A few years ago I got into one of those 'casual chats with a stranger' over a beer in a pub fairly close to where I live. I'm pretty sure it was around the time that Fred Goodwin lost his knighthood and so we got onto the subject of the bank bailout, the run on Northern Rock etc. Anyway, my new best pal suddenly stunned me by launching a grenade into our conversation "y'know what? I fucking hate capitalism, I mean, capitalism is just terrible isn't it?". I paused for thought and then replied to him that it was because of capitalism that he had a choice of four ales on the bar rather than some generic beverage delivered by a State monolith called the National Alcohol Service.
The concept of a National Alcohol Service is quite an amusing one, conjuring up images of Statists screaming about "based on need and not the ability to pay". Politicians could go into elections saying "we have 24 hours to save the National Alcohol Service", while offering up slogans like "tough on sobriety, tough on the causes of sobriety" and "intoxication, intoxication, intoxication". The English would resent the Scots' use of the Barnett formula to abolish imbibement charges, while the Leave Campaign Bus of course promised £350 million a week for the NAS, just before the driver got pulled over and busted for drink driving.
So...if you want to do that sketch I've given you plenty to go crack on with.
Back to the more serious matter at hand, I remembered Chris, the guy who sells fruit and veg on the market, the ladies off the cake and cheese stalls, the many owners of small independent shops or businesses I've had dealings with. When I think of the word 'capitalism', this is the image that immediately comes into my head, that of the individual working hard and selling things at a price that suits both themselves and the customer. The long and short of this is that if nobody is buying what they are selling then sooner or later they won't be able to provide for themselves and their families. I wanted to know why my new 'best friend forever' hated these people so much.
It turned out that when his word association game came to 'capitalism' he was thinking of something completely different. By 'capitalism' he meant banks and big, faceless corporations who can afford to lobby (and therefore have the ear of) government, then having the taxpayer bail them out or provide 'corporate welfare', the whole 'too big to fail' thing. Look, I've no time for any of this either and agree that there's something profoundly rotten about it. But let's also be clear that this is not capitalism at all, but corporatism, gangster/crony capitalism, or my personal favourite, crapitalism. How the hell have these concepts been conflated with each other?
It's one of the great triumphs of those who wish to impose a Socialist command economy upon us that Capitalism (associated with small government) has been so badly tarnished, its name and reputation ruined not because of capitalism itself, but the antics of a few 'gangster capitalists', enabled by their 'friends' in government. Here's a clue, we don't currently have 'small government capitalism' in this country at all, a 40+ per cent state can best be described as a Socially Democratic one, business is up to its eyeballs in regulation (originating from the EU and gold plated by Westminster who then say "not our fault, Europe made us do it").
Say hello to our good friend counter-intuition again. Big government regulation actually helps big business. Every new requirement that's loaded onto enterprise (assuming it's not on a one-in, one-out basis) serves as a barrier to entry, a further obstacle for the new competitor in the marketplace to overcome before they can even think about making a profit (which I appreciate some consider to be an act of heresy in itself). With their purpose-built HR departments, corporate lawyers and creative accountants, the big fish can absorb the blow of additional regulation relatively seamlessly, while the little guy working for him or herself is paralysed.
In short, corporatism, gangster.crony capitalism and crapitalism are products of excessively large and not excessively small government, too much regulation as opposed to too little. The role of the government in the economy is essentially that of an umpire or referee, to adjudicate on the occasional dispute or issue that comes up as it does in all walks of life, as opposed to being an active participant in the game. When the State itself becomes 'a player' in the economy, not only does it invariably do more harm than good, it leaves itself open to manipulation, lobbying and even being flat out bought and sold by corporate interests. This has nothing whatsoever to do with capitalism.
It's because of capitalism and 'the profit motive' that most of us are in gainful employment. The shareholders of private companies are not registered charities and any business hemorrhaging money on a consistent basis will not remain in business for long. Moreover, when command economies fail and collapse, a la the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, it's a voluntary means of exchange called capitalism that emerges organically, without government intervention or human invention, to provide people with what they need to get by as well as a means of making a living. Green politics 'anti-capitalist' types should try embracing nature for once.
The rehabilitation of capitalism is necessary if we are to unravel ourselves from the madness that a misplaced faith in messiahs, magic formulas and easy answers has led us into. I'm not absolutely sure that it is possible without some sort of economic collapse creating the rubble from which capitalism tends to re-emerge, but I sincerely hope I'm wrong. Disowning the nasty, uberstate forms of cronyism and corporatism that have become associated with capitalism is also essential, as big government and mafia-style rigging of the game against the rest of us are two sides of the same coin on this issue. Get government out of the way and this simply can't happen anymore.
My new best pal? I never saw him again - assuming he was a man of principle he probably went off to work for free somewhere.
Anyway, as the T-shirt says, enjoy capitalism plus the highly appropriate piece of music I'll leave you with. Thanks for reading and I'll catch you next time. Ciao.