Homespun wisdom was not always so bad.
Things like my grandfather’s attitude toward borrowing money in order to buy things, “if you can’t afford it today, you can’t afford it tomorrow”.
Those were the days when hire purchase was the favoured way of obtaining consumer durables; so much down and the balance payable over twelve, or twenty-four, or thirty-six, or forty-eight months. By the time one had finished the payments on some of the things bought, they probably needed to be replaced. HP came with interest added to the purchase price, and the purchase price was already high because one could not obtain the favourable terms available to those who paid cash. (Even in the late 1980s, there were still shops in Northern Ireland that would give a 10% discount to those who could go to the till and pay the price in full by cash or by cheque). There seemed always an injustice in the operation of the HP system, the goods remaining the property of the seller until the last payment was complete; with high interest rates, the buyer may have paid a multiple of the original selling price, but still find that their goods were repossessed for failure to complete the final payments.
My grandfather’s attitude was that one saved for what one wished to buy, and, if and when the money was accumulated, then went to buy it. Of course, he was never a high powered businessman; he would have been horrified at the thought of using his acres of farmland to leverage debt; he never became rich.
“Risk averse” would have expressed my grandfather’s attitude, whether it was a question of expenditure, or one of investment. It was an attitude that was not widely shared. Instead of looking after the pennies so that the pounds might look after themselves, the attitude that one must speculate to accumulate became pervasive. Even among previously cautious corners of the community, the attitude toward risk changed.
The Church of Ireland, once solidly conservative in its thinking, allowed its investment managers to put millions into banks that were making reckless loans; much of the money invested, and lost when the speculative bubble burst, was from the clergy pension fund. People who would have had more in common with my grandfather than with sharp-suited bankers, (bankers who were not like the avuncular figure in the local branch, but who were aggressive men who talked in sums no country person might comprehend), found their future looked altogether different from what they might have anticipated.
Reaching the age of 55 in 2015, before the bankers broke the country, I was due to receive my full pension in ten years’ time. Had I been prepared to accept a reduced pension, I might have retired in five years’ time. The closure of the old pension fund and the introduction of new arrangements means 68 is now the earliest pensionable age. Years more to work and, of course, no-one is responsible.
My grandfather would have shrugged and suggested that is what happens to speculators.