The dawn of a new year is usually a time of hope and ambition, of dreams for the future and thoughts of a better life. But it is a long time since many of us looked forward to the new year with such anxiety, even dread.
Here in Britain, many economists believe that by the end of 2012 we could well have slipped into a second devastating recession. The Coalition remains delicately poised; it would take only one or two resignations to provoke a wider schism and a general election.
But the real dangers lie overseas. In the Middle East, the excitement of the Arab Spring has long since curdled into sectarian tension and fears of Islamic fundamentalism. And with so many of the world’s oil supplies concentrated in the Persian Gulf, British families will be keeping an anxious eye on events in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, as the eurozone slides towards disaster, the prospects for Europe have rarely been bleaker. Already the European elite have installed compliant technocratic governments in Greece and Italy, and with the markets now putting pressure on France, few observers can be optimistic that the Continent can avoid a total meltdown.
As commentators often remark, the world picture has not been grimmer since the dark days of the mid-Seventies, when the OPEC oil shock, the rise of stagflation and the surge of nationalist terrorism cast a heavy shadow over the Western world.
For the most chilling parallel, though, we should look back exactly 80 years, to the cold wintry days when 1931 gave way to 1932.