Monday, October 27, 2008

Financial Malaise

The on-going financial crisis has been a pretty reliable topic in the speaking section of each lesson I run - new ructions, plans, hikes, crashes and spasms splashing the news day after day. Interest though noticeably evaporated last week. It appears the whole situation has just gone on too long. The novelty has not only worn off but is starting to bring many down.

Having a varied group of nationalities, I follow the relative damage to the countries concerned: Hungary has been tarred by association. CNN decided to put it in the same sentence as Iceland (reckless, perhaps) and said that the IMF had offered it a loan (which it declined). The market and the currency nevertheless plummeted in response from which it hasn't recovered. The Czechs and Slovaks are the happiest: their banks are safe; their economies are still unaffected; their only sadness is that with the Euro (and their currencies which move with the Euro) are appreciating, eroding their New Zealand savings. The Croatians are also fairly unaffected except for those speculating on the sharemarket as it keeps its downward trajectory ('I just keep buying the stock so I can lower my average.'/'It just keeps falling!' from two different students).

I've heard from a couple of self-employed people who are struggling a little. I haven't had any noticeable effect (it'd be a surprise if I was affected as quickly as them though). I have recently been given a project which will be a monthly money earner. I hope this will insulate any post-Christmas easing. And the boom of this year has left me with reasonable savings. Interest rates falling along with house prices appeals to the acquisitive part of me. I'm not yet into house buying mode or even in a situation where it is an ideal plan but the fact that the trend has begun that will eventually suit me is good. Lower petrol prices suit summer roadtripping too. Maybe post-crisis living won't be too bad for me after all.

Thinking of more than just myself, the scale of the crisis is starting to unnerve me. Commodity prices are crucial to New Zealand and they are simply plummeting with global demand. It'll be quite some time before they can get back to that high. And still the extent of the carnage globally is still not known. Along with 9/11 and the Boxing Day Tsunami, this is another global phenomenon that we get to experience in our adult lives. It is special.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Daniel on the classroom floor

I'm floating. No, really I am. It has been exactly a month since my anxiety faded into nothingness. All I've been left with is a general levity, not an ounce of stress in my whole entire body. I've had favourable conditions, it's true. Work is not work. It has sustained itself and, without any doing of my own, is building up and producing more opportunities. (My reality check will come this Thursday when one opportunity will actually make me put my nose to the grindstone!) I've had pleasant preoccupations, considerate friends at my side and no hick-ups.

My dermatitis has finally left its stronghold on my right hand. My back-pain (AKA Xin-pain) has completely gone. The apparent and underlying stress is draining from me slowly. I enjoy my back stretches. One I do on my back to adjust my hips: pop-pop-pop, and ohhhhhh, how nice it is to just lie on my back on the classroom floor. I could stay there for hours.

This has been a faith-builder in the power of life, the temporacy of turmoil and the joy of being. It is now that I take a breather before I dive back in.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Market Society (part 1?)

It is always nice when one's reading material coincides with one's conversations. As mentioned previously here, I've found a philosopher who particularly resonates with me: John Gray. His material is rather pessimistically written, making it tough-reading but incisive enough to keep you drawn in.

I started his book False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism, two weeks ago but I put it aside as I munched my way through two other books. I'm back into it now and loving it. Personally, I've always held rather economically liberal views in tandem with my libertarianism. The book is a nice challenge to these views; in fact, it is perfect reading just before a general election to have a book that goes against my base assumptions and creates a critical lens with which to interpret policy announcements.

I'm only 30 pages into 240, but have already felt compelled to write. To summarise his thesis so far, since the 1980s both the UK and NZ have been subject to rather extreme neo-liberal policies, privatising state assets, individual contracts, open markets and policies that are not directed at full employment but rather at economic efficiency. These policies create a society that serves the market (a market society) rather than a market that serves society's interests. The obvious signs of that are the transformations of small town New Zealand, student debt levels and social dislocation.

It stretches this to assert that these have resulted in social phenomena, such as high crime and imprisonment rates, higher divorce and solo-parentage rates and the weakening of the family (these have risen greatly since the institution of such policies). Moving with the market, people move to where work is and put a lot more emphasis on their career than family or relationships. I'd add that a market society works well with individualism and very well with materialism.

Putting aside the obvious fact that New Zealanders have always been going on OEs (I can argue that in the past there were other reasons for doing so), there has been a huge movement in people overseas for professional reasons, delaying laying roots in a community and perhaps building a stable family. On a small sample, Generation-Yers seem to be the full realisation of that mindset. From discussions recently, I know lots of people who have got the travel bug and 'need' to work elsewhere, or feel they'll have to move on soon. There is nothing wrong with travel and working abroad per se, but I'd say that there is perhaps an excessive desire in many people for both, well beyond its utility and benefit in the long-term.

My conversation hinged on just this point; that the desire to be travelling and working abroad is often harmful for not only the relationship or family but also for the welfare of nearly all involved; that the constant individualistic consideration over that of your relationship or over your family could be detrimental when everything is added up. The lack of an ability to compromise on individual goals, to delay gratification for the better of the whole is a pretty critical impediment long-term happiness.

These are just working thoughts though. Hopefully more ideas will come through while reading.