Jumping off the fiscal cliff

Fiscal cliff. It’s a great phrase isn’t it? I love it. It’s so inviting. So descriptive. So deliciously camp. You can imagine it being screamed by a man in a sharp suit and homburg to a woman wearing a torn red dress in a 1950s neon-coloured B-movie horror flick: ‘Nooo! Nooo! The fiscal cliff! It’s here!’ With this in mind, it’s pretty sad that the only great financial-doom phrase we’ve managed to come up with on this side on the pond is the decidedly down-market ‘credit crunch’. Sounds like a breakfast cereal or a slight prang from behind on the roundabout.

However, both are slightly snappier than the amazingly named European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). This entity is not real. I believe it is part of an economic drinking game. Well, I hope it is. Because if it isn’t it just shows that if you ask civil servants from 27 nations to devise a name for a new quango/instrument, someone – usually the British - will always take the piss. Which, for a former Whitehall civil servant like myself, is rather a relief. Jolly good show chaps!

One thing I won’t miss in 10 years’ time, when we eventually exit this economic gloom, is the Daily Telegraph’s Debit Crisis Live. At the height of the Eurozone crisis it must have seemed like a great idea. Merkozy were running around being stern and purposeful, he on the top step – always; Greece was setting fire to its Parliament; Italy was swapping Bunga for Technocracy; Spain woke up one day and found that no one had a job and the UK was puffing out its chest while everyone round the table cringed and inched further away. All the while the ratings agencies were in a frenzy, downgrading everything in sight: lampshades, swimming pools, cutlery, small children, even some banks! There was a lot going on. Now, however, things have (probably temporarily) calmed down. And Debt Crisis Live is not such a great idea. In fact you can hear the sound of heads banding on desks as the journos desperately search for something to write once every hour. If you listen really closely you can also hear the tumbleweed rolling across the page.

Anyway. At the time of writing America is still wobbling on the edge of their own personal fiscal cliff; their politicians unable – or unwilling - to look their economic situation full in the face, accept that they’re not financially invincible, drop the egos and just do something. But, you know, they will do something. They have to. Because if they don’t, they’re looking at a major financial crisis, one which will make 2007/08 look like a little local difficulty, one which could plunge them into a depression they’ve not seen the like of since the 1930s.

If there is a lesson here it’s probably: Keep Calm and Carry On. Don’t jump off the fiscal cliff. Hope that America doesn’t fall off theirs. And don’t believe everything you read in Debt Crisis Live!

Happy New Year!