straitened times have shown up where luxuries were taken for granted, where debts were incurred for no good reason, and most of all, where the priorities should be. I am not advocating the blanket abandonment of all worldly goods - I think you have to be specially "called" to do that, as it requires particular grace! - but only that we should share more, and that we should make a reasoned and clear-eyed judgement of what we actually need, not in comparison with others in our town or village, but in absolute terms. Like most mothers, I want my child to be happy and to have what she needs not only to exist but to live and grow and develop interests and aptitudes. If I am able to earn the money for her to have these things, I want to give them to her. But if I am unable to earn them comfortably and spare plenty for children in poorer places, then perhaps it is better to look at my priorities again. Children value family life, secure relationships, friendship and love, just as much or more than they value material goods - and giving them Nintendo games, iPads, and other digital goodies will not replace the security and happiness of time spent with their parents. And if they are encouraged to do so, they will be able to see for themselves that children in deprived areas, whether in the poorer countries of the world or in our own country, should have their share of the important things of life. Extreme poverty destroys the non-material valuables of secure childhood and family life, as well as the more material ones of education, toys, books and games. Famine is an obscenity at which we in the 21st century should be offended, wherever and for whatever reason it occurs. But don't blame drought, degraded soils, or typhoons. We human beings have a lot to answer for, whether it is war (easy to start but very difficult to end without leaving a greater mess than before), greed (which leads us in the West to think that we deserve to have more than we need to live on without extravagance), negligence (through which we turn our backs and don't want to know what is going on elsewhere, in case it disturbs our comfortable existence) or intolerance (which sees people of some ethnicities, or religions or cultures as beneath contempt or not worth bothering with).

It is the feast of St Luke the evangelist today, I learned from my Bible diary this morning. An interesting man, by all accounts. Traditionally thought to be a doctor, and showing, in his writings in the Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, a great compassion for people and their sufferings. He went to Rome with St Paul when he was taken there as a prisoner, and was one of the few who stuck by the saint through all his journeys and tribulations, including shipwreck and deprivation. Both of them thought that the possession of material things was an irrelevance, and that giving was more important than acquiring. I am minded to follow their example, as far as I can.

Monday 19 September 2011

Law and Persuasion

First, apologies to any of you who have been following this blog for the long gap between this one and the last. School holidays, as anyone who works freelance from home and has children will probably agree, tend to be a blur of activities requiring a children's taxi service, conversations about all manner of things, visits by other children, and outings, into which the necessary minimum of work tasks to keep projects running has to be crammed, leading to the normal 'extras' such as blog writing, and in my case fiction writing, being consigned to the back burner for the duration.

However, I haven't eschewed all rational thought in the interim, and one of the things I've been thinking about is the relationship between moral dilemmas and legislation. There are a number of entrenched moral issues that are more or less continually under debate in the media, and indeed to a greater or lesser extent among the citizenry of most societies. Abortion and its timing, artificial birth control, IVF and cloning, drug abuse and the legalizing of drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuiana, suicide and especially assisted suicide, and religious rights such as the wearing of the burka or freedom of worship and the right to practise minority religions - the list could go on.

Conclusions on these issues vary across the world, of course, partly for cultural or religious reasons and partly for historical ones. In some parts of the EU veiling one's face is now illegal; in others abortion in all but the most extreme circumstances is a criminal offence; those who assist loved ones to commit suicide may be prosecuted; drugs are categorized, and possession of them may lead to imprisonment; in some countries, including the UK, there is now a ban on smoking in public places.

The interesting question, to me, is why some of these issues are covered by legislation, and some are not. The criterion may be whether the action harms others - the smoking ban is justified, for example, on the grounds that others' health and wellbeing, especially in confined spaces, is at risk; illegal drug use fuels crime as addicts truggle to pay for the drugs they 'need'; abortion destroys human life; assisted suicide may turn into pressure on the terminally ill or even the elderly, to remove themselves from our midst because their problems are expensive or inconvenient. But sometimes there seems to be a strong element of justice, or even punishment, in our desire to make these actions illegal. So drug abuse, suicide and abortion are believed by many to be morally wrong, but so is adultery, which is only illegal in the more extreme Muslim states. Smoking is seen as unpleasant and its effects cause large-scale expense for the health services (but the same applies to binge-drinking, which is not currently banned in the West, though drunken disorder is illegal). Banning the veil and the burka in public places is justified on social grounds, since it isolates those who wear it and ghettoizes some female members of the community (but other extremes of dress such as low-cut tops and pelmet-length skirts, which reduce some young women to the status of sex objects, are acceptable). The denial of freedom of religion and religious expression in theocratic states is usually justified on the grounds that it offends not only God but the religious majority (e.g. blasphemy laws in Pakistan and Iran deriving from Sharia).

In order to make such laws work properly there must be a consensus in society that they are necessary and useful. This does not have to be an absolute consensus, but it needs to command a very large majority. As soon as this consensus breaks down, there will be challenges to the laws concerned, but the legality or otherwise of these moral offences does not in fact in any way 'prove' the correctness of the moral position taken up. In some cases there may not in fact be one 'right' argument on these complex questions, and in such case legislation rarely works effectively.

But there is another way to bring about change, although it is slower and less certain, and thus less acceptable to those who feel strongly about a moral issue, and it is essential if legislation is to work in the long term. I'm talking about persuasion - making the argument so as to bring about consensus, and if necessary a change in the law. For example, few people would now accept the arguments put forward by the pro-slavery majority in Western countries in the 18th century, because the anti-slavery campaigners won the argument and changed minds to such an extent that there is no longer a moral issue, and it is hard to see how this could be reopened. It may be that a time will come when no one will see assisted suicide as problematic, or when abortion will carry no stigma, but this doesn't primarily depend on how the law stands but on how the argument has been made; in other words, whether or not the citizens of society are convinced. From today's standpoint it is just as likely that the current movement away from the sanctity of life, and particularly away from long-held safeguards such as the Hippocratic Oath (see previous blog, Mercy killing, abortion and the Hippocratic Oath) will be seen as an aberration as terrible as Nazi eugenics or nineteenth-century racist scientific notions. We cannot tell. But discussing the issues openly is important if we are to have laws that reflect sound moral positions that command wide acceptance. Sometimes laws have to change to accommodate new moral positions, but the law itself cannot make morality or change hearts. Only persuasion can do that.

And in order to have an informed debate we must have facts, and real solid ones, not statistics and opinions manipulated by extreme opinion on either side. Pro-abortion and pro-life antagonists must be willing to look at the science as well as the moral or religious positions they hold - and in this case science is not a one-way street. Those who would keep drugs illegal must take on board the depth of deprivation, whether social and economic or emotional that often leads young people to become addicts or pushers, or use drugs recreationally, and come up with solutions that won't fill our prisons to overflowing, while those who would legalise heroin, cocaine or marijuiana need to check out the possible consequences; and both should accept that their opponents may also be motivated by a care for society. Better palliative care and a more positive attitude by society as a whole towards terminal illness and disability might help some of those considering suicide to find the courage to face life, which perhaps should be recognized by those who wish the law on assisted suicide to change as a valid alternative to assisting sufferers to escape by ending their lives.

What I am suggesting is that we don't rush for the statute book in an attempt to solve every moral or social problem. Some crimes have always been crimes, and probably always will be: murder, and theft, and in recent centuries such things as grievous bodily harm, and serious cruelty to children or animals. The consensus on these is both ancient and enduring. But on other matters we need to engage with those who transgress, or disagree with, those moral imperatives we hold dear, whether they are traditional or liberal, rather than beating them over the head with the law book. Persuasion, the kind of education that gives a factual basis to an argument, and a helping hand to those whose failures have landed them in trouble - these will benefit society more than the heavy burden of criminal law. And our prisons might also be a little emptier, and perhaps our hearts a little lighter, as a result.

Monday 13 June 2011

Courage and suicide

Following on from last month's post, I found myself thinking further about euthanasia, and particularly about the current admiration for people who 'have the courage to' commit assisted suicide rather than endure prolonged suffering. And whilst I have great sympathy for people who are terminally ill or terribly disabled or dreadfully disfigured, I do feel that courage is the wrong term for this response to such difficulties. I have a friend who has suffered from Motor Neurone Disease (MND) for more than five years, and still holds down a full-time job as a consultant even though he can't speak clearly or even feed himself, such is the nature of the disease's progress. He never complains, and simply fights the battle every day to continue living. He is a husband and father of six children, the youngest of whom is a teenager, and beloved by all his family, who perform miracles to keep him functioning. To me, this is true courage - not to give in to a disability and either moan about it or, worse still, decide that life isn't worth living and therefore anything is better than continuing to do so, but to get up each morning - with whatever help is required - and do as much of your work as you are able. His family have made it clear to any medical practitioner that he is to be resuscitated if his breathing stops, and that they will not see it as a merciful release if he is allowed to die.

There should, I feel, be a better balance in the media, to take account of breathtaking courage like this, rather than focusing on, and lauding, the more negative responses that lead to assisted suicide. This is not the same as suggesting that people should be prosecuted for assisting a suicide, or calling for a return to the unenlightened times when suicide was a crime and if you failed in a suicide attempt you could be prosecuted. Suicide is often an unpremeditated and impulsive response to life challenges that have overwhelmed the person in question. But the response of the rest of us must surely be to encourage people to take a positive view of life, and to give them whatever help they require to rise above the difficulties and suffering - is this not part of what makes us human?

Think of the alternative for a moment. Just suppose that every human being responded to adversity (I mean, for the sake of argument, true adversity, not just the little ups and downs that we all have to deal with in everyday life but serious disability, terminal or agonising illness, etc.) by deciding to commit suicide, whether directly or with assistance. How would this culture of death benefit us? Would it inspire great deeds of compassion and altruism, or campaigns to better the lot of humanity, to serve the poor and to combat evil? Would we as a species long survive with such a culture, if it became widespread and all-encompassing? To embrace it will not in the end lead us into life-enhancing philosophies and actions, but into resignation, apathy, and an unwillingness to help others except in their efforts to die. It is a descent into darkness that I for one am determined to resist.

Although there are certainly degrees of suffering and difficulty, and for some people the degree they are subjected to seems beyond anyone's ability to cope, yet for every man or woman who gives up the struggle, there will be others, like my MND-sufferer friend, who will bloody-mindedly grit their teeth and fight on. Which should we admire and emulate? Which will bring us a stronger, more positive society where people care for each other. That is the question we must answer.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

'Mercy killing', abortion and the Hippocratic Oath

I started to write this blog a couple of weeks ago, then got terribly busy (amid all our UK bank holidays the past two weekends) with an over-running work project, and missed my self-imposed deadline of the end of April. Never mind. Here it is now.

It came to my attention recently that the Hippocratic Oath, which for centuries was seen as the touchstone of medical good practice, and to which all doctors signed up without demur, not only promises that 'I will use my power to help the sick to the best of my ability and judgement; I will abstain from harming or wronging any man by it', but also specifically promises not to practice either euthanasia or abortion.

I feel sure that many people do not realise the extent to which Western medicine has departed from the Oath, nor appreciate the slippery slope on which medical knowledge and practice has now embarked. The activities of Dignitas, the prevalence in the UK and some other countries of abortion thinly veiled by the cloak-all device of 'threat to mental wellbeing of the mother', the sympathy for 'mercy killing' by a relative of a sick person for whom pain or other suffering has removed any joy in living - all these are now a commonplace of so-called 'liberal' thinking. But the question is, should they be?

As fellow-humans it is natural to feel sympathy for the terminally ill person who wishes to die with dignity rather than surrounded by acute patients in an overstretched NHS hospital, or the teenage girl burdened with an unwanted pregnancy from which the baby's father has simply walked away, or the spouse, partner, son or daughter of a disabled person whose perspective has been distorted by living with their incapacity. But where should we divide this sympathy from a recognition that a permissive attitude to these actions actually undermines the respect for life that the Hippocratic Oath was designed to promote and protect, and which we lose at our and our society's peril. For it is a short step from allowing euthanasia and abortion to promoting it - and we are already some way along that path. Sympathy is a great human emotion, but it has to be underpinned by a robust sense of moral values, or it becomes a dangerous thing. Should my sympathy for the young man whose childhood was ruined by his mother's alcoholism lead me to condone his taking out his very understandable anger on the old lady he meets in the street? Should my sympathy for the mother with post-natal depression lead me to allow her to neglect or harm her baby? Most of us would say "no", but in fact these scenarios are not so very different from the actions that we are permitting, sometimes even promoting.

Surely where someone is in trouble, we should seek to get alongside and help them, not stand back and condone or approve of their crazy, destructive, desperate attempts to help themselves. We can help the disabled person whose incapacity takes away all sense of independence to find ways of living a real and useful life, using modern technology, personal carers, their own indomitable spirit - for this is how those disabled people who do manage to live such a life have managed to overcome their problems. That terminally ill patient who fears the process of natural death needs to be put in contact with the hospice movement, or with doctors who specialise in palliative medicine. Not all pain can be removed, but the support makes a big difference, as those who have encountered Macmillan Cancer nurses will agree. The pregnant teenager needs someone she can trust, someone to talk to her parents and teachers, help her with practical and financial support, talk to her about the options for keeping the baby or finding a foster or adoptive parent (and the mess that is called an adoption process in this country will be the subject of another blog!)

This helping is in fact much more demanding than the sympathy-on-the-sidelines approach, and too often is seen by our peers as 'do-gooding' when it is nothing of the kind. The do-gooder seeks to bolster his (or more usually her) own sense of worth, not primarily to get alongside another person and find out what can be done to improve their situation. But does it really matter what other people think of what we do, when something so important is at stake? If we do not reverse this trend towards 'mercy killing' we shall soon have 'killing for convenience', as some abortions already border on, and then perhaps 'killing for a purpose', as the Nazis did. As I said, the slope is slippery, and we would do well to turn round and haul ourselves up to the top again, to the high ground where there is some philosophical and moral safety, before we find ourselves down among the pariahs of history who thought that relative morality made sense, and tailored their ethics to match.

Thursday 31 March 2011

Thorium and the Nuclear Future

I had an e-mail from a friend last week recommending that I buy up some of the fast-dwindling world stocks of potassium iodide, to keep in my bathroom cabinet in case levels of radiation in the UK became high enough to threaten our thyroid glands. I replied rather severely (sorry, Eldo!) that I thought this quite unnecessary and indeed unfair to the Japanese, who might actually need some of these stocks for themselves. I've probably lost a friend, but the continuing (and apparently deteriorating) situation at Fukushima, thrust before us in almost every news bulletin, as well as causing panic among some members of the public, has led to qualms among the policymakers, and the question of nuclear safety has become a live issue yet again. The debate seems to be sharply divided into those with a 'green' perspective, who oppose nuclear energy and back 'alternatives' such as wind, wave and solar power, and those with a more pragmatic approach, who back nuclear energy as the only non-fossil-fuel option that can deliver the substantial energy generation that we need for the rest of the century. Both points of view have their merits. There is clearly much to be done to make renewable energy able to deliver sufficient power for today's needs, never mind tomorrow's. Although my solar panels deliver h ot water very effiiciently, I've recently been put off photovoltaic energy and small-scale wind turbines by advice from an expert that both are green but neither are economic. On the other hand, as a longstanding opponent of nuclear energy on the grounds of its inherent dangers, particularly the unresolved issue of how to deal with highly radioactive waste, some of it with a half-life measured in thousands of years, I have not felt able, up to now, to support the commissioning of a new generation of nuclear reactors, whatever the apparent safety precautions built into them. When David Cameron, and others, say that it isn't likely that we will suffer a 9.0 earthquake or a 14m tsunami, we have to say 'yes, that's true, but the Japanese didn't plan for this level of disaster either, and how do we know what may happen with storm surges or geological collapse offshore'. Earlier this week, however, my daughter Christina alerted me to an article in the Daily Telegraph that explained the benefits of a different kind of reactor, one based on thorium salts rather than directly on enriched uranium. Among other things, the article mentioned that the Chinese have already decided to take this route for their new nuclear industry. I did some further research on this matter and have become convinced that thorium liquid-fluoride reactors do indeed provide a real alternative to water-cooled ones. It seems that there are historical reasons why this type of reactor was not developed in the early days of nuclear power, some of them to do with its inability to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Since we are now attempting to reduce our reliance on such weapons for security, and encouraging other countries not to develop them at all, it surely makes sense to reassess this choice. Thorium reactors are much safer than water-cooled ones, since the fission process simply stops if bombardment with neutrons ceases. They are also much better able to deal with and re-use waste products. Thorium-based reactors can be used to replace coal- and oil-fired facilities using the same turbines. If you want to know more, go to http://energyfromthorium.com for more information. I shall certainly be taking part in any campaign to put thorium reactors back on the agenda when the UK commissions new nuclear reactors to replace our ageing ones. I have the nasty suspicion, though, that the momentum built up by more than forty years of solid-core reactors may be too great. After all, the QWERTY keyboard was originally the slowest to use, chosen for manual typewriters because it reduced the number of times keys clashed and tangled, but it is still the one everyone uses today, though modern electronic keyboards don't need it as they don't have a key-clash problem. And everyone knows that the Betamax system was better than VHS, but volumes of trade and the need for compatibility led to the latter's victory in the marketplace. Let's hope that the same phenomenon doesn't work in this case. If nuclear power is the future, let's make it the safest future we can.

Friday 25 February 2011

Changing the clocks

I read just recently that the government is considering changing our time so that it is an hour later all the year round than it is now.

This strikes me as the worst of all possible time zone scenarios.

Firstly, changing the clocks in autumn and spring is completely unnecessary any way. We used to be told that it was for the farmers' sake, so they had more light in the morning in the winter. But down here, surrounded as we are (literally) by farmers and their fields, we know that this is a complete myth. If farmers want to work out of daylight hours, winter or summer, they turn on the powerful lights in their barns or on their tractors, and work away. It is not uncommon for us to be woken at 2 a.m. by farmers trundling down the road in their tractors to harvest, cut hay, or otherwise till the soil.

Secondly, changing the clocks is a nuisance, especially if you have young children who cannot easily adjust to the time being different. When my daughters were younger I spent ages either trying to stop them getting up at an unearthly hour when the clocks went forward, or waking them for school when the clocks went back. For weeks we struggled with this, to the distress of all concerned.

Thirdly, I find it difficult enough to get up on a winter morning in the dark when it's only for three months or so. I have to be up early in order to get my younger daughter off to school on the bus by 8 a.m. If the government decide to harmonise our time zone with that of France, for example, by my reckoning I shall have to get up in the dark for most of the winter. As I find light extremely helpful for dragging my bones out of bed, I view this prospect with horror, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this. It is simply unnatural to get up in the dark. Our ancestors didn't do it, and neither should we.

I give my vote to Greenwich Mean Time - i.e. British Winter Time. Let's be on that all year. It has the virtue of being simple - noon is when the sun is at its height; it gives us more light in the morning for getting up; and it's British. How many people actually need to b e in the same time zone as our friends on the Continent? I can see it might be useful for business and trade, but is this important enough to give the rest of us these problems to live with?

Friday 28 January 2011

Banks and Lending: Optimism and Denial II

This is my first post of 2011, so Happy New Year to anyone who is reading this. I have made a resolution to post a blog at least once a month, so hopefully this will be the first of a more regular sequence of political, moral and spiritual reflections.

I've called this posting Banks and Lending: Optimism and Denial II. In February 2009, under the title Optimism and Denial, I pondered the fact that most people, including most economists, appeared to be in denial over the state of our economy in the wake of the Credit Crunch. For a while in 2010, there seemed to be something approaching a recoery in the economy, and doomsayers such as myself looked to have been a little over-pessimistic. It seemed to me, however, that all the ingredients were in the mix to create a really bad recession, either all at once or in two or more sections, and I didn't (and still don't) see how we could escape. And the latest economic figures are dire, and suggest that there really is a double-dip recession in the making.

It really isn't any use blaming the pre-Christmas weather (surely most people shopped online instead?) or the Coalition's policies (which are necessary to save us from the situation Portugal, Greece and Ireland have faced). George Osborne is probably correct to lay most of the blame at the door of the spendthrift Labour government of the Noughties, though to be fair to the latter they were fools rather than knaves - not least in believing their own rhetoric about the end of Book and Bust. However, the ingredient in the mix that I hear very little about is the part played by the Bank of England.

Low interest rates and quantitative easing were (or should have been) a short-term emergency' fix' to steady the economy after the Credit Crunch, and to prevent the very series, Twenties-style recession that loomed in 2008/9. But two years later surely it is madness to continue with this policy, particularly in the face of fairly alarming inflation figures? Higher interest rates would at least help to control this incipient rise in prices, even if some of it is being driven by external shocks such as higher oil and food prices. One of the reasons the Bank of England was given independence was so that it could concentrate on keeping the economy balanced between Boom and Bust, using interest rates among other tools - a role it seems in danger of forgetting.

In addition, what we need, and what the government recognises that we need, is access to crredit for businesses - and especially small businesses, that bedrock of growth, which often cannot expand without borrowing. No private-sector recovery such as the Coalition is banking on will be able to proceed without this credit, which is why David Cameron and his cohorts exasperatedly berate the banks for not lending more freely. But all investment, whether bank-led or not, requires a return. Without a good enough return, lenders will put their money metaphorically under the bed. And an important prerequisite for investors getting a return on their money is to have interest rates at a reasonable level. Push them too high, and you choke off growth by making credit for business too expensive. Let them get too low, as they are now, and lenders will not invest because they cannot get a decent return on their money. In the situation we now have, banks are struggling to provide products for savers that will attract money, while borrowers are paying ridiculously little for their loans - itself a source of banking income. Meanwhile those borrowers are cushioned from the harsh realities of today's economic conditions, and would-be savers, along with pensioners living off investments put by during their working lives, are discouraged from investing their money where it would be most needed. No amount of haranguing wil make banks lend more money than is financially sensible and in their own and their shareholders' interests - and indeed, if we want them to learn the lessons of 2008/9 it makes no sense to ask this of them.

This brings me to the question of Western versus Eastern economies, particularly Europe and the USA as against China. The main difference (put very simply) between these two economic blocs is one of credit and thrift. In the West we have become used to spending more than we earn and borrowing the shortfall - and both governments and individuals have become so used to this that we don't realise that the era of Big Borrowing has come to an end, perhaps for a generation. The bubble has burst, but we are still pretending that recovery can be retail-led, that if interest rates are low this will encourage people to spend more. On the other side of the world the oppositye is true. Chinese entrepreneurs have made large sums from export production, and banked it. Thus the Chinese economy is in surplus, its currency overvalued, and enjoying double-figure growth.

Surely there is a straightforward and obvious lesson to be learned from this? You can only borrow so much before the debt comes back to haunt you. Working hard and saving the profits is the way to make an economy grow. The mechanisms are complex, but the conclusion obvious, and for us in the West, stark too.

What happens, then, if we continue as we are? The first thing we shall get is Seventies-style stagflation - always a danger in the wake of such fiscal policies as quantitative easing anyway. I suspect that this cannot now be avoided. But if we do not quickly get the economy back into balance, even if it means a double-dip recession, we risk another crash. And this time there isn't a country in the West that can afford to pick up the pieces. Iceland's experience should be a terrible warning, but have we taken heed? Are we really so blinded by the terror of change that we cannot see the greater disaster brewing in front of our noses?

Ordinary people, in the main, are trying to be sensible. They are saving rather than borrowing, paying back debts, restraining their buying, trying to live more simply and cheaply. This should be encouraged by government and economists, not criticized or bemoaned. Raise interest rates a bit and the prudent would be better off, because they could get a better return from their savings. The over-indebted, to be brutally honest, are in trouble in any case, and staving off the evil hour for them will not help the rest of us. It will only make that hour, when it comes, much harder for everyone.

So George, I beg you, stick to your guns, and Mervyn, please persuade your fellow conspirators at the Bank of England to raise interest rates. In the end it will have to be done. For the moment we are keeping our heads above water, out of our depth, by swimming very hard. But if we don't find a place to put our feet down on the bottom - which means accepting the Cuts, and cutting our own individual aspirations to match, changing our mindset so that we save rather than spend, the lesson that has to be learned may be more painful than we can yet imagine. It is not too late for the Coalition to lead us in the right direction without a further disaster - but one day it may be. And that day may be sooner than we think.