Your new year bonus? Freedom

By Joe Joseph, January 15, 2009

You know that financial fiasco which hogged the headlines for much of last year, the one which involved various financial institutions pursuing investment strategies that were only a little more sophisticated than buying trillions of dollars’ worth of lottery tickets?

Well, it turns out to have a silver lining — and not only if you happened to be an insolvency accountant, or the recipient of a Chanucah present bought from a shop that was still in business when you went back last week to claim a refund, or if you were someone who was spared a trip to the stationery store to buy a new notepad when it dawned on you that, given the collapse in the value of sterling, it would be cheaper just to use the fivers you were going to use to buy the notepaper as notepaper itself.

So, what is the big bonus that this financial crisis has handed us? More leisure time. Because here we are, halfway through January, and we haven’t had to waste any of our evenings and weekends diligently reading all those forecasts for the forthcoming year that usually fill newspapers for the first two weeks of each new year.

Why have we been spared this traditional new year pastime? Because we’ve all realised that nobody knows for certain what will happen even this afternoon, or next Tuesday, let alone next month or next year.

The forecasting emperors have no clothes. Or, as the Japanese say, one step ahead is darkness.

I mean, who predicted that there would be no merchant banks left in New York or London by 2009? Or that Keynes would be resurrected and hailed as the hope of the future? Or that the stock market would crumple like a Trabant in a car crash? Or that — even after all the havoc which brought financial markets to their knees in 2008 — it was still possible for an investor to end the year a millionaire, providing they began it as a billionaire?

Remember when oil prices rose so high last summer that you doubled the value of your car just by filling its petrol tank, and how industry “experts” predicted that oil would never fall back below $100 a barrel and that it would soon be cheaper to stage the London Olympics than to heat your sitting room for an evening? Well, it has.

This was the sort of pie-in-the-sky predicting we used to squander so much time at the start of each year boning up on, so as to prepare ourselves for what awaited us in the months ahead. No longer. The deluge of fraudulent forecasting has liberated us. As a result, at the start of 2009, we find ourselves with a few free weeks we never expected to have (which, come to think of it, is another thing we never foresaw).

And the catch in this sudden gift of free time? It is that, given the financial straits in which we currently find ourselves, we can’t actually afford to go out and do anything useful with this windfall, with all this extra time.

One way or another, the credit crunch seems to find a way to ambush us all. And we didn’t foresee that, either.

Joe Joseph writes for The Times

Last updated: 9:25am, January 15 2009