I don’t understand the economy. That much has been established so long ago it’s scrawled on cave walls with shards of flint. But that is not just because the economy is hard to understand and I am slow of study. It is also because the economy is an inconceivable concept – so abstract that in the end, all answers to the questions it asks are ideological. Like with religious faith, or crisp flavours, or pet rodent options, what you think about state intervention in a free market has changed little since the circumstances and opinions of your parents drilled it into you when you were four.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. When a crisis happens, obviously you have to abandon the ocean liner of ideology and leap into the lifeboat of pragmatism. And that’s fine too, as long – and this is the important thing – as you pretend that that’s how you preferred sailing all along. That way, people will take you seriously, and maybe even vote for you. Or just forget that you ever said any different. This week, for example, Peer Steinbrück – the SPD’s chancellor candidate at next year’s election – said that it was time to regulate the banks. They would be the same banks he deregulated when he was Germany’s finance minister until three years ago.
In fact, as this article pointed out, if Steinbrück were an honest man, he’d admit that Oskar Lafontaine, the man once dismissed as “the most dangerous man in Europe” was right all along when he said that the banks shouldn’t be allowed to gamble quite so much with people’s money. Turns out that was a bit more dangerous than just being a blustering lefty who likes the ladies. Which all suggests that if we’d had the financial crisis in 2005 instead of 2008, the SPD would have agreed with Lafontaine, and he wouldn’t have had to leave to form the Linke. And we’d all still be in our safe ideological cruise ships.