This is a story about Pat and Mick. Pat was a customer of mine when I ran a printing business in Liverpool. I used to typeset and print his newsletter, so I got to know quite a lot about his thinking. Mick was my next door neighbour in Knutsford, and we spent some time in conversation.
Pat and Mick had something in common – they were both Professors of Economics, one at Liverpool, the other at Manchester and the European University in Florence. One was economic advisor to Margaret Thatcher, the other to the Labour Party and was involved in creating the Euro.
The thing about Pat and Mick, who were actually good friends, was they would take exactly the same set of data, the same numbers, and interpret them in totally different ways coming to diametrically opposed conclusions as to what they meant and what was likely to happen in the economy in the next few years as a result.
It may be a somewhat cynical view, but Economics is the art of manipulating raw data to support whatever political view or monetary theory the economist may support.
Scientists are just the same, I know, I have a science degree, and what turned me off ‘science’ was similar. You can prove anything with science. Just design the experiments in such a way the results ‘prove’ your hypothesis about how things work or will work. The term ‘scientifically proven’ is meaningless. You can ‘prove’ anything you want to prove – or are told/paid to prove – if you try hard enough.
And there’s more. I remember back in 1958 watching a very young Duke of Edinburgh on black and white TV presenting a programme about the International Geophysical Year and the various ‘prophecies’ it came up with. According to the ‘scientists’ and the numbers presented then, by now every square foot of land on the planet would have someone standing on it! This was well before everyone started talking about ‘the environment’, ‘global warming’ and so on.
‘Global warming’ by the way started at the end of the last Ice Age and has been going on ever since. When the planet gets too hot it will start cooling again. What effect it has on human life is a question of discussion, but won’t we all have emigrated to Mars by then?
A few years later in the sixties people stopped caring about population growth because we were all going to die in a nuclear holocaust by 1970, and when that didn’t happen despite all the predictions, it would be the year 2000 which caught us out when all the computers, we’d come to depend on for life support, ceased to function and the world would turn into a medieval wasteland.
It seems people have a thing about talking up extinction. “We’re all doomed” as Private Fraser in ‘Dad’s Army’ was wont to say – at least once in every episode.
But, despite the lyrics of Country Joe and the Fish in the ‘Viet Nam Song’, we’re not “all gonna die” because there’s a massive false premise behind all this prediction of doom. I call it the ‘straight line theory’ or maybe it should be the ‘status quo theory’ – the assumption people make things will stay as they are and whatever level of growth or decline there may be will continue at the same rate and in the same direction.
The predictions of an American economist, quite vocal on Medium, about the demise of Britain into famine and misery resulting from the debacle of Brexit are based on this. The idea, and for many people belief, things will not change (other than getting ‘worse’) and nothing will happen to change the ‘obvious’ course of events permeates our society.
But they’re forgetting the seemingly inexplicable capacity, come what may and when push comes to shove, of the British (more so than others) to find new ways of doing things, to produce change out of nowhere and get out of the hole they’ve dug themselves into.
Things do change, more often than we realise and in most cases we never see it coming, or happening. We realise over time we’re not doing things we used to do and are doing new things in our lives we’ve never done before. The trouble is (for us) these changes are most often instigated by those who control us, those we allow to control us, to further embed their control.
Look back over the last 20 years, the first years of this century. What has changed since 1999, particularly in money, communications and information, food and energy supply? What might have happened if change took a different direction, towards the dis-integration of the ‘powers that be’ rather than their consolidation or conglomeration?
The good news is things will continue to change. The ‘straight line’ and status quo are not rules. Indeed, there is no such thing as a straight line. It’s a myth or an approximation. Everything is energy and energy, including the energy of a straight line, is vibration consisting of infinite frequencies, wavelengths and amplitudes which are in a constant state of transformation and we cannot predict with any certainty what comes next. All ‘straight lines’ require ‘course corrections’ in the form of evolution and change to cope with prevailing or new circumstances.
The question is who will provoke the change and in whose interests will it occur?