Let us remove our spectacles carefully, expel hot breath on the lenses, take out the polishing cloth, remove the grease and grime, replace them newly pellucid, and look clear-eyed into 2018. What do we see? Is the vision of the year to come edenic and rational, optimistic and life-affirming? Or is it a chainsaw massacre which in eschatological terms represents a huge acceleration towards the end of civilisation?
The rationalist’s view is neither, of course, rather something in between but, when I gaze into my cracked and non-spherical crystal ball, the 12 months to come resemble the latter much more closely than the former. It’s Breugel not Turner, it’s Anthrax's Music of Mass Destruction not André Rieu and his orchestra, it’s dodgy kebab aflame with chili, not pasta with grated truffle, draught Tennents not Côte Rôtie and, if happiness is truly a function of expectation, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Collectively, how does the City feel on the eve of the most fundamental upheaval the industry has experienced since Big Bang in the late 80s? It’s like May on the Somme, 1916. It is a workforce waiting for the MiFID guillotine to fall. It’s an industry in denial, an ostrich with its head buried in the dungheap, praying fervently that it won’t be as bad as it fears. It is right about that: it will be much worse.
The only possible antidote to this financial ebola could be the inflation and further inflation of Bitcoin and the other crypto-assets which may serve as some kind of life-support machine for anyone who’s taken a cheeky punt. There is a pronounced bear market in bonds, stocks and commodities as investors shun conventional investments in pursuit of technological alchemy. I foresee further excitement, irrational exuberance, euphoria, total hysteria and then, when the systematic threat presented by the first truly global pyramid scheme becomes potentially catastrophic for the financial system, a regulatory crackdown, a collapse, worldwide crisis, a bankruptcy pandemic and mass self-defenestration. Lots of people will have given up salaried employment to speculate from home full-time and this will precipitate social chaos and mass refugee flows. This is my base-case scenario but there are more extreme forecasts out there.
2018 could be the year that Ursus Major, perma-bear and perma-wrong, Albert Edwards, finally gets it right having predicted 10 of the last two stock market crashes. His attempt every January to frighten the living bejeesus out of money managers with his apocalyptic outlook for the year ahead is apparently under-subscribed next month which he interprets as “minimum worried” complacency on their behalf as opposed to a growing disenchantment with his perennial misprognostication. If he were to swap jobs with any of his clients he would be out of it in short order because if you’ve been short S&P since 666 or something no one will trust you with the kitty for desk coffee let alone a fund.
To predict the fall of the Tory government requires no wild leap of the imagination, just a sober assessment of the indefensibility of any strategy in so polarising an issue. Jeremy Corbyn forms a coalition government, McDonnell becomes chancellor, there is a run on sterling, large-scale nationalisation, the property market topples and the Chinese begin to acquire large swathes of Britain at knockdown prices as an exodus of the middle-class causes a logjam at Dover and a jungle village, a Kentish Sangatte, grows up in its suburbs.
In America, Donald Trump is finally impeached/has a breakdown on prime-time television/is forced to resign over the endless accusations of sexual abuse. Whatever brings him down, the future is not orange but the sunset, into which a helicopter flies his straitjacketed, heavily sedated and surprisingly corpulent mass, might be. Mike Dense is sworn in as president and spends the next three years reciting prayers to an ungrateful nation which suddenly starts thinking the morally corrupt predecessor was not so bad after all and, if nothing else, a source of endless distraction. I foresee Trump hosting “The Apprentice” on television again this time next year. Or perhaps “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here”? Definitely not “Love Island”, though. No one would be safe.
2018 will occasion the anniversary of many historical landmarks, foremost among them the centennial of the end of The Great War, the 75th anniversary of Stalingrad and the fiftieth of Martin Luther King’s assassination and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. None of these is the cause of much celebration but the lobotomised majority of the population will derive huge consolation from another royal wedding, an event I steadfastly refuse to honour with capital letters. If one has no life or imagination of one’s own and exists vicariously through the poorly-conceived soap opera of the Windsors then one may enjoy this mindless flag-waving, Union Jack kitsch and national self-abasement but I, for one, will be leaving the country for its entirety.
If we take a sneaky peak up the sporting skirts of 2018 what delights can we see? Russia’s exclusion from the Winter Olympics will at least spare us the nauseating sight of Putin’s narcotically-enhanced robots winning medal after medal for his further glorification. Topping the medal table last time round, it will be satisfying to see that position reversed this time. One way or another though, we shall be seeing a lot of Vlad The I’mPaler next year as he self-coronates after the presidential elections in spring and then his blank and botoxed features will be the dominant image imprinted all over the World Cup in the summer. Despite the doping, the Russian team are as hapless and hopeless as England and therefore quite unlikely to progress any further than the group stages of the tournament. The future in that respect will closely resemble the past.
It is said that depressives can’t see the future and that’s why they’re depressed but I think I’ve seen it and I don’t feel any better for it.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, yo ho ho and all that rot.