Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On The Rock

The Northern Rock thing is, frankly, hilarious. For years now the official line has been that savers are good, virtuous and saintly while debtors (who are significantly greater in number) are irresponsible fools with nobody to blame but themselves. Watching the panic ensue - panic engendered by the insistence that really, everything is fine - as the smug savers have their confidence thoroughly shaken by little more than their own inadequate understanding of mathematics has been fucking brilliant.

I keep going on about the importance of maths in adult life for just this kind of eventuality: it's remarkably easy to be blinded by politicians or confused by banks when your number skills are lacking. One of the reasons so many people gamble is because they don't understand the difference between statistics and probability: those books with surefire lottery-winning systems are uniformly, on closer inspection, about maximising winnings when you do win, not increasing your actual chances, a distinction that is blurred to people who don't have the maths. And don't even get me started on DIYers.

What should be more worrying to everyone about the Northern Rock fiasco is that it shows the central weakness of the credit industry, namely perception. It's an entirely illusory market, one that only exists as long as you believe in it, like Tinkerbell - stop clapping and the fairy dies. The government telling people there's really nothing to worry about (which was true, actually) is like shouting "don't think of orange penguins"... The queues and recriminations prove how ignorant people are of how money works, how resistant they are to facts and reality, how prone they are to self-inflicted melodrama and how fragile a company whose entire trade rests on customer perception can be. Consider that Britain's primary export is finance, that our only serious industry is the manufacture of debt, and it's a worrying glimpse of an economic armageddon that could happen at any time - an apocalypse triggered by nervous idiots.

But it is also funny. It'll be interesting to see how future governments choose to diversify Britain's portfolio, now that we've all seen the beardy guy behind the curtain. In the meantime perhaps savers will stop being so bloody self-satisfied and realise that Britain's economic problems are theirs too, and not just the concern of the poor and foolish debtors.

I broke 5K! I managed to run an entire five kilometres (three-and-a-bit miles, Imperialists) without stopping, walking or dying. It doesn't sound like much (well, not if you're a Proper Runner) but it's a target I thought unattainable when I started running seven months ago and promptly expired after 200 metres. I shall reward myself with a vast pizza, and a hat, since the weather is coldening. Anyway, my time was a snail-like 28:34, approximately twice what a pro runner would clock. I shan't be bothering la Radcliffe any time soon, but one of the nice things about running is that it really doesn't matter - even races with elite runners are inclusive of the rest of us, and if you can outpace Paula at this weekend's Great North Run then you can overtake her without fear of segregation. It's an egalitarian pursuit, running: all you have to do to be a Proper Runner is run.

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