“We are simultaneously menaced by the wave, and exist as elements of the wave”

James Meek’s meditation in G2 yesterday on how the credit crunch was born was a tour de force, both fresh and considered.  Definitely worth a look if you missed it. 

“Nowadays,” wrote Saul Bellow in his novel Humboldt’s Gift, “the categories are grasped by those who belong to them.” It’s not just that we see the economic crisis rearing up out of the sea in the distance, like a slow-motion tsunami from which, despite its creeping speed, we cannot escape. What makes the situation peculiar is that the crisis that threatens us also seems to be us; we are simultaneously menaced by the wave, and exist as elements of the wave. After all, that is what an economic crisis is: the sum of all the individual actions of billions of people around the world, deciding whether to lend or hoard, borrow or save, sell or buy, move or stay, hire or fire, study or look for work, be pessimistic or optimistic.

It’s like those mysterious polls of “consumer confidence” in which pundits set so much store. How confident am I about the future? Well, I’m confident if everybody else is confident. I’ll tell the survey how confident I am when I see what that confidence survey says.