Today's figure of authority is 500,000,000,000. The UK authorities tell us that this is the number of pounds required to rescue our banks from meltdown. The authorities in America decided that their figure was 700 billion, which (in dollars) is about the same amount. That sounds low to me; presuming that American banks are bigger than UK banks, you'd think they'd be in a bigger mess. But then, what do I know? Perhaps the US authorities pitched their guess low to avoid reaching the dreaded trillion dollar figure.
Albert Einstein said: "To punish me for my contempt for authority, Fate has made me an authority." Luckily, fate has spared me that punishment. I'm not an authority on anything. But I know what an asset bubble is, and that's what these multi-billion figures are about. An asset bubble is what happens when enough people agree to delude themselves that something is worth more than it really is. That something could be property, a dotcom company, or - 300 years ago - stock in the South Sea Company. A bit like believing you own (or could own, if only you could climb onto the first rung of the beanstalk) a goose that lays golden eggs. The delusion is complete when everyone believes that this asset can continue, magically, to rise in value.
You'd think that the authorities, who now pronounce on the bursting of this latest bubble, and who dream up these multi-billion figures they claim will be needed to clean up the mess, would have seen this one coming. I did. But the same authorities, only 9 months ago at the end of 2007, were reassuring us that, although our property wasn't doubling in value quite as rapidly as it had been, they were sure that 2008 would see, at worst, a gentle levelling-off of house prices. The goose might take a rest, but it wasn't about to expire.
So, either these authorities are as gullible as the rest of us, and really believe in these tooth fairy economics, or they know very well that it's a scam, but conspire to keep us deluded while laughing all the way to the bank.
I was going to end with another Einstein quote, but... what did he know about economics? By the way, a little bird tells me that, if you can actually prise some of your hard-earned cash away from the bank, the next big thing may well be something called Reality Cheques and other forms of Disappointment Futures.