We’ve a shocking, guilty secret that we all must face up to.
It’s the sort of psychologically traumatic burden people carry about them for decades, in our case, for generations. The sort that sends the guilt-ridden insane, that makes the ordinarily-pleasant do terrible things in the name of denial, that causes the otherwise-intelligent to think and act in bizarre, inexplicable ways.
Many, many years ago, we did something terrible, something appalling. Something we foisted on people everywhere, which the entire world is still suffering from.
Let’s say it plainly – Scotland helped to invent capitalism. Us – the arch-socialists. We did it. It’s at least partly our fault, no question.
More properly, we took the embryonic capitalism of the Dutch and the Florentines and the English, and we hot-housed it to fruition.
It’s well-publicised that Thatcher gave her cabinet of dunces a mandatory reading list in 1979, and that top of that list was Adam Smith’s masterpiece of economics The Wealth of Nations. It’s equally well-known that she chose not to put Smith’s masterpiece of ethics, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, on the list – after all, cold hard economics works best, as far as a psychopath like her was concerned, without the soft woolly morals that Smith felt were an essential balance to the necessity of money-making.
Smith, though head and shoulders above his contemporaries, wasn’t thinking in isolation. His time coincided with the Industrial Revolution, leading to unprecedented, huge opportunities for manufacturing, distributing and, of course, profiting. Stock exchanges already existed, private companies already existed, industries powered by the human equivalent of machinery, slavery, existed, but none of them existed in the same way or the same number they would once Smith’s ideas had been read, understood and applied.
Old Adam himself would most likely be aghast at what he and we helped create. It’s only too evident that the thinking Scottish population of today have definitely thrown their hands up in horror at the excesses of capitalism. We mistrust banks and big business. We mistrust Westminster and Washington. We mistrust the media that underpins them all, and the million – sorry – billionaires who rule them.
We definitely helped to create it, not just Adam Smith. The massive Coats thread factories in Imperial Russia were as much a sign of it then as the many millions of people all across the Caribbean and North America with ancestry from Africa, but with slave-surnames from Scotland, are a sign of it now. Scotland didn’t just help to create capitalism, we helped to export it around the globe, more often than not at gunpoint, to people who didn’t want it, but who ended up with it anyway.
It’s hardly surprising that people from such a poor country as Scotland was, before the Industrial Revolution, thought carefully and often about money. Those with no money think most about how much they’d like to have some.
It’s also not surprising that a brutalised, exploited people were ready to exploit and take so brutally from others.
In addition, it should come as no surprise that almost immediately after Smith’s Wealth had hit the bookshops, there was disagreement. The infant socialism was also hot-housed in Scotland, through another genius of the age, Robert Owen. With varying degrees of extremism, the world has been witnessing the disciples and descendants of the two slug it out ever since.
Smith had in mind a capitalism of benign paternalism, where wealthy, humane mill-owners would benefit the lives of their workers. It’s the sort of idea that David Cameron wants people still to believe in. Problem is, today’s mills are owned by venture capital conglomerates operating through shell companies based in tax havens, and the wealthy owners aren’t interested in benefitting the lives of people thousands of miles away. They don’t see them. They never meet them. In many cases, they don’t even know that they pay wages to them.
Business concerns running society for their own benefit was never the ideal, although, with hindsight, it’s easy to see it was always going to be the only possible outcome. Noam Chomsky recently wrote about organisations acting like “psychopaths”, deliberately employing teams of people to carry out plans which the individuals who are in control of that company know is not in the public interest. Health experts hired by private companies to exploit the NHS. Accounting departments with a remit to do everything but account. Legal experts employed to subvert the law.
It isn’t just businesses, of course. Capitalist monsters are everywhere. Governments willing to conceal an oil strike in order to maintain access to a nuclear base can at least claim to have the greater good as their aim. Governments willing to conceal an oil strike so they can retain control of that oil for their own greedy, warmongering ends cannot. A public service broadcaster manipulating the truth in order to maintain a £200m surplus cannot. An influential oil executive guilty of deceit or incompetence who then corners the fracking market cannot.
Little wonder so many people long for the day we are rid of all of them. Little wonder so many feel that we need to be rid of them and their type to thrive, maybe even to survive.
It’s us or them. The aims of the mega-rich – organisations and individuals – are now so incompatible with the aims of everyone else that co-existence simply isn’t possible. It’s in Arcadia’s interest to pay as little tax into the community as possible. It’s in the Daily Mail’s interest to continue to foster hatred and division to sell advertising space and newspapers. It’s in the interests of Sports Direct to drive temployees into the ground with zero-hour contracts. It’s in our interest to bring these monsters to account. A very one-sided economic war is being waged on all of us, and our tolerance of their rampant maniacal capitalism is being used by the greedy to commit atrocities on a scale unmatched in global history.
Ugly as it may be, malevolent and exploitative and rapacious as it is, it’s still Scotland’s baby. If anyone has the right and the duty of starting the process of ending its existence, it’s us. If we don’t…well, we all know how The Omen ends, don’t we?