Britain is screwed

The snow lay on the ground
The stars shone bright
When Christ our Lord was born
On Christmas night

“Excuse me, I’ve been waiting a half hour… “

The man looked Russian. He was sitting opposite us at the Pain Quotidien, a café at St Pancras station in London. He was polite about it, but wished to register a complaint with the waiter for neglecting him.

“You don’t have to be rude”, the waiter, a slight, young man with a south London accent and tight-fitting black clothes replied.

“I wasn’t being rude… I just would like some service.”

“Well, don’t be rude… I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Outside, in the great hallway of St Pancras station a Salvation Army band was playing Christmas music.

Oh Holy Night…

We turned to the Russian man. Gripped by the spirit of Christmas, we wished to make ourselves useful by offering a little cultural interpretation.

“Rude? That guy should get out more often. You weren’t being rude. You were merely complaining. If you want to be rude you should call him a “f***ing a**hole. That will help put things in perspective for him.”

Pleased with ourselves we went back to listening to the music.

Oh little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie…

There are times when you need to relax. Listen. Pay attention. Let your mind wander. Rather than try to organise your thoughts, you should let them organise themselves.

The Russian man greeted a friend…

“I always begin my trips with a stop in London”, he said to his friend. “I bring my money… and my passport. And I leave my money here.”

On the other side of us, a hearty, almost burly, young man with red hair was regaling a young woman with stories. They must have been funny stories, because the woman – who had a very pretty face, but had allowed herself to become rather plump – acted as though she were having breakfast with Woody Allen or Rodney Dangerfield. To say she laughed ‘lustily’, might give away too much. But there was something insincere about her laugh, as if she might not find him so funny after they were married.

A French couple sat on our left. Both in their 40s. Both dressed all in black.

“The doctor called. He said I only have six months to live”, she said with a tossed-off laugh.

The man said nothing. Then, neither said anything. After they had finished their coffee, they got up and left.

This publication, such as it is, and in case you haven’t noticed, is on its own, and most would say, out in left field. We and we alone are on ‘Zombie Watch’.

Which is to say, nobody else seems to understand what feds’ money printing and deficit-financed bail-outs, and redistributions are for: paying off the zombies. The longer they go on, the more zombies there are.

But let us leave zombie theory and move on to zombie practice.

Yesterday, in the very expensive offices of a very expensive law firm in the very expensive City of London, we met with four zombies. On the table was a discussion of how a company could publish the views and opinions of various experts – mostly MDs – on health… without going to jail.

Health, medicine, drugs, food and supplements are heavily regulated in Britain and Europe, just as they are in the US. You can read the laws… if you dare. You’re not likely to know much more after you read them than you did before. They insist that opinions on health must be ‘fair’, ‘balanced’, ‘based on reliable testing’ and impeccable ‘research’.

What this really means is that it has to pass muster with the mainstream health establishment. The regulators are ignoramuses themselves. They turn to ‘experts’ to tell them what is okay for publishing and what isn’t.

That leaves the publisher of ‘alternative’ ideas and opinions in a tight spot. You may recall Dr Atkins. Back in the ’90s, Dr Atkins came to us and asked us to publish his newsletter. We agreed. We stood behind the First Amendment and let fly with Dr Atkins’ theories on why the American high-sugar, low-fat diet was all wrong.

The establishment didn’t like it. They had staked their careers on the idea that ‘fat’ was the number one problem, leading to heart disease and other ailments. They called Atkins a quack and tried to take away his medical licence. Atkins eventually won that battle. But not without a lot of scars.

In Europe and the UK there is no First Amendment. What you can say about health is regulated. And the regulators, as always, are in the pocket of the big, established industries they are supposed to regulate. A new competitor – with different, contradictory or gamey ideas – is at a big disadvantage. He’d better be careful, or his competitors will rat him out and the regulator will get on his case.

“Basically, you can’t say anything that is not approved”, said one $500-an-hour lawyer.

“Well, you can say what you want… ” said an associate at $250-an-hour, “but you have to be sure it meets all the tests and criteria. You can’t say one of the things that has been proscribed, for example”.

“You mean there are specific things that you can’t say?” we asked naively.

“Oh yes. There’s a list of 1,280 things that by regulation or court decision have been found unacceptable.”

“But what if our expert doctor really believes the contrary is true?” we continued.

“Well, he just can’t publish it.”

The conversation continued for an hour and a half. Estimated cost: $3,200.

Result? None. The system is rigged in the zombies’ favour. Zombie pharmaceutical businesses are protected from competition by zombie regulators. Upstarts must hire zombie lawyers to figure out how to remain at liberty while still doing business.

This is, of course, the ‘complexity’ that Joseph Tainter describes in his book explaining how societies collapse. They add layer upon layer of ‘complexity’. Each layer costs money (resources). Finally, the society can no longer afford it. It declines and falls.

That night we went to a restaurant along the river in Southwark. The Gaucho it is called. It is very stylish. And very full of patrons, almost all young, hip, urban, successful, men in white shirts and ties (having taken off their coats), women in sleek dresses.

The couple on one side both had dyed blond hair. The man looked a bit like a dishevelled version of Brad Pitt. The woman looked like she might be imitating Amy Winehouse. Otherwise, the diners were practically interchangeable parts of a vast machine. Clerks. Traders. Lawyers. Managers. Analysts. Salesmen.

We had seen them going to work in the morning, a river of them coming out of London Bridge station. In the evening, the river reversed course, like the Thames itself; the people flowed back out of central London.

But at 10pm many were still collected in the tidal pools – the restaurants, bars, and clubs of the city. There were at least 100 of them in the Gaucho.

Which world do they belong to, we wondered? To the world of real work and real output? Or to the grey, zombie world, where people go through the motions, but never really add a thing.

London grew rich by offering financial services. Its people show well. You wouldn’t trust an Italian or a Greek with a sausage, let alone your money. But who expects to get ripped off by an Englishman with a good accent? And who knows a good English accent, except another Englishman?

And so the money rolled in and the rents went up. And now, a small army of professionals dines at the Gaucho, fed on the profits of leveraged buyouts and securitised, derivative-enhanced hedge funds, far out on the efficient frontier.

“Russians are the worst”, the cab driver told us on the way back to our hotel.

“I guess they’re used to getting ripped off at home. So, they come here. They get in the cab. And if I get stuck in traffic… or if I have to detour to get around traffic… they think I’m trying to put something over on them. They’re stupid. They trust the bankers but not the cab drivers. It ought to be the other way around.”

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  • somersdave

    rsity (for those who have lost their jobs or faced reduced circumstances in the slimmed down/asset stripped companies) makes men.

    Most people are just going to have get accustomed to reduced living standards (not all bad) but a dramatic change of emphasis, direction and attitude will be needed to recover the situation. Being political, I believe that most of our social and economic ills have been deliberately created.

  • Willem de Leeuw

    I don’t totally disagree with the complexity on complexity point but I can’t help feeling that this is a Bill Bonner hissy fit because he’s found he cannot do what he wants, when he wants. He complains about zombies but what does he do? He publishes a magazine called Moneyweek that has almost no orginal content. Look in the mirror, dude.

  • Dr Ray

    Sounds like you were thwarted in an attempt to profit from peoples gullibility for alternative (or “quack” as it is known in the trade) medicine.
    Market forces and peoples choice are fine provided there is no asymmetry of information or knowledge so your average person is perfectly capable of choosing one shoe retailer over another and the better one will prosper and the other will go out of business. With medical treatment the average person, even with all the information on the internet cannot possibly make an informed choice and has to be protected from charletans. Like it or not government does have a limited but valid role in this.

  • charlesdb

    Oh Bill! I always love reading your articles, but this one takes the biscuit.

    As a Londoner, I find that everyone has a choice. No one is compelled to choose rip off London Solicitors. And if I have an accident, I don’t have to write a cheque or produce my credit card, before the ambulance takes me to hospital.

    And as you were in St Pancras, I’m surprised you didn’t conclude that England is a den of prostitution.

    As for Money Week, as a subscriber I often wonder why I don’t commit suicide after reading the articles. I could also conclude that Money Week is screwed, judging by the paucity of Advertising; but unlike your goodself, I don’t make sweeping assumptions.

  • Boris MacDonut

    The 2011 census gave final proof that London is no longer part of the Britain. Only 50% of its inhabitants were born here and only 44% are white British. There are 300,000 Russians and as many Chinese, Germans and Yanks. Of the remaining Brits 90% said they wanted to leave London.
    Bill refers to chance meetings with Russians and the French to suggest Britain is screwed.

  • Critic Al Rick

    Britain is screwed. The West is screwed.

    As Bill says “The system is rigged in the zombies’ favour… Finally… It declines and falls.”

    Only a zombie and/or a moron can fail to see.

  • Lupulco

    It is not just London, it is the West in general.
    Empires rise, reach their peak and are then are replaced by other Empires.
    This as gone on for time immemorial, all that changes is;
    a] location, b] the rate of the change.

    This link explains it better then me

  • Boris Macdonut

    #6 I fail to see how Britain is screwed. Bill fails to explain why he thinks so, just relates a series of carping stories about tourist trouble in London. Rick you fail to explain why too. But like a terrorist you probably only see failure as a learning experience on the road to success.

  • Critic Al Rick

    @ 8. Boris

    I’ve posted on MW many times why. You either just haven’t been paying sufficient attention or don’t (like an ostrich) see anything you don’t want to see or are compliant with some other uncomplimentary criticism.


    1) an irreversible Budget Deficit

    2) an irreversible Balance of Payments Deficit

    I will be pleased to address any sensible comments you may have. But I must say I agree with somersdave @ 1. re. our social and economic ills. And you have the gall to liken me to a terrorist! Being a zombie, you have aided and abetted (albeit inadvertently) probably the biggest terrorists around.

    As I’ve also posted before: I hope I won’t be around when the real terror strikes Britain.

    Incidentally, I learn by my observations and experiences, sometimes by interim failure; may I ask why you should lampoon that?

    Surely it’s those that never admit to themselves of making a mistake who are the ones worthy of ridicule.

  • Boris MacDonut

    #9 Rick. Good point and I agree you are one of those who tries to learn from experience.You just have this dreadful pessimism and fatalism that i do not adhere to. Our budget deficit is not irreversible, it is just a bit bigger than is comfortable for peacetime. I definitely don’t buy Bill’s zombie accusations.Our economy was never more productive than when we had 6 million “zombies” underarms and fighting for democracy.

  • Critic Al Rick

    Poppycock! If ever I needed confirmation of a zombie living in cloud cuckoo land!

    Also, are you by any chance suggesting Britain’s involvement in a big war would reverse our Budget Deficit and/or, indeed, reverse our Balance of Payments Deficit.

    Boris, you say you aren’t a wind-up merchant, perhaps you wouldn’t like to explain why you don’t consider our Budget Deficit to be irreversible (excepting after enduring very real and very harsh austerity; i.e. being very tightly screwed).

  • Boris MacDonut

    #11 Rick. You are tiresome. You need to shake off the negativity. Of course I don’t suggest a war is the answer. I am alluding to the fact that we cope perfectly well with much bigger borrowings in time of war, so why not cope just as well in a time of peace? I find it unecessarily rude to refer to me as a zombie or living in cuckoo land. If you cannot think of a decent argument, just pause and don’t press the keys. It makes you appear shallower than the pond you actually crawled from.
    The UK is now recovering. We are well into year 6 of the lost deacade so the light at the end of the tunnel shines brighter every day. It irks you ,I know, but that is a fact.

  • Critic Al Rick

    Boris, I see things as they are, not as I would like them to be.

    So-called Growth c/o relatively cheap ‘home-produced’ fossil-fuel energy plus a thriving Balance of Payments Surplus hepled us recover from WWII; the days of relatively cheap energy, let alone significantly ‘home-produced’, and Balance of Payments Surplus are over; the only way is down. It’s not what I want; it is the reality. Can’t you see that the economic situation is nowhere near the same as it was 40-60 years ago?

    You could redeem yourself of ‘spitting the dummy’ behaviour by suggesting a decent argument for a sensible and practicable way to reverse the Balance of Payments Deficit without resorting to very real and very harsh austerity; without Britain (the West) being very tightly screwed.

    Negativity? I’d be positively delighted to hear of credible such.

  • James

    The UK is definitely in for a rough ride. I would expect civil unrest in the coming year. People are fed up with rising prices, well in excess of the governments figures (who are you going to believe, your lieing eyes or the government); poverty is widespread, especially in the north with pensioners, single moms and working poor to be seen everywhere. Our politicians spend their time working out offshore retirement plans and fiddling expenses instead of focusing on the the country (they wont be around so they dont care) and taxpayer money is spent bailing out banksters and their bonuses not helping the taxpayers. Our royals, parading around in uniforms with unearned medals frequently off to fight the wars then turning up on a beach somewhere the next day are a disgrace to the real heroes. The working class may be fooled most of the time, but I think they are beginning to wake up. About time.

  • Boris MacDonut

    #13 Rick I suggest you read Evan Davis’ book Made in Britain and look to the expansion of our Universities to accomodate the youth of the World and earn their foreign currency payments. I believe Britain has a great future ahead and simply do not accept your wish list of doom.
    #14&15 James. Civil unrest ! The working class waking up ! Don’t be so ludicruous.

  • Critic Al Rick

    the outcome of the wishes of the Insiders.

    However, you are making progress – I’ve put a Danny Dorling on my Wish List!

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