Living in a time of contraction: random notes from a corner of rural Wales

In the Co-op supermarket, people’s trollies containing fewer processed foods than hitherto. More vegetables, fruit, bread, less confectionery and cake. That’s what it looks like. Also signs of supply strains, good quality fresh produce shifts fast, and there isn’t enough for everyone.

Quiet roads outside commuting times. In the evening I can drive 10 miles back from nearest town without seeing another vehicle. We only drive when we have to.

Raising money for good causes. Less easy than it was, but then I am not very persuasive. Not much spare cash around.

Empty shops. Llandovery, several miles to the east, reflects the lack of local spending power. Even the pound shop has closed, the convenience store across the street, the seconds clothing shop near the (too expensive) car park, a good bakery and patisserie, HSBC bank, the local museum. The Post Office is scheduled to close. The closures have come at a time when people can afford to travel less, when subsidies are being pulled from bus services, when in our part of the world road maintenance spending is to be cut by a third.

Official policies continue to favour centralisation, but they are behind the curve of reality. Most politicians still seem to be living in the expectation of renewed economic growth which will pay for yet more centralisation.

However, we have already monetised previous voluntary, unpaid activities, such as care of the elderly and childcare, to boost Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures. There is not much left to monetise, so it was no surprise that in the Budget last Wednesday the Chancellor freed pensioners to spend their funds just as they like, instead of having to buy an annuity, or enrol in a tightly regulated income drawdown plan, the situation until now. Some new pensioners will be cautious, no doubt, but there are bound to be others who are tempted to spend – and that spending will inflate GDP. But is it wise in the long term? What happens when the spendthrift retirees run out of money and are subsisting on the new universal pension of about £7,300 a year, at today’s prices? Will that level of state pension be affordable? Will it be allowed to diminish in real value, so that pensioners sink into real poverty?

Short-term thinking has got us into a real mess. We are entering the era of resource limits without a strategy for fair distribution, without even a strategy for informing people about the likely trajectories of decline.

But then, for those who have scrambled to the top of the crumbling pyramid, the fate of the people below them is not always an important priority.

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