Like it or not, capitalism is genius. And all geniuses are flawed. In my favourite – though rarely-referenced – tranche of Marxism, Marx declares that, “Crime produces locks, jails, police, locksmiths, judges, lawyers, and jail keepers.” And, he goes on to say, crime produces the teachers to train the jailors, and the police, locksmiths, judges, and lawyers and so on. And, he says, crime creates those who produce the books for the jailors, police, locksmiths judges and lawyers. And so on.
Of course, KM’s point is that capitalism is always developing; and that even crime – the scourge of all societies – has value in a capitalist society.
To prove his point, in each disaster, in each war, people find a way to profit. Because, I think, the urge to compete with our neighbour is deep-rooted, forever part of our collective DNA.
Brash Boris Johnson put it succinctly in his Thatcher lecture in 2013 when he said: “I stress – I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”
I hate this sentence to my core, and crave significant income redistribution, but I fear that Boris is right.
I am reminded of the current San Francisco thinking: To be successful we should surround ourselves with people more successful than we are; but to be happy, we should surround ourselves with people who are less successful.
In some ways, I marvel at humankind’s uncontrollable pursuit of money. It seems, well, human. But so is humankind’s lust for violence, and we can – and must – be better than that.