Let’s get some things straight. When I speak of capitalism, I mean so in Adam Smith’s sense and not in that of the Adam Smith Institute. Adam’s invisible hand was for the freed ingenuity and dexterity of labour to work their magic amongst the unpredictable scarcity and surpluses of resources. He saw that monopolies, such as property had to be strictly controlled. Opportunist currency and share, or bond manipulators had also to be regulated. He saw that the larger part of all transactions was trust and that trust was outside value and lived on the common. He hoped that people and goods would freely cross national borders – adding to the wealth of nations by the exchange of comparative advantages, but he also thought that money should be paused there, restricted and checked. As I’ve mentioned, he said, goods can serve many purposes besides purchasing money, but money can serve no purpose besides purchasing goods.
Today, what most people call capitalism is, of course, opposite to those things – that is, money is un-regulated, property values (enclosed monopolies) command rent and labour, while people are data-based, corralled, watched and restricted. Money has grown many new purposes besides purchasing goods. As more commons are enclosed so increasing rents command still more power – indeed much of the common realm, once held for the common good has been sold into the enclosures of that power. The ingenuity and dexterity of billions of people which Adam had dreamed would together compose an immeasurably complex and so invisible hand, have been locked away – while the governance of the wealth of nations has been reduced to the punts of a casino.
As I mentioned in the foreword – Adam saw (in the Eighteenth Century) that nations with high wages and low profits generated most wealth, while those with low wages and high profits generated least. He saw that profits bled the wealth of nations, while ingenuity and dexterity of well-paid labour generated it.
Today, capitalism is thought to be the opposite of Adam’s proposal. It proposes high profits, low wages, free money flow and restricted labour. People are stopped at borders, while money flows invisibly past. Trickle down from enclosed commons (property) provides work in dependent services. Actually such a system would have collapsed long ago – it is a definition of the decadence which precedes the collapse of empires. However, the system has been kept alive by the massive powers of fossil fuels – so extra-ordinary and so powerful, that they have overturned a universal law of history. People have been replaced by oil machinery (a litre of oil replaces two to three weeks of labour). The flow of oil mirrors the currency flow. Of course, the observant senses, the ingenuity and the moral understanding of the many, have been similarly replaced by oil. Oil generates further enclosures of commons and it is that property – not work, which commands the wealth – not of nations, but individuals.
Of course, fossilised nature, released by fire and in such rapidity into living nature, has unbalanced the natural respirations of the Earth. That’s quite a Nemesis for the hubris of one species to command. Unfortunately, although fossil supply is diminishing, there is plenty remaining for poor, blind Hubris to command flood, drought, storm, famine…. Hubris sits in the casino, while no-one is in economic control.
Had Adam’s capitalism been tried, then the invisible hand would have rested quietly over the common good of the wealth of nations. Coal and oil would have lain sequestered and untouched in their strata. Billions of observant senses are the antennae of billions of minds.
So, the anti-capitalist movements of today are actually anti-casino movements. Capitalism has never yet been tried. Those who promote true cost accounting, the valuation of eco-system services and so on, which struggle to introduce capital into that casino, are in truth (as Ivan Illich might say) verifying the casino. Why not simply promote capitalism? In any case, they are simplistic (dangerously so), because they attempt to value as capital, that which should remain on the common. Adam Smith would have left them there as priceless – to be passed between the responsible probity of generations.
We have commons to reclaim and capital to audit.
We have ordinary and ancient laws of physics to reclaim from fantastical laws of fossil physics.
We have extra-ordinary fossil-powered lives, but most have come to accept those ways of life as ordinary and believe that they cannot give them up.
Some extra-ordinary things that can no longer be? – aeroplanes, family cars, super markets, rising urban populations, vast, unpopulated fields….
Ordinary things that can? – sailing boats, bicycles, bustling town centres, noisy market squares, busy villages, repopulated fields….
The fact that the revival of ordinary things will become such an adventure provides the hope that we can achieve it and achieve it one by one – no grand scheme – no cult – no ism…..
Karl Marx’s communism and Adam Smith’s capitalism rose from the same spring – moral philosophy – all true economic proposals (as they both are) begin in pursuit of the common good.
There’s the beginning. In the beginning was the word? No. In the beginning was the failure, which revealed a small germ of truth, which in turn lead to the next revealing misadventure…..