There’s a lot of mind-casting going on, us thinking how things things have changed since 2010. But my mind is casting back further, back to the 1920s, the roaring twenties – where Britain emerged from a terrible four years of war and austerity and decided to live again. Put aside that this wasted decade hit the buffers and resulted in a second calamity, I am thinking of my great grandparents and grandparents waking up on the morning of 1920, to a new decade, certain that it would be better than the last.
And I imagine they did so with the optimism of survivors and the hope for something better. the 1920’s kicked off in the great metropolitan areas on London, NewYork, Paris and Berlin. They were known in France as the “crazy years”, where social, artistic and cultural dynamism spread out from the cities and created a “Zeitgeist” defined by jazz, fashion and technological advance.
I hope that we will manage the 2020’s with similar energy, though being the sober pension specialist that I am, I would like to think it left a better legacy than its historic forebear. The roaring twenties were brought to an end by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, it would take 90 years for the world to be brought to its knees again by the financial system.
The decade we have just outlived , lived in the shadow of the Financial Crisis of 2008-9 and paid for that crisis through austerity. We may not have had a war, but we’ve been through a bruising battle for Brexit , concluded by a resounding vote that the referendum of 2016 – should end referendum (unless you are Scotch).
Thinking back not just over decades but accross a century into a previous millenium, allows us some perspective but is a luxury we only allow ourselves at certain times.
Waking up on new year’s morning January 1st 2020 , I felt the need to take advantage of a free day on the south coast of our amazing island.
It gives me an opportunity to think forward , as some of those proto-flappers must have done, to imagine the world in January 2120. It will be a world without me I suspect, though there may be younger readers who can aspire to outlive this century and maybe live well into the next.
What will our planet look like then?
We have a hellish vision of what it could be – in Australia. A lightening fork ignites the countryside into bush-fires, people shelter on the beach as their world is engulfed in flame. Their wold is no longer hospitable to them, they are vulnerable to natural calamity that has overtaken them.
The fires that roar in New South Wales and Victoria could define the roaring twenties for us.
Driving back to London earlier this week, I listened to Radio 4’s today program with guest edits from Greta Thunberg. You can still listen to her father’s caring explanation of how he is living his life for his daughter, the touching bond in her conversation with David Attenborough and her interview with Michal Husain.
Put in the historical context, Greta describes the same lunacy in our complacency to the climate crisis as we ascribe to the political complacency that led to their being two world wars in the first five decades of the 1900s.
The lesson that we can learn from those decades is that mankind has the capacity to inflict self-harm upon itself in unimaginable ways. The trenches of Flanders and the death camps of Nazi Germany, stand witness to that.
For those of us who think we have progressed through our grasp of technology, beyond such harm, let’s look at the way part of our world is aflame, part melting, part under threat of imminent flood.
As Greta tells us, we need to change the conversation.
Over the past six months I have been visiting and re-visiting Olafur Eliasson’s magnificent website and his equally fine exhibition at Tate Modern.
It inspired me, as did Greta’s Radio 4 today program, to at least write this blog. It made me question why I was driving a car when I could have been on the train and it prompted me to think through a number of personal actions that form my new year’s resolution.
I do not claim to be an activist, I am more like Greta’s Mum and Dad, but I think that by not doing things, by being inactive, I can at least stop making matter’s worse.
I am finding that by thinking about my activities of daily living , I am seeing opportunities to reduce the net carbon footprint in everything I do.
I was pretty shocked to find that London Transport’s “responsible” strategy to getting people to the fireworks on the Embankment last night, was to close all the Santander bicycle racks. The sooner we make central London car-free, the better.
Greta’s Dad is not proud of his daughter…”Pride ” is the wrong word- he says, though he says he is proud for himself that he listened to her.
My son is studying Geography. He passed his driving test four years ago but has never driven a car on his own. He is part of a generation that we can support and not hinder. If my son chooses to devote himself as Greta has, I would not stand in his way. My pride can come from listening.
Mark Carney asks – what’s your plan?
Also featured on Greta’s radio 4 edit was Mark Carney, talking of the need for all asset owners to have a plan for how they are going to first stop things getting worse and then start rolling back the harm we have done.
He warned that stocks dependent on the use of Fossil Fuels may become worthless in a short time. There can be no clearer message to those who invest on our behalfs.
I was pleased to see Guy Opperman write in the Telegraph in support of Carney. Opperman is our pensions minister and he can influence the debate. Even in my little way, I can keep the conversation going and in my new year’s resolution, I have my plan.
“Something has to change” – says Carney, I know what has to change in my life – do you?
Just keep on taking and reinvesting the dividends assuming you can take a long term view. They represent over 80% of the equity return over the long term. Yields are very attractive compared to bonds.
Bond fans use one dimensional logic based on mathematics and/or financial economics. Similar no doubt to the logic used by ratings agencies to conclude sub-prime mortgage backed securities were triple A.
One must also bear in mind Keynes who famously said that the stock market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent!
Which is very much the view of my friends at First Actuarial around CDC