Crisis is a word that occurs frequently in newspapers, on television, in everyday conversation, which is sufficient to justify, from time to time, financial difficulties, increases in prices, the decrease in demand, the lack of liquidity, the imposition of new taxes or all these things taken together.
“Economic crisis” is – according to dictionaries – a phase of recession characterised by a lack of investments, a decrease in production, an increase in unemployment, a term that has the general meaning of unfavourable circumstances, often linked to the economy.
Any adverse event, especially concerning the economic sector is “blamed on the crisis”. It is an attribution of responsibility absolutely depersonalised, which frees individuals from any involvement and refers to an abstract entity sounding vaguely sinister. Because for some time the word “crisis” has lost its original meaning and has taken on a purely economic connotation. It has replaced other words historically abused such as “conjuncture”, which had great success in the sixties and seventies, when the general economic situation was more optimistic and it unfolded to seasons in which mass consumerism reigned undisturbed.
Experiencing a period of “conjuncture” was considered to be a painful transition but a necessary transition in order to reach a new phase of prosperity. A time of adjustment in which to prepare the ground, refine strategies and recharge in order to then recover strength, security and negotiate bargain deals as soon as the period was stable.
Conjuncture was a short period compared to all the rest. That term already implied a positive attitude that was confident in the immediate future in contrast to other terms commonly used to indicate the economic difficulties in the past. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the “Great Depression” set in. Still today, this term, in comparison with “conjuncture”, evokes doomsday scenarios, and suggests a severe, long-term recession, combined with deep existential distress – something from which it is extremely difficult to recover, marked by the inevitable psychological implications.
The most serious crisis of modernity, that of 1929, that caused the collapse of Wall Street and gave rise to a chain of suicides, was skilfully resolved by applying the theory of Keynes: despite the deficit, the State invested in public works, employing labour at a time when there was no work to be found and companies were having to let people go; orders were started and breathing space was given to industry, thus restarting the flywheel of the economy. However, the current crisis is different. The countries affected by the crisis are too far indebted and do not have the strength, perhaps not even the instruments, to invest. All they can do is make random cuts, which have the effect of exacerbating the recession rather than mitigating its impact on the citizens.
Today we prefer to speak of crisis rather than “conjuncture” or “depression”. It is certainly a more neutral term that has been used in many other contexts, as well as an economic one, and is therefore quite familiar. From matrimonial crises which upset the life of a married couple, to adolescent crises which mark the transition from puberty to adulthood, suggests the image of a moment of transition from a previous condition to a new one. A transition which is necessary to growth, as a prelude to an improvement at a different status, a decisive step forward. For this reason it strikes less fear.
As can be seen, “crisis”, in its proper sense, expresses something positive, creative and optimistic, because it involves a change, and may be a rebirth after a break-up. It indicates separation, certainly, but also choice, of decision and therefore the opportunity to express an opinion. In a broader context, it takes on the meaning of the maturation of a new experience, which determines a turning point (on a personal level, as much as on a historical-social level). In short, it is the predisposing factor to change that prepares the future adjustment on new bases, which is by no means depressing as instead the current economic impasse shows us.
Recently “crisis” has become linked to the economic sector essentially to indicate a complex and contradictory condition, which cannot be defined as “inflation”, “stagnation” or “recession”, but where a series of causes and effects are combined in a jumble of conflicting issues.
In fact, this crisis is characterised by the simultaneous combination of an economic conjecture on an international level (the causes) and the measures taken locally to deal with it (the effects). Both impact on the citizen in a different way, interacting and determining the complexity of a social malaise that is proving to be more and more important. The widespread perception is that the cure is worse than the disease, because it is more immediate and noticeable on the people’s skin.
This crisis comes from afar. Has its roots in the past decade, marked by the new outbreak of terrorism and emblematic destruction of the Twin Towers in New York in 2001. It was no coincidence that the Twin Towers were the Headquarters of the World Trade Centre, the world trade organisation. Premonition or coincidence? In fact, since then, despite the explosion of the “new economy”, the financial markets have begun to shake, showing how globalisation would not have led to anything good. The fear of observers on the decline of the twentieth century was, in fact, focused on the consequences of the invasion of world markets by large multinational corporations – economic, but also cultural colonisations (challenged by the “No logo” movement), which made us fear globalisation as a huge standardised and homogenised worldwide market, at the expense of the small producers and commercial networks.
But the liberalisation of borders, as well as producing significant effects on personal liberty and communications, has also opened the way to the flood of economic difficulties. A stock market crash in Tokyo has immediate repercussions on London or Milan. So the speculative bubble on junk bonds, which came from South America and is responsible for the most serious collapse of the banking system, has infiltrated Europe, triggering that crisis the end of which we cannot see.
The current crisis is financial, while the crisis of ’29 was industrial: now the theories of Keynes could not be applied.
A special feature of this crisis is its duration. The time of unfavourable “conjunctures”, which could be resolved over a short period, has come to an end. Now the crises – so vague and generalised because they involve much of the planet – take eons to get moving. They progress very slowly, in contrast to the speed with which all human activities of contemporary reality actually move. Any forecast of solution is continuously updated and postponed until a later date. It never seems to end.
When one crisis ends, another, which in the meantime has come to lick round our borders, steps in to take its place. Or perhaps it is the same huge crisis that feeds on itself and changes over time, transforming and regenerating itself like a monstrous, teratogenic entity. It devours and changes the fate of millions of people, making it the rule of life rather than the exception, becoming an everyday habit which we have to deal with rather than an occasional, annoying inconvenience to get rid of in the quickest possible way.
Living in a constant state of crisis is not pleasant, but it can have its positive side, since it keeps the senses vigilant and alert, and psychologically prepares us for the worst. We must learn to live with the crisis, just as we are resigned to living with so much endemic adversity imposed on us by the evolution of the times. Pollution, noise, corruption and, above all, fear. The oldest feeling in the world that accompanies us through a reality marked by insecurity.
We will have to get used to living with the crisis. Because the crisis is here to stay.