It will be several months, at least, before it is clear whether the recession has been beaten and the conditions for sustainable growth established. In the meantime, all those of us with a profound interest in this area can do is keep a close eye on Wayne Rooney's hairline, and pray.
The initial signs are encouraging. It's very early doors, but the picture released yesterday suggests that Mr Rooney's hair transplant has been a success, and his £30,000 – a day's wages, admittedly, but enough for quality time with every Croxteth granny nonetheless – well spent.
Now there are those, it distresses me to observe, who appear to regard Mr Rooney's visit to a Harley Street hair-loss clinic as cause for mirth and merriment. These creatures fall into two categories: middle-aged men with full heads of hair; and women.
Of the former, little need be said other than this. Any man over 40 who remains untouched by the ravages of male-pattern baldness is no real man at all. He is an overgrown boy-child who knows nothing of the agony that brings with it maturity, depth and insight into the human condition. He is a moral degenerate whose sneering at the paranoid sufferings endured by proper men such as myself (take no notice of the byline picture; it was taken in 1926, a few weeks after the General Strike) is something worse than a failure of the imagination. It is the cackle of the playground bully. I'd rather buy a renaissance painting from Lord Archer without a shred of provenance than trust such a man to tell me the time of day within clear sight of Big Ben.
From women, on the other hand, one expects better. They are supposed to be the grown-ups. And yet, as a conversation with this section's editor confirmed, every ounce of empathy and sensitivity evaporates when it comes to male baldness. "Oh, vanity, vanity..." the editor wearily muttered at mention of Rooney. Well, yes, I said, but he's only 25, and name me a man who looked better bald. She dredged up Yul Brynner. Perhaps so, I said sourly, but he was the King of Siam, and self-esteem isn't generally a problem for your (non-stammering) royal. Nor is pulling. If the recent wedlock of Baldy Prince Billy taught us nothing else, it taught us that.
Anyway, vanity isn't the half of it. It is far more elemental than that. Martin Amis, who spent more on his teeth than Rooney has on his bonce, wrote in Experience that mortality begins in the mouth. There spoke a man blinded by lustrous hair in his eyes. For every young chap with hideous dental problems, there must be 300,000 for whom mortality begins at the temples of doom. For many of us, no indignity is unendurable – Bobby Charlton, Donald Trump, Bruce Forsyth, Silvio Berlusconi, can you hear me Andrew Neil, can you hear me? Your follicles took a hell of a beating in the battle to disguise the evidence of the Reaper crawling down from the crown, and the misplaced hilarity that invokes.
It breaks the heart to hear otherwise intelligent, caring women regard hair loss as a source of levity. "Heavens," they will say with winsome glee, "you have gone thin on top, haven't you?" We smile wanly, and affect amusement. Like Seneca ("I don't consider myself bald," the Roman philosopher put it. "It is merely that I am taller than my hair"), you want to be seen a stoic. What you yearn to reply is, "My God, girl, when did you take to wearing your knockers as ankle socks?" But somehow, one is nervous of testing the limits of reciprocity so far as inter-gender joshing about physical decay.
I suppose they mean no harm, these jocose baldists, and may even believe it when they insist that balding couldn't matter less. But writing as one whose barber stopped positioning the mirror above the bald patch the year Rooney was born, and last week replied to my "Has it suddenly got thinner?" with a soul-chillingly curt "Next question", it could not matter more.
It is no accident that all the greatest losers in sitcom history – Sergeant Bilko, Homer Simpson, Alf Garnett, Victor Meldrew, Larry David and his Seinfeld alter ego George Costanza – were cue balls. Nor can it be coincidence that not since Eisenhower, more than half a century ago, has a bald man won a general election on either side of the Atlantic. Gerald Ford, Neil Kinnock, William Hague, John McCain and others all went down hard. Can anyone doubt that Vince Cable would lead the Lib Dems today but for the genetic/hormonal cataclysm?
For Vince, recent developments such as the drugs minoxidil and finasteride and the replacement method favoured by Rooney's teammate Ryan Giggs came too late. But there remain only two guaranteed methods of escaping the nightmare. One is the transplant, and the other is castration. The latter has obvious collateral advantages, as Giggsy may with hindsight accept. But since Rooney had nothing to preserve by jettisoning the testosterone with one swish of the axe, one appreciates why he went for the former, and hopes it gives him as much joy as it has given James Nesbitt. No one has crystallised the excruciation of hair loss more movingly than the Irish actor, who fought a magnificent rearguard by clutching at every available straw until only the transplant remained. There is no sucker like the balding sucker. We would buy potions off the internet that came with an accompanying Geiger counter.
"Anyone can be confident with a full head of hair," Larry David once said, "but a confident bald man... there's your diamond in the rough." It may seem foolish for that rough diamond Wayne Rooney to have splurged on shifting the follicles on the back of his neck to the front of his forehead. It may even be a cruel and trivialising irony that he sought a cosmetic fix in Harley Street, that chilling thoroughfare for so many who are prematurely hairless for reasons graver than lack of confidence.
But we in the brotherhood of the bald and thinning understand. One Yul Brynner, as they too seldom chant at Old Trafford, there was only one Yul Brynner. The rest of us look dolefully at the sea monster in the mirror, and dream of doing as Rooney has done.