AN ANTIDOTE TO ECONOMICS
It is evening now. Outside of my office window the late summer trees have leaves that have lost their Spring freshness, but the sky is clear and the light is disappearing slowly, imperceptibly. It is still, only the sound of a bicycle bell in the street below. A fragment of conversation of people going past and a woman's laugh. The happiness of unknown strangers serves to pull me into this sadness, whose depth I can now feel and not avoid anymore..
I know I must snap out of this as there is work still to be done: essays to be marked and a paper to be written. But what is the point of it now. I thought I loved this place, these walls, these books and the work but on my desk I still have the photo of Susan. I have had it twenty years and all this other stuff is just chalk dust, the residue of wasted years, books of graphs and footnotes, equations and statistics to prove what point? What was the point of it all. This endless round of conferences, and papers and journals and lectures and exams. An expert on how people make money, an expert on the maximisation of human satisfaction -some joke, as if consumer satisfaction was the real basis of human happiness.
If only she was here. It's been five years and I have changed, I have understood at last the things she tried to tell me, but there is no going back now -there is no reward for regaining that part of me that she could never find. There is no prize for passing this exam in living for it is this very stupid view that led me to waste so many years. I have my reward -I have my Professorship and I've discovered it wasn't really what I wanted at all....The essays will have to wait.
"Why do you push yourself so?" she would ask.
"You know that.. you know very well "
"You want a Professorship, but is it worth it? Can't you see that you're pushing yourself through a kind of pain barrier.. you're continually through the pain barrier"
"We've had this argument so many times it hardly seems worth having it again."
I remember though for the first time when she brought herself into her answer.
"And you're pushing me into too much pain too - I can't bear it." Her face no longer had that look of concern, rather it looked as if she might cry and for the first time I felt that clutching sensation inside, that sense of panic which in later years was to paralyse me until I sought out help - but which, for our relationship, arrived too late.
Oh yes, she admired me when she first knew me. I suppose she must have done. I remember that look on her face, in her eyes, but I know there was something more than admiration there and I fed on it. I cringe, it's embarrassing now to remember how I 'chased' of her.
I wanted her. I was finishing my Ph.D then. This was twenty years ago now and it was on the role of gold in the International Monetary System. You cannot imagine the thrill, the curious kind of abstract technical pleasure I felt writing up my arguments about how gold was on the way out as the foundation of the money system, and then to watch as events unfolded, to understand and comment on those processes in the financial papers, to have my first journal article accepted. I would have been on top of the world but there was one thing missing and I didn't even know how to go about finding it until I met her. OK there had been furtive nights of no pleasure that I came by somehow from women I knew. I cannot think now what these women must have thought of me. It was as if I had stolen such nights because I had no right to them.
I met her through looking for a typist for my thesis. I responded to her advertising card on a notice board and took the text round. It was her flatmate that answered the door.
"Miss Rees? Miss Susan Rees?"
"No, I'm her flat mate. Susan there's someone here to see you."
"What's it about?" She came out towelling the long hair that she had at that time which I preferred later to describe as corn rather than gold - in that awkward marriage I tried to make between economic concepts and romance.
"Sorry for appearances. Is it a thesis? Are you the person that phoned?" I felt so very self conscious in her presence because I wanted her at once. I wanted the bearer of that friendly smile. I wanted her. I had to have her.
There was this real excitement as I went away. I had an excuse to go back and to keep on going back. Now I needed courage. I rehearsed hypothetical conversations that would see her into my llife. They were not the conversations that happened of course, not exactly, but looking back I can see how extraordinary it was that picked up on what I wanted and let it happen. There was this wonderful mirable when she took me, as she found me, into her life.
Even if she changed what masochism was it that she suckled me from at the beginning? What giving was it that only later could I see held me together and was my antidote to economics, my little ration of real life.
"So what is it that you really want from life? What are you after Alan?"
"A Professorship of course. What else? I want to be the youngest Professor of Economics. To get right to the top a government economic adviser."
She just smiled at me and shook her head,
'Twit" she would say.
We married after my doctorate was awarded. Things almost immediately went wrong but I will not try to explain about some things which are best left private. Those things did not help the rest of our relationship but we managed somehow for several years and things did get better after a while. For two or three years in the USA at the International Monetary Fund I managed to relax. Looking back I think that it was because in some way we had this sense of making a second start of it. There was an optimism that made me easier going. It all fell apart on our return.
Oxford was a fabulous career move. But Susan was no longer content to be a housewife, a stay at home typist. We had rows about this that seem so stupid looking back.
"Can't you even see that from your bloody career point of view it would be an advantage for me to get out more. I'd be a far better conversationalist on your arm at Departmental Parties if I knew what all those bores were going on about. I don't care what you say I'm going to do that World Affairs course."
I remembered how I sneered. "World Affairs course. What kind of course is that? What does the Workers Educational Association have to say about World Affairs'?"
"I don't know. But I'm going to find out. "
Later it was Psychology, and then 'Women's Studies' - the subject of the biggest row
"No it is not 'anti-men"'. The glint of anger in her eyes did not convince me of that.
"Can't you see that neither of us is happy. You're insensitive to your own unhappiness. You run away into this land of abstract ideas to hide from your own misery. There has to be something more to life than this and there is. I can see now how its been my role to hold the clever man together. I wanted to mother the brilliant and tortured soul, to hold him together. Now I can see it- I can also see that it's futile. There's nothing there for me. Can't you see how empty your life Dr. Money? ow empty my life is. If you weren't an Economics Lecturer, pardon me, Reader in Economics, you would be nothing, nothing at all. I'm just an emotional 'externality' that keeps you going"
Her use of the term 'externality' struck me. I couldn't really I understand what she meant. I suppose that I noticed with surprise when she used a term from economics. She had not typed any of my economics stuff for years -office secretaries did that - and I never thought to talk to her about Economics at all. But I soon found to my surprise that she understood more than I gave her credit for.
"Monetarism, Alan, is the economics of the housewife. Or perhaps it's better described as the shop keeper that prays on the housewife".
"What?.... Since you started that course you can't seem to stop talking in leftist cliches"
"Cliche it might be - but it is true, isn't it? We might not all be small shopkeepers but there's a ghost of one running the country."
"Is that my wife talking or a Red from the Workers Educational Association?"
My remark turned out to be truer than I realised.. Later I found out about her relationship with her lecturer called David Rubin. Meanwhile her challenge to me on the ground of my own speciality stung me to fury.
"A great economist you are! You lost three thousand pounds on the Futures Market and you couldn't see the crisis coming could you Alan? Wasn't your thesis all about imbalances in the International Monetary System? How long could the US carry a trade and budgetary deficit of that magnitude without a crash? And you....Dr Money....you used to work in the IMF...."
I guess I was kind of stunned. It was a remark from someone I didn't know. She couldn't think of her as the attractive woman who had done my typing anymore.
"So where did you learn your economics?" I asked.
.'From my lover".
I had already started having what the doctor called anxiety attacks. It felt like pure panic to me. When she left I went into this numbness in which I was drained of all the energy to think. I was off work for a term. I tried psychotherapy but could make no sense of it my depression drained me of the ability to say anything anyway. Later, much later in fact I tried again.
God how namby pamby,what self indulgent rubbish therapy seemed to be. Feelings! Feelings! This idea was so intangible. What had feelings got to do with calculating what you want to get? How could I relate to the vagueness of this therapist. He never said anything definite, nothing exact, nothing measurable. I had to discover my problems for myself - so why was he there then? It was exasperating and I don't know why I stuck with it. But through the mist some things did become clearer.
"You said you wanted to be the Youngest Professor of Economics but what kind of a person are you when are not an economist?"
That was a difficult one. What was I when I was not an economist? I looked around for scraps of my life from my childhood, from my days with Susan. In the end I concluded:
"Nothing. I am only an economist. Other than that there's nothing there....."
Oh it's crude I know, and I'm learning more abut myself now, but when I remembered right back. I looked back on things I had left behind and not thought about for years. I saw how I became a vehicle for my parents wishes. I was performing.... I wanted them to notice me so I did well at school for them. I thought that was what they wanted and I suppose they did but what they really wanted I don't know. Because I can see now how cold our family life all was....how terribly cold that family....I mean our family were. Nobody was really noticing as long as we "did well".
I hit this terrible feeling of sadness for myself when I was a small child. It hit me like a wave. Can you believe that? It was so far from economics. I remember I had everything I wanted in the way of toys - they gave me toys if I performed well. It seems like some terrible stereotype but it's actually how it was. I only had a sense I was real when people gave me things or applauded.
So I discovered how addicted I had become to being admired in other peoples eyes because otherwise I would have just disappeared. Instead of disappearing I gave them theories. It's funny because Professors....there are so many of us. I still felt when I got my Professorship, that no one really noticed me.
But I am changing and I will keep on changing. It is dark outside now. The lamplight is shining in the street below and I know that I cannot avoid the sadness of my losses. I know what feeling is now and I know that I am in a sort of mourning. I am sure I will never see Susan again. She has got her own life to live over which I can make no claim. But, now I can feel the sadness of my loss, I feel a freshness and anticipation I have not felt for as long as I can remember. As the new days come, as the Autumn approaches and time changes, hope and happiness are still possible.
© BRIAN DAVEY