Oops, forgot to blog this last week, as my brain has deserted me to sing in a 5-brain boy band somewhere out in the Middle East. The best quote in the news recently came at the very bottom of a relatively minor article. Hear me out on this one, cos it's all to do with The Matrix, really.
Why was it good? Because it cuts through the crap and continuing delusion present in our economy, and in our perception of the economy - what we're spun, what we want to believe like in some boringest X-Files episode where Mulder and Scully have to investigate a spooky ISA.
That it's from the French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, probably says something. Talking about the French economy being in relatively decent shape, she points her laser eyes straight at the problem, and gives it a megawatt dosage of cold truth:
"I think we have let this world of fantasy and virtuality overcome reality... There have to be more principles, more discipline and a bit more reality," the minister says.
Rock on. And you see where the Matrix comes in yet? Here in the UK, we jump on the bandwagon and go blaming house price crashes, credit squeezes and giant supernatural entities. These are all just effects. House prices went up because cash was made available and everyone started buying houses.
Why did everyone buy houses? Because everything else has lost value. We saw the .com bubble get pricked at the turn of the millennium and went "oh, better get back to something physical". A re-direction of financial energy from the simulated to the "real", only the value of that reality was still "simulated", because it was driven by Returns, not by Actual Worth.
And why did everyone dive into the .com bubble, like a big swimming pool made of bitty custard? Because it was easy to inflate the value of it. It was new, exciting, and resources were unlimited - in economic terms, it offered unlimited growth. (Paradoxically, this also meant infinite supply too. Which means zero value. Aha.) And that omnidirectional growth was important when we pretty much have what we need. Even if what we have is badly-grown supermarket food and crap ad-riddled television.
So this is where we are. We make our cash from making cash, and we've sold off everything else. Business is the business, feedback is the feedback, and as Baudrillard points out, the more we lack/destroy something, the more we try to re-create (and profit from) those re-creations. Facebook re-creates community. "Web 2.0" re-creates creativity and production. Housing bubbles re-create a sense of worth.
If we're to get out of this trap, then pumping more imaginary numbers into the system won't fix anything in the long term, because we're still dealing with life on the imaginary level, and unlike South Park, imaginary things do not leap out and become real when terrorists say so. Christine Lagarde is right. We need to escape the Matrix. We need to start re-asking: "What is real value?"