THOSE who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, as George Santayana’s aphorism asserts, and as those of us who can’t remember what we came into the kitchen for can attest. Take yesterday, if you can think that far back. There was something in the House of Commons about a general election, but the arguments for and against are already as dim as a foggy night in December.

Yesterday also saw a number of interesting anniversaries: the premiere of Don Giovanni, the accession of Mussolini, the start of the Suez crisis, the 50th anniversary of the first message sent by the internet. But the one that may be most instructive, as the parties line up with their manifestos, and we attempt to get some settled verdict on Brexit and its economic consequences, is the 90th anniversary of the final day of the Wall Street Crash, which marked the start of the Great Depression.

Despite the attention devoted to this period, which affected every developed nation for more than a decade, and made the austerity programmes of the past few years look like Viv Nicholson singing Big Spender in a luxury car showroom, no one agrees, even now, on the lessons to be learnt from it.

Reckless speculation, easy credit, an asset price bubble, government intervention, protectionism and failures of the banking system were the main components, but even so some economists argue that the Wall Street Crash wasn’t the real cause of the Depression (though they tend to agree that it accelerated and exacerbated it).

If all of that seems vaguely familiar, it’s because it happened again; notably 32 years ago, on Black Monday, when the Dow Jones had its largest-ever one-day drop and $1.7 trillion dollars was wiped off the world economy. If that seems too distant, it’s just 11 years ago this month that Congress passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual, and the bail-out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those were the US government-backed outfits which were supposed to provide security for the mortgage market – and were themselves set up in the 1930s under the New Deal designed to end the Depression.

And where are we after the Great Recession the 2008 crash sparked? Practically nothing seems to have changed. The nationalised banks are back in private ownership, continuing to pay enormous bonuses and generally behaving as they did before. The UK’s national debt, 49.7 per cent of GDP in 2008, is now 86.8 per cent of GDP, or about £1.8 trillion. About 30 per cent of bonds issued globally – $17 trillion worth – actually guarantee a loss, something that may remind you of the creative packaging of subprime (ie, worthless) debt that kicked off the last crisis. A decade on, interest rates and growth are still on the floor, deflation looms, and monetary policy is broken.

The response of the political parties to this state of affairs is… to promise to spend money like water. Unsurprisingly, Jeremy Corbyn’s plans are the worst: Labour’s proposed nationalisations have been costed at £196 billion just to set up, even before the companies concerned start losing money, as state-run firms tend to; while there will be lots more money for all the usual suspects, such as the NHS, schools, and public sector workers.

But even the parties that don’t advocate the full Venezuela treatment have absurdly expensive plans. The SNP’s fiscal estimates, so critical when it comes to Brexit or Westminster, go sharply into starry-eyed optimism when it suits them. The Tories, who correctly insisted that austerity was necessary, are now finding money all over the place (often the same place several times over) for plans of dubious value, like HS2, or Boris’s peculiar enthusiasm for very expensive bridges.

The battle of economic ideas that used to divide the parties has been displaced by political issues such as Brexit or Scottish independence. These, of course, have economic elements, but they are intrinsically unknowable and cheerfully ignored, skewed, inflated or played down by all sides, because their commitment is partisan, rather than an assessment of economic reality.

We hear endlessly of the likely catastrophic impact of a no-deal Brexit, for example, but very little about Germany’s current industrial crisis, the continuing fissures in the Eurozone, or the fact that both Italy and France’s real economy debt puts them on the verge of bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the Tories are already promising to spend hypothetical benefits of trade deals that don’t yet exist.

Alas, any election will be dominated by political issues, such as the competence of the leaders, accusations of obstruction, claims to represent “the people” and, God help us, Brexit and independence. All the parties, on current form, will offer the Moon on a stick, with no regard to the cost. Every party, even the incumbents, will also go heavily for the first of the campaign priorities James Carville devised for Bill Clinton: “Change, versus more of the same”. It’s a shame that the second message Carville realised you had to push to win an election credibly – “It’s the economy, stupid” – won’t get a look in.