Probably ‘billions’ is the most-used word in the newspapers at the moment. Billions of pounds: but nobody worries about ‘of pounds’ any more. Billions are spent, lost, owed, owned, wiped out, and so on. I can’t even remember if the default meaning is now 1000 million, or (as we used to be taught at school was the British way, a million million) – although I suspect the former.

Of course, nobody understands the sum. There are, after all, only 60 million people living in the British Isles (is that pc any more?), and, what, 250 million in the US? I could be wrong there, may be relying on out-of-date figures. (We used to be taught, and tested, on very precise measurements, like for instance that Everest was 26,002 feet high exactly.) The figures are so meaningless that they are close to comforting. People talk of trillions, squillions and gazillions in a blithe, almost fanciful fashion. No-one really understands (well I don’t) what ‘buying debt’ means. And for that reason, the economists are suddenly the heroes of the hour. These incredible swots, having actually understood Economics – I failed on Chapter 3 of the textbook, when it defined ‘rent’ as something other than what a lodger paid a landlord – are now to be lionised. I don’t think there’s much doubt that Gordon Brown will get a massive personal boost, and possibly even lead Labour to an election victory, as long as the recession/depression/what-you-will continues. His opponents, Cameron and Clegg, look like people who don’t quite understand all the sums. Brainy Brown has five gold stars and the Mrs. Joyful prize for Raffia Work.

Same with the stock markets. No idea what they’re doing, with all those flashing lights and indices and plus/minus signs. No idea about anything – ever! (As Dickens’ Mr. Podsnap might say.)


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