Thursday, 2 April 2009

The capitalist anti-capitalists

I've never been on a march or engaged in any organised act of protest against anything. It's just not the sort of thing I do. For all I know the vast majority of protestors on any march-type event might be genuinely concerned about something and opposed entirely to the use of violence to seek redress for their complaints, but as an outsider to such events I see violence as an inevitable result because there are always extremists who will latch on to the naive and hide behind them in order to seek to achieve something they could never attain by debate or through the ballot box. Of course it's always the same people. The anti-everythings. All you have to do is announce a protest that includes the word "anti" and they will be there.

Pootling (within the speed limit) to-and-from my Wednesday round of golf I occasionally turned on the radio. The BBC has a radio station called Radio 5Live and advertises it as a 24-hour news and sport station. Much of its sports coverage is excellent, the football and rugby commentaries are unrivalled in my opinion, but when it comes to news it's a rather different matter. As I turned the radio on all I seemed to hear was gushing sympathy from the presenters for the so-called anti-capitalist protestors in London and copious interviews in which people with matted hair advanced their bizarre anti-ness. Control of my blood pressure eventually required switching to a channel playing music. I don't "get" music so after a while it was me, my car and a packet of ciggies against the world.

Being "anti" something is the easiest thing in the world because you are under no obligation to argue a positive case, all you need to do is complain. When the anti-brigade hold a big rally they are unable to just complain because professional loudmouths see an opportunity to further their careers by making speeches, such speeches won't make them a penny unless they put forward an inflammatory positive case. The more outspoken they are the greater the chance they will be noticed, have their egos massaged and provide opportunities for their agents to secure them highly paid engagements. There isn't much of a market in arguing for pure anarchy, after all true anarchists will not pay to hear someone tell them there should be no laws and no prices. The real market is in trying to sell the beguiling religion of socialism.

You see, there is a bizarre parallel universe in which socialism is the epitome of virtue despite every example of socialism in action being an object lesson in social repression and economic misery. But there's a book, a few books actually, in which the theory is set out in a way some find convincing. Others have not read any of the books but have been persuaded by summaries of those books' conclusions into believing it really can provide material comfort for all with absolutely no downside. The effect is hypnotic. Facts and practicalities have nothing to do with it. If the facts don't fit the theory it is because the facts are a tissue of lies spun by a cabal of wicked capitalist liars. Or it is because they are not true facts, true facts will only emerge once real socialism has been put into practice. All previous attempts at applying socialist theory have failed only because they were not implemented properly. This is how they think, or at least how they express themselves. It is pure, unbridled, fundamentalist religion. There is no difference between the millions killed on the orders of Stalin and Mao and the (so far) thousands killed in the name of radical Islam.

I have never been a one to promote theory above observation of fact. Any theory is nothing more than a suggestion that particular acts will produce particular consequences. The only way to find out whether the theory is sound is to do the defined acts and see whether the predicted consequences follow. Putting into place socialist economic policies has never produced the consequences predicted by their advocates, yet capitalist economic policies have produced (albeit imperfectly) beneficial consequences.

Capitalism can have a downside if it is not managed properly. World War II spivs selling stockings, cigarettes, petrol coupons and gin at exorbitant prices on the black market engaged in purely capitalist activities. Shops that sell dangerous electrical goods engage in purely capitalist activities. As do restaurants selling tainted food, dealers selling unroadworthy cars, banks passing-on their bad loans to mugs foolish enough not to ask questions and all the other rogue traders of the world. The State steps in to manage capitalism and prevent its rawest form from doing disproportionate harm. At least it does with black-market racketeers, dangerous irons, unsafe food and unroadworthy cars. Except in sensible places like Canada it did not step in to prevent banks buying and selling each others bad debts. I fail to see how that is a failure of capitalism. It is not, it is a failure of the State to exercise its supervisory role to prevent the potential harm from capitalism coming to fruition.

The very nature of capitalism is that the increase in comfort for real people, for the little people, can come about only by the creation of new wealth. And new wealth can only result from using some of the stuff we currently have to produce new stuff. You can't have new bricks with which to build a new house unless you spend money making those bricks. If no one buys your bricks you're stuffed , but if people do buy your bricks you can then produce more bricks and, most importantly, you have produced a product that increases the sum of human comfort. Whether you call your system capitalism, socialism or avocado dip it can only work in one way. To make new stuff you have to forgo current stuff and use it as fuel for new production.

Anti-capitalism is true anti-capitalism for only a few anarchists and ascetics. For the majority who sign up to the notion, it is not anti-capitalist at all. They don't suggest we should not use some of what we have now to provide the means to create more stuff. They accept the need for capital to be provided in order that new wealth can be created. Frankly, there is no other way of producing new stuff to make life comfortable for those in discomfort and more comfortable for the rest. The argument is not about capitalism, it is about who should decide where, how and in what quantity capital should be expended.

You could leave it to the State to produce the stuff, sell the stuff and control both the quality and safety of what is produced, but in doing so you build an impractical conflict into your system. The State creates a duff item, what is it meant to do? Scrap it and waste the capital involved? Or let the little people have something defective because the alternative is waste? When the quality is poor how does the State protect potential consumers from its own defective products? Once you have made a washing machine that works, where is your incentive to improve it? And if you do find a way to improve it what do you do about the existing specification, cease production or make both the old and the new model? If the improved model costs more to make do you keep the old one in production for the benefit of those who cannot afford the new one, or do you price some out of the washing machine market? These questions result in internal conflicts for a State run economy but not for an economy in which the State has a supervisory jurisdiction over quality and safety but no role in the production and sales processes themselves.

All the usual suspects were out and about giving speeches and interviews on Wednesday. Arguing their so-called anti-capitalist position. The reality is that they argue for a capitalist system but one that is under the total control of the State rather than in the hands of individuals and companies. For many of them I have no doubt that the principle of the thing is far less important than the promotion of their own careers, after all they know the UK economy probably won't descend into State socialism within their lifetime and they want a nice series on the BBC. Others really believe the State can produce, sell and supervise everything efficiently. They point to specific failures in private sector production and selling to advance their case, yet that case is incomplete because they don't address the failure of the State to supervise. By ignoring this vital part of the equation they also fail to recognise the essential weakness in their position - if the State cannot supervise effectively when it has no other role, how can it possibly be expected to produce, sell and supervise?

There is no case against capitalism other than the readily dismissable arguments for anarchy or economic stasis. You cannot create new wealth, so as to improve the lot of the least well off, without investing capital to make new stuff. That is capitalism. The only argument is whether the State can do it better than the imperfect private sector. All the evidence is that it cannot. That will never satisfy the radical religionists, but it is true.


Woman on a Raft said...

Bravo. Don't know which bit to go over with a highlighter.

Would you care to speculate on why, despite all the evidence to the contrary, so many people retain a touching faith in the state's infinite wisdom?

wonderfulforhisage said...

FB, you write:

"But there's a book, a few books actually, in which the theory is set out in a way some find convincing."

May I ask,quite genuinely, which these books are.

Woman on a Raft 9:31

As I understand it we make sense of the world by references to certain given truths. A few days ago I phoned and old friend whose wife has a very distinctive voice. She answered the phone. We had a very bizarre conversation with me being more and more convinced that she was showing the first signs of senile dementia (we were both brought up during the war).

Eventually I asked her what she was up to these days and she said she was "going back to Italy tomorrow". The penny dropped. I had been talking to the wife's sister who lives in Italy and has an almost identical voice to her sister. I have never met the sister and never heard her voice before this conversation.

The point of this story is that I knew for 'sure' that I was speaking to the wife as soon as I heard 'her' voice. From then on I interpreted the conversation through a filter of absolute certainty that I was speaking to the wife to the extent of inwardly accusing her of senile dementia.

Hence if you are absolutely certain that socialism is the answer to life, then you will find ways to explain evidence that disproves your certainty.

I feel the same about the EU. How can Ken Clarke, for instance, support closer ties when all the evidence points to the fact that it's an expensive, non democratic, monster that will eventually lead to the loss of our identity as a nation.

I suspect Ken C. and his co-federalists, would feel the same way about me.

And don't forget nearly 30% of our fellow Brits. say they intend to vote for Gordon at the next election.

'There's nowt so queer as folk'.

Mark Wadsworth said...

TFB, broadly agreed, but what's this: "Capitalism can have a downside if it is not managed properly. World War II spivs selling stockings, cigarettes, petrol coupons and gin at exorbitant prices on the black market engaged in purely capitalist activities."?

Did those spivs start WW2 in order to trade on the black market? Did they cause the shortages? Methinks not. T'was one or two largely socialist/large state governments who started WW2 and thus caused the shortages.

David Gillies said...

Very good, although I'd take issue with this: "There is no difference between the millions killed on the orders of Stalin and Mao and the (so far) thousands killed in the name of radical Islam."

If by radical Islam you mean Islam as most Muslims understand and have understood it, then the death toll due to its militarism and expansionism far outstrip Stalin's score and probably exceed Mao's. Some estimates put the number killed in the Mughal invasion of India as high as 80-90 million.

TheFatBigot said...

Mr Wonderful, I have in mind in particular The Communist Manifesto and the three volumes on Capital written by that old bloke with a beard who sat festering in a smelly corner of the British Library in the mid to late 19th Century.

Roger Sowell said...

Mark Wordsworth, re capitalism's dark side. Yes, I agree with the FB here. Unregulated capitalism in the U.S. (I am more familiar with that, so will not discuss what happened in other countries) led to gross abuses and the formation of some of our federal regulatory agencies. Such things as Trusts, Monopolies, Robber Barons, and others come to mind.

Ayrdale said...

FB, I've alaways been interested in the European micro-states, Andorra, Luxembourg etc. Their brand of usury/capitalism/parasitism seems (from this distance) to be a howling success. Apart from tourist money, and rent/tax, do they actually produce anything ?

TheFatBigot said...

Now there's a question, Mr Ayrdale.