- A Cautionary Tale from The Past
There is an old saying that there is “nothing new under the sun”. Perhaps nothing illustrates the old adage more than the present economic downturn and collapse in the property market, which apparently, nobody saw coming.
Not even all those clever people on Wall Street, Government Finance Ministers, or anyone old enough to remember the last time the housing market collapsed, back in the 1980s.
How short the world’s collective memory seems to be and how little people seem to learn from the mistakes of the past, especially if they see the opportunity to earn a fast buck.
Did everyone really think the value of houses would just carry on rising forever and that interest rates would stay at 2 per cent over the thirty-year lifespan of their mortgages?
Even babies learn that if you put your hand in the fire you get burned, so they don’t do it a second time.
The incredibly stupid way the world’s top bankers and financial whiz kids handed out billions of other people’s money in dodgy loans makes for depressing reading.
With that in mind, there is a wonderful poem by Rudyard Kipling, written back in 1919, which, although written with different demons in mind, would seem to sum up the present situation perfectly.
The poem is called The Gods of the Copybook Headings and gives credence to the old saying, “there is nothing new under the sun”.
The “Copybook Headings” in the title, refer to proverbs or sayings, printed in perfect handwriting at the top of the pages of schoolboy’s notebooks in the 19th century.
The students were made to write them by hand repeatedly down the page to hopefully, improve their handwriting, something Kipling obviously viewed with dread but perhaps also, with some affection as a constant from his youth.
The Gods of the Market Place refer not to the financial institutions and stock markets but to governments, though today, it is tempting to apply them to both.
The general consensus among scholars is that the poem is, in part, Kipling’s attempt to hang on to old-fashioned common sense values in a fast changing world.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”
On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will bum,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return.