The Blog

It's Time to Wake Up and Smell the Optimism

As long as people (and the media) focus on doom and the possibility of doom, then people will read about it, talk about it and wait for it to happen.

If you spend your day in the pending tray, waiting for things to happen, then you'll probably spend your life waiting for things to happen.

(Clue: how often do you surf news sites and log into Twitter?)

There are so many things to be watching and waiting for: the fiscal cliff, the crisis in Europe, the budget issues here in the UK with the attendant cuts, whether Labour will become the next party of government, whether politicians will embrace Leveson.

Where to start?

As long as people (and the media) focus on doom and the possibility of doom, then people will read about it, talk about it and wait for it to happen.

It might. You never know.


It's not in the nature of the media in particular to push out optimism. That doesn't create anxiety. It won't get us huddled around the water cooler. Unless we have a media diet of endless doom, gloom and despondency, we're simply not happy.

So take that as a given.

But something else could be equally clear: whatever happens, we'll somehow manage. We always do.

We may not manage in the way that we do today (or did in 2008 before the latest wave of doom washed over us) but we will still get up in the morning and go to bed at night.


The slump we face is as much psychological as it is economic. We keep waiting for the worst to arrive. If we accept that when it does, we'll handle it, then we can surely park the possibility and get on with whatever we'd planned to do before our airwaves became polluted with negativity.

So maybe we should be comfortable being clear about some things.

Capitalism is not going away. It's the only show in town, the only system capable of self-organising in a way that produces a significant number of social benefits: wealth, development, employment, diversification and many more. (Let's not waste any more time mithering about bankers' bonuses - they are matters beyond our control).

There will always be forecasts about the end of the world and some people will take them seriously.

As long as there are people living and breathing there will be opportunities - to meet needs, create and sell new products, to realise our identity by helping others, to acquire status, to develop solutions to others' problems. It's worth noting that many people are motivated by their ability to come up with workable solutions to complex problems rather than by the amount of money that such skills attract.

The problems that are intractable today will be soluble tomorrow.

Some of the intractable problems we have today won't matter tomorrow - other problems will take their place.

Optimism can generate behaviour that can create grounds for optimism: consumers who spend, businesses that invest.

If we do nothing to generate growth and seek out new market places, then other nations - particularly the BRIC nations - will do it first. They haven't grown fat on the wealth of colonisation.

A bright future

Of course, there are many problems ahead here.

Yes, we need to cut the benefit bill. Creating jobs would be a start. Taking away the benefit trap would help. Those who suffer from motivational difficulties (often a product of sustained unemployment or dependency) will find it hard to get up in the morning to take a job that pays marginally more than they get for not getting up at all. Who wouldn't? But something that might lead to a job with real prospects could help change that.

Yes, we need to have fewer working people on benefits. Businesses who post multi-billion profits probably ought to reflect on the real cost of running their operations. In reality, benefits paid to low paid workers represents a form of state subsidy.

Yes, we will need to tackle the pension problem. We're all living longer. We may need to rethink what it means to be retired. Maybe all retired people should play a role in their community thus alleviating the pressure on public services. Would it be beyond most of us to deliver meals on wheels once a month? Or to do more?

Yes, we need to sort out the NHS. Partly, that will be structural - do we have the right number of hospitals of the right sort in the right place? Partly, it will be behavioural - do we individually do the best we can to stay healthy, thus putting as little pressure as possible on a system that might have to increasingly be seen as a safety net rather than a silver service.

All these things are true. And no doubt many more. But understanding them, even talking about them, will change nothing unless we take action.

This much may be clear: if we don't get on and take action to positively change our futures - collectively and individually - and instead wait for the worst to happen, we won't be disappointed.

It will.

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