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Columnists

Stop capital punishment

CaryThere is a worrying trend afoot. A small minority with a strong agenda have hijacked our schools, our politicians and our media with a dogma that flies in the face of all reason, scientific research and evidence that stretches back for thousands of years. They want capitalism to be thought of as a theory, not a historical fact.

Since the collapse of numerous banks a year ago, journalists and commentators have been talking about the End of Capitalism. Without laughing. This seems odd.  Please don't misunderstand me. I really do come to bury the Lehmann Brothers, not to praise them. The utter idiocy of the bankers, the analysts, the fund-managers, the regulators and the governments is surely beyond question. In the plethora of documentaries and features on the great crash, lots of very wealthy people wearing suits worth more than my car said they could not have predicted this economic perfect storm.

Really? Hundreds of millions of dollars were lent to millions of barely numerate poor people who were deceived by mortgage brokers into buying a house they couldn't really afford. These were all bundled up, sold on, packaged and bundled, insured and sold again. What on earth did they think was going to happen when the discount mortgage rates ended? It's like giving a machine gun to a child, putting blanks in the first magazine, but live ammo in the rest, and scratching your head at the state of the play-room after a few hours.

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I do not defend professional dunderheadedness on this scale. But neither do I say that Capitalism is Ending, when it simply isn't the case. And furthermore, it cannot ever be the case. Capitalism is not a theory, propounded by the evil Adam Smith. It is a fact. Allow me to explain.

Capitalism is, in one sense, an arrangement. It is the decision by a people-group to allow trade and industry to be run by private citizens and corporations rather than by the state. If a country loses its mind, it can allow all trade and industry to be run by the state. This normally happens by a small minority using force (see Russia, China, Cuba, etc) since communism is such a palpably terrible idea no-one would vote for it. But a little force goes a long way when coupled with brassy promises to the proletariat that have no prospect of being honoured (see Russia, China, Cuba, etc).

The state then sets about trying to run everything while the citizens get on trying to circumvent The System, or join the Party and get special privileges. Why? We know it's a human right to buy and sell good and services, not the preserve of the state. Capitalism is not just a system but a fact.

We may like to think of some societies as traditional and untouched by capitalism - or if anything, impoverished by Western capitalism. And yet in those societies we find locals haggling in markets over goats and oats. Should they be unfortunate enough to devolve this task to the state, they will probably, at some point, starve. Serious long-term famines are almost always caused by governments, not the weather.
This is not to say that capitalism is good. Capitalism can be good. Like gravity. Gravity ensures that your loved ones and possessions don't simply float off into the air. But capitalism and gravity can both be painful if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it doesn't make either of them wrong. It's what you do with them that counts.

But the claim that capitalism is always a force for good is not true. Capitalism, like gravity, has to be used morally and ethically. If you use capitalism to legally line your own pockets while taking the shirt off someone's back, you've done a bad thing. It's not a crime. It's a sin. And you can't pin your cruel, selfish intentions on a faceless concept like capitalism - just as you can't push someone out of a third floor window only to shrug your shoulders and claim they were killed by gravity. But preaching that the Credit Crunch spelled the end of capitalism is like giving gravity an expiry date. It's madness and frequently ends in hunger. Resist it.