Thoughts On Being The Son Of A Capitalist Running Dog

Screenshot 2019-07-09 at 23.01.06Not long after Ronald Reagan said it was “Morning in America” and Margaret Thatcher said “Labour Isn’t Working” and then, thanks in part to their catchy slogans but also due to their radical economic policies, each came to power I caught a train from London to Manchester and learned all I needed to know about economics. Or at least I learned enough to survive this heavy doorstop of a book.

Manchester was supposed to be a grim northern town in decline. Instead it was bursting into music-driven world-leading fashionability. Lesson 1: The markets do not possess perfect information.

At my first economics tutorial we fresh students were asked to introduce ourselves. “I’m from Pontefract and me dad’s on strike. Up the miners!” growled a gravelly-voiced giant on my right .

The chap on his right was also the son of a miner from a fabled mining colliery: “Down with Thatcher!” The next was the daughter of a striking miner as well: “Smash the fascists!” The pattern was set. It turned out that almost everyone in my tutorial was the child of a striking miner. This was either an interesting matter for my statistical analysis class or one for the behavioural economists. Lesson 2: Don’t trust surveys.

In any event one thing was clear; This was a sub-optimal manner of making friends for the son of a financial PR man from Weybridge, Surrey. When my turn came I jumped up and raised my first: “My father is a capitalist running dog. Shame on him. Viva la Revolucion!”

Later that year I took some classes on moral philosophy.

The economics lectures were turgid. Worse yet, each time you applied yourself to understanding one economic theory the following week you’d be told it was no good and so you’d learn another one. We advanced from one economic theory to another and none of them worked. Lesson 3: Economics is not a science.

I switched to politics because there was less pretence that it was a science and thereafter I left economics alone. And then this lump turns up on my desk.

Jospeh Stiglitz is a much-lauded economist. He has won a Nobel Prize as you can see on the dust jacket. But he’s an economist and by my reckoning that means sometimes he might be right and other times and certainly in the long run he won’t. Please let it be at least a fun read, I silently prayed as I opened the book.

On page one the author explains that while he grew up in the golden age of capitalism it was upon reflection rubbish but since then things have got worse. Much worse. That sets the tone folks. If you’re looking for something less dark to read on the beach this Summer I hear there’s a mind—bogglingly gruesome new book out by the author of Hannibal Lecter.

Anyway we plough on. “Trump doesn’t have a plan to help the country; he has a plan to continue the robbery of the majority by those at the top”. There’s a lot of Trump Derangement Syndrome in here. And if you like that sort of thing then this might be for you: You’ll get a little hit of dopamine every time Mr. Stiglitz says something mean about Trump and by the end of each chapter you’ll be high as a kite despite the bleak message therein.

It’s not just Trump, though. It’s not even the Republican Party but it’s anyone to the political right of the author that gets him foaming: “In pursuit of their naked self-interest, the super-rich have thus formulated a three-part strategy: deception, disenfranchisement, and disempowerment.”

An evil strategy? Well, up to a point. That big firms and the rich are turning their wealth into political power to pursue tax cuts and deregulation and economic protection is evident. Are the rich conspiring to disenfranchise left-wing voters ? Is it a plutocrat stitch-up? Personally I don’t buy it but I err on the side of the cockup theory over the conspiracy theory. However, like everything else involved here: it’s a matter of opinion. You can read about the super-rich’s evil plan in the book but you’ll do so knowing by now that the author is very political and thus warned you can take the analysis and his prescription with the pinch of salt you find appropriate. Ah, yes the prescription. What is it?

This is the part I was most interested in because although I found the one-sided analysis unconvincing (in short: the political left in America is above reproach and everything else is malign) the target of his objective focus is not. Namely: how do we fix the growing problem of inequality, the absence of meaning, and the need for self-determination in this fast changing techno-driven economy.

It won’t surprise you that the answer is government intervention and more regulation. The problem began with Reagan and Thatcher’s prioritising of the free market, he says. The answer is to prune it right back. “Progressive capitalism” will increase taxes, spend more, protect the environment through carbon taxes and scale back the influence of the banks

But as I learned in Manchester, economic theories each have their time. And after that time each one is, in the end, found wanting. In the meantime, as Mick Hucknell of the then unfamous Simply Red used to sing as he cycled back and forth past the university student union, “the money’s too tight to mention”.


I read: People, Power and Profits

By: Jospeh Stiglitz