Learning to love the recession

Recessions do have their advantages - but not many

Between two trips to Scotland in August I managed to squeeze in a week in Italy. How nice it was: seven days of unbroken sunshine on the Amalfi coast before returning to the midges and the rain.

What a washout of a summer. And now we have autumn to look forward to: more rain and a recession too.

Over at The Sunday Times, India Knight thinks I should cheer up. We're coming back to earth at last, she says, and a good thing too. The recession is just what we need. What is happening is like "a huge national reality check". Unwelcome as this may be, "there is a possibility that it will result in our straightening out our priorities". We may even begin to learn "the joys of the New Thrift". All that spending on stuff we didn't need was madness anyway.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

"Living in a society where it is considered normal for young women on modest salaries to feel it is important to buy £700 handbags, or to dress in top-to-toe designer outfits, or to blow most of the week's wages on partying', isn't sane or impressive," however much you may want to live like a pop star.

It's hard to dispute this, but habits, especially spending habits, are not so easy to break. Knight, however, doesn't mind the endless headlines about falling house prices and rising fuel costs. "I'm rather loving them, mostly because I am happy to observe that the decades of vulgar excess are finally over." What did we think we were doing, wasting all that money on weekend pads in the country, regular blowdries, expensive restaurants? "It's not as if we could afford it."

Now, instead of drinking cocktails in some over-designed bar, we'll have to hang out with friends at home over a bottle of wine and some lasagne. No more going mad at Christmas and buying too many presents for the children. Very good for us, and them.

Alexander Chancellor at The Guardian sees a similar silver lining. Hard times can have the effect of "making society cosier and less competitive", he says. "It may be my imagination, but I think I can already feel in London a quieter, more amiable atmosphere, in which people are friendlier and less abusive than they were when times were good."

And financial insecurity improves people's manners: "I remember during the economic downturn of the 1980s how polite shopkeepers became, so eager were they to attract one's custom."

It would be nice to be convinced by this, but it sounds to me like whistling in the dark. Recessions may seem all right if you're a comfortably-off columnist, but have little to recommend them if you're on the breadline. And even if you're not, well, it's nice to be able to buy a pair of shoes or an expensive cocktail (or, in my case, boat), even if you don't actually need them or it. It's true that recessions have their advantages it's easier to book tables in restaurants, for example. But in the end, it's surely better to have money than not to have it.