Simon English: It doesn't really have to be the end of the world

 

Outlook From Reuters: "Germany easily sold €4bn of new, interest-free, two-year bonds on Wednesday, with investors edgy about European Central Bank plans to curb the debt crisis... Germany sold bonds with a zero coupon – meaning it pays no interest to the holder – for the second time this year, reflecting a fall in its borrowing costs to historic lows..."

To some minds news such as this, indicating that countries can presently fund themselves for nothing is evidence that government bonds are the next great bubble to burst.

When it does, it will make the housing crash and the fallout from the dot.com boom look like a nursery school teacher's picnic, they say.

It is certainly true that investors are buying US treasuries, UK gilts and German government bonds like there were no tomorrow, indeed, because they fear there may be no tomorrow.

Such safety-first activity has been in predominance since the crash of 2008, when people who got used to the good times were starkly reminded that they always end, that banks are speculative houses of cards rather than solid entities and that things can get worse far faster than they can ever get better.

The doom scenario goes like this: the safety-first crowd discover that what looks safe may not be. A serious dose of inflation sends interest rates rocketing, and gilts yielding nothing or close to nothing halve in value.

Investment portfolios are decimated, entire countries go bust because no one wants the next stock of lousy bonds which they need to sell to keep the lights on and the roads straight.

This view is relatively common in the City just now, partly informed by a crowd that just can't get their heads around the idea of lending money for nothing, unless there are also chicks for free.

There's an alternative scenario, far less dramatic but much better for all concerned.

At some point the belt and braces crew stop fretting about tomorrow, notice that we are all still here despite everything, and figure the end of the world can wait awhile.

They get bored of earning interest of 0.01 per cent and decide it's time for a bit of excitement. Slowly, they adjust their portfolios to higher-risk equities; they fund start-up companies and fall back in love with venture capital. The stock market rises. The economy grows. Pension deficits narrow.

A new chancellor says he's learnt the lessons of history and shall never overspend again.

Meanwhile, soaring corporation tax receipts are leaving government finances awash in black ink. He's going to have to spend that money somehow, if only out of embarrassment. Schools get better. Everyone lives longer and healthier.

And former Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King sits at the cricket and smiles. Quantitative easing worked. It drove down long-term gilt yields so spectacularly that in the end the world was forced to invest for growth.

He was right all along but is too polite to say so.

Anyway, he's already got a knighthood.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Guru Careers: Management Accountant

£27 - 35k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Management Accountant is needed ...

Guru Careers: Project Manager / Business Analyst

£40-50k + Benefits.: Guru Careers: A Project Manager / Business Analyst is nee...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'