Life is becoming very complicated, or I am becoming old. As I am wont to do, today I tried to improve my computer but managed stop it working. Perhaps that is an improvement of some kind. It made me realise just how dependent we have become upon the workings of machine that we imperfectly understand powered by energy which we do not directly own. That is quite complicated, but one complication does not matter. You cannot expect everything to be simple.
I went to the shops to buy a newspaper and some batteries. I buy both intermittently. The shops are just over a mile away from where I live, so I drove there and back this rainy Saturday morning. The newspaper cost £1, the batteries £10.20 and the car parking – a tax on stopping at a shop which is not part of a shopping mall, cost £2.30. I had to pay by telephone because there were no cash machines. For the inconvenience of paying by telephone and doing the administration of the parking authority for it and doing so, giving my credit card number and all that kerfuffle (as opposed to dropping a coin in a meter) I had to pay the extra 30 pence for what is called an administration charge. If logic and fairness prevailed I should have been paid 30 pence for my trouble, not having to pay 30 pence to save the parking authority trouble.
I could have travelled in my car another mile and gone to a shopping mall where parking is free. That would have saved me the £2.30 and that would not have cost as much as that in additional petrol for my car, but it would have cost me time and cost the environment, just a little. It would have also made my simple task just as complicated but for different reasons.
I am very fortunate because these things are an inconvenience; paying an extra £2.30 will not change my life, but there are many people for whom these little inconveniences also mean a big difference to their lives; that could mean the difference between eating meat or fruit and not eating at all. It could mean filling up at MacDonald’s, sponsors of the Olympic Games for healthy eating, rather than eating properly. If I broke my computer I can borrow another or use an old one that was gathering dust in a corner of a cupboard.
In the supermarket the teller was chatting to a customer as she pinged her groceries. The teller was a young girl and said that she had five years left of studies at University. The customer, an older lady smiled. “Don’t worry dear, that’s all right. the recession will be over by then.”
I hope so. The recession has been caused by complications. Speculators have devised such engines of complications that no one can understand what they do and how they do what they do, not even the designers. We cannot keep track of these complicated derivatives and swaps and speculations. Like my computer, when we try to fix them, we often break them. Auditors cannot audit them, politicians pretend to understand them but fail so to do and ordinary people ignore what they do not understand. They are simply machines for getting the money that the poorer people have earned out of their wallets and pockets and into the wallets and pockets of those using these devices.
Sometimes complications are necessary, but where they are used to disguise the truth, like derivatives or the hundreds of different tariffs of an energy company or a cell phone provider, they turn an economy into a monopoly, where the skilled and resourced prevail at the expense of the simple souls. Most of us are simple souls, whatever qualifications they have and most of us are wasting a good deal of our lives having to do simple things in a complicated way.