Reclaiming Capital

It may come as a surprise to most, that my answer for the times is capitalism. What is capitalism? – it is the ethics of a society, whose aim is to maintain its capital – that is, spiritual, pleasurable and human assets, combined with that which maintains all those things – the undiminished vigour of life – in soil, sea, biomass and biodiversity. It may come as an even greater surprise that Adam Smith’s capitalism is precisely described above.
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You say, how did it go so wrong? Well as G K Chesterton replied to G B Shaw’s assertion that “Christianity had been tried and found too difficult.” – “On the contrary, Christianity has been found too difficult and has never yet been tried.” So it is, with capitalism. No one has tried it yet.
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Adam Smith told us that the invisible hand, which moved to the comparative advantages of knowledgeable and settled communities, could not function if…
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1 – Money ceased to be a medium of exchange and instead became personal property, which could charge rent (interest). “Goods can serve many purposes besides purchasing money, but money can serve no purpose besides purchasing goods.”
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Similarly, rent for land, status and ideas, malignantly bleeds beneficent capital of labour, resource and the land. As a later writer pointed out, “Property is theft”.
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2 – If moral probity, ancestral commons and the skill, dexterity and ingenuity of communities rooted in particular terrains, became undermined, or overwhelmed by empire, tyranny of kings, or (as above) by the libertarian power of money.
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3 – If either dominant leaders, or the more quietly subversive, began to extract – not a just wage, but personal profits.
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Adam proposed that the greatest wealth of nations accumulated in societies with low profits and high wages and the least by societies with high profits and low wages.
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4 – If (to neatly return to G K Chesterton) monopolies stifled the particular ingenuities and loves of particular terrains.
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Here is G K C – “Communism is Big Business run by the state, whereas, capitalism is the state run by big business. I dream of very many, very small businesses.” Of course, G K C describes the capitalist imposter and not the capitalism “which has been found too difficult and has never been tried.” Adam’s capital moves by the almost infinite complexity of his invisible hand passing assets between and within the equally complex needs and loves of communities and their terrains.
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I make no apology for regularly repeating the above quotes, in this and other passages, because I prefer to excavate my own (limited) memory, which is attached to my more certain and slowly-evolved ethics, rather than seeking the dignity of a false scholarship to shore-up doubtless fragilities. By far the greatest source of knowledge comes by personal perception of people, things and the land, which is then given meaning, for the greater part by simple, inherited family values, which then evolve further as we experience work, joy, grief, love, loss, the wind, sunshine and rain. Books and studies are a pleasure and occasionally a revelation of new possibilities, but always, they are measured against our senses – the actuality of being.
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Where we moderns perhaps differ from Adam is in the manufacture of pins – economies of scale – division of labour. We cannot dispute that he is right, but are uneasy. However, if we followed the true logic, then we’d become easier – such efficiencies mean we need less labour and gain increased leisure. History has shown the opposite – increased toil for those who labour, because increased output has not become increased leisure, or increased wages, but on the contrary – increased profit. Pins can also be sold at a lower price, which is to the comparative disadvantage of other, more egalitarian manufacturers of pins. What today, would be regarded as marketing success, would be a cultural failure to the eyes of Adam Smith – increasing both poverty and working hours and also the wealth of one man – the factory owner. Eventually of course, the factory owner would probably face bankruptcy as his rivals achieved a still lower price. The wealth of all nations, which manufacture pins, would shrink, unemployment would increase…
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Ha! – we’ve seen what Adam thinks of profit, I think he might have said, Profit is theft – so yes, he still has the last laugh in the matter of pins and pin heads. And I think, his head is in his hands at our brutish* understanding of the comparative advantages of communities moved (in both senses) by the almost infinitely-complex, invisible, even spiritual hand of moral probity, sacred springs and the musical rhythms of time.
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* I apologise to brutes of the woods and fields
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Proponents of modelled doughnut, circular and steady-state economies, would do better to bring their models under the beautiful gaze of Adam Smith. All those models fail to confront the certainty that if they became reality, then the collapse of currencies and of currency trading, stocks bonds and shares would follow. With those comes the collapse of real businesses, mass unemployment, crashing tax revenues and of so of vital social infrastructures. So, instead of proposing changes to the current system, we need a movement to evacuate it – to ignore it – to start afresh from the soil upwards as the casino eventually crashes around us.
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Of course, capitalism is also a model, but unlike those above, it can only function by that mysterious, egalitarian hand whose energies arrive from many millions of sources, which are all embedded deep in both the culture and its terrain. In current phraseology, it is bottom up, not top down. Because it is an essentially moral system, it needs protection from amorality. That protection can come from both social taboos and from law. So, all we ask of governance is that it is protectionist. As we’ve seen, durable societies must be protected from money-property, currency manipulation, share and bond trading and other forms of enclosure/monopoly/rent.
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Adam’s capitalism is essentially moral – in the duties and pleasures of learning/evolving skills to maintain otherwise forever-escaping capital. Capitalism is protectionist. It is conservative. It protects cultural commons from monetarist, corporate/consumerist trade-blocks, such as the European Economic Union. It refuses the free flow of money and accepts the free flow of people and ideas. It refuses property, rent and amoral, immoral casinos and liberates both ancestral commons and the receptive sensuality of commoners to ingeniously adapt to changing times.
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We capitalists (Adam Smith and I) use GDP as a useful measure of diminishing capital, increasing CO.2 emissions, shrinking human happiness and increasing money-flow. Increasing GDP means that our economy has been invaded.
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As an arrow to true-cost accountants and to those measuring eco-system services, stop it! – that which you’d measure has no price – it is beyond intelligence to measure. Professed measurement diminishes it from the imagination into mere idle fancy. (Please read John Keats and Samuel Taylor Coleridge). All we capitalists know, is that we exist by the beneficence of always mysterious nature and that the source of our existence must be protected at all costs. Natural damage is taboo. Tax-generated cultural commons such as roads, harbours bridges, hospitals, libraries, electricity grids… and so on, are easier to quantify. Commoners have their stake. That stake is human ingenuity, dexterity and labour. It cannot be sold. It cannot add to an expanding GDP. We maintain capital.
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5 Responses to Reclaiming Capital

  1. spikeof65 says:

    You’re aware of what Smith said happens every time capitalists meet together? You seem to have left out that part, which speaks rather deeply against your views here.

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    • bryncocyn says:

      Utter nonsense!

      Do you mean ““People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” ?

      Adam Smith is referring to the state, which he’d remedy. He does not say capitalists – he says people of the same trade in the corrupt society, which he witnessed at the time. Adam proposes that money should not distort the exchange of goods – that the mass of money should not be greater than the mass of goods – that profit was pernicious – that usury was pernicious – that gambling on currency fluctuation was pernicious – that buying and selling of shares and bonds was pernicious – that trade monopolies and land enclosures were pernicious.

      He is referring to monopoly (people of the same trade) in the passage quoted above.

      Adam Smith was a moral philosopher. Economics is a branch of moral philosophy.

      He is also the most eloquent anti-capitalist I have ever read. I very much doubt that you’ve read him.

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      • spikeof65 says:

        You are the one pitching nonsense here. His is talking about “people of the same trade.” The meaning of that is entirely plain. Meanwhile, what universe are you imaging Smith talking about? A society where capitalists don’t make or covet profits?

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  2. bryncocyn says:

    Yes. Precisely. That is what he advocates. He is speaking of monopoly – an enclosure in which “people of the same trade” charge rent for their status. He has a sense of humour.

    One of his central morals is the destructive effect of profit.

    He proposes that his system would not survive without strong moral, social bonds and taboos. He says, since that is unlikely in the society he lived in, that protectionist law will be essential to our-law such things as monopoly. With regards to “his system”, he leaves that to the invisible hand – the moral probity, ingenuity and dexterity of everyone.

    Such laws have never been applied. His dream has never materialised – unless in strongly religious, hunter-gatherer communities and so on.

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