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Tuesday, 6 September 2016

202. The TAT Economy. What is it and should we be scared?

The UK is a Tat Economy. More so than ever since Brexit.

It’s a house with no foundations, a suspension bridge with no suspension. Britannia is running a marathon without a support bra; unsustainable and ultimately sore.

Scanning the headlines of those newspapers whose rich tax-exile owners supported Brexit everything in the UK garden is – apparently – rosy. Scratch a little deeper and the stony, poorly fertilised soil of this supposedly burgeoning economy turns out to be -  consumer spending. Sift through some more mucky statistics and you will note that there are more UK households in HUGE amounts of personal debt than ever before. Many people in the UK are now economic zombies; the financial walking dead.

So – let’s unravel that tantalising, tangled creeper of a phrase ‘consumer spending’ because this is – we are told – the magic that is keeping the economy’s bean stalk in the air.

Basically consumer spending means people buying a lot of shit they don’t need and didn’t want until advertisers persuaded them otherwise and they are buying on credit (someone else’s money). It means guys buying gadgets they may play with once and golf equipment they are never going to use. It means women paying to get their nails painted and buying clothes they wear once and shoes they then carry around as they stumble home from boozy nights out with the girls after buying drinks none of them can afford. It is credit card spending at 90 MPH, debt at a depth of 1000 fathoms. It’s fiscal hell on toast.

Gambling in the UK is endemic, a barely concealed quagmire of economic fragility that is sucking many families down. Despite the plague of separate-you-from-your-money advertisements for everything from bingo to online poker, the smiling men and women featured in those brightly coloured fantasy montages, are the biggest lie out there. If Jo Public wasn’t so anaesthetised by having his face forever in one screen or another it would be more convincing to show someone smiling after they’ve just been diagnosed with bowel cancer than when they have just gambled away a year’s rental in ten minutes.
None of it is enhancing people’s lives. And in fact debt is a major source of stress-induced mental ill health.

A huge part of the UK economy is based on buying Tat, rubbish, crap. Promotion and advertising has gone nuclear as a result. You cannot purchase the most innocuous item in a shop without being asked for your email address (usually under the guise of mailing you a receipt). You will then be bombarded with promotions. If, like me, you are unfortunate enough to have an old yahoo account you will know it has become almost unusable due to the sheer volume of advertisements that explode onto the screen whenever you log in.

Continually manipulating people to buy tat they don’t need is an industry in itself. It takes a massive reservoir of resources and money and ingenuity and effort to get folk to eat stuff that is bad for them and watch crap films and buy new clothes every week, buy three pairs of trainers even though they never go to the gym, buy complicated coffee machines – (you can’t just put it through a filtre?) buy things that blend your fruit/veg - because why - your teeth don’t work? In fact, there is an inverse equation that I find helpful. The harder someone has to work to sell you something you didn’t know you needed, the more likely it is to be crap.

Rabid consumerism has been normalised so efficiently. When did a new sofa every few years become the norm or two/three annual holidays abroad?

But – at the end of the day – coffee shops, nail bars, disposable clothes and food-for-entertainment does not make for a sustainable economy. Yes, people are spending, they are spending like crazy – people are addicted to spending. But lots of folk are addicted to smoking and alcohol and drugs – and we know how that pans out.

You know I love my analogies so here comes another one. The economic buoyancy of the Tat Economy is like being kept afloat in stormy water by a cheap, punctured dingy. Right now, the holes just happen to be so clogged with detritus that the air won’t let out. But when it does… Oh boy. No bouy-ancy.

It’s not so long ago that the only hefty personal debt most adults would ever have would be their mortgage. But they were borrowing against something that benefited them on a daily basis and eventually the home would hopefully be mortgage free and worth something. Then having a flashy car became an ‘essential’ even though the vast majority of us live near buses and trains and cycle-ways. A car became another thing people would borrow heavily for albeit that it ruins their health haemorrhages money and devalues from the second it is driven out of the showroom. 

But – and especially since higher education became a lucrative way for the government to keep young people out of the unemployment figures – debt has become the norm. We are training young people to think being in MASSIVE amounts of debt is normal. We have an entire generation that have started life under the hefty yolk of colossal debt that some will never crawl out from under.

And while this may be all fine and dandy for those mopping up the money as it is flushed down the toilet by ordinary people, it is ultimately a social earthquake waiting to happen. The fault line runs through every town village and city. If you think *fracking is going to rock our world just wait and see the cracks that open up as the hidden debt breaks through.

Since the Industrial Revolution strong economies have been based on production and investment in infrastructure. Workers were valued because they could deliver that production. Now – it seems – ordinary citizens are just a way of funnelling money from lenders to profiteers. Tat is the cheap trick by which that alchemy takes place.

But a Tat Economy is a deadly thing. It is a sick thing.
Our Tat Economy is cardboard boat adrift in an acid ocean.

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Thanks for reading
*Casey & the Surfmen is now available direct from bandcamp


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