Over the last few months it has become increasingly common for people to call me a Marxist. All kinds of people. Invariably this has been done with a smile in the voice which suggests mild amusement rather than any kind of Ronald Reagan style loathing.
I find it somewhat bizarre to be honest. In my fifty four years on the planet I have never read so much as a word written by the German immigrant with the big beard. I suppose the fact that the renowned author of Das Kapital is remembered with a degree of affection says a lot about the guy. These days he would have been a tabloid hate figure on three levels. Big beard, European migrant and Leftie – a heady cocktail for any Daily Mail headline writer.
I guess he probably stands at number two on the list of the most successful German immigrants to set down roots in the UK. Well maybe not. Can Aldi and Lidl be classed as German immigrants? What is beyond doubt is that Karl has never remotely threatened the greatest immigrant family of them all for the top slot. Few families in history have been as upwardly mobile as the Saxe Coburgs of Gotha. I mean, come on. Old Karl might have a fancy tomb in Hampstead but it pales into insignificance when held up against Buck Palace, Windsor and Balmoral.
On the whole question of who is the most successful German immigrant, I now have skin in the game which has nothing whatsoever to do with being branded as a Marxist. As a lifelong Koppite I am now also a Kloppite and hopefully Liverpool Football Club's new bearded wonder from the Black Forest is about to leave a legacy to make Karl Marx’s efforts seem trivial.
I find it particularly amusing when my pal Councillor Archie Dryburgh calls me a Marxist. This comes from a lifelong Union man who would be in his element in the midst of a picket line brawl. Archie was extolling the virtues of Jeremy Corbyn ten minutes after the beared wonder threw his hat in the ring. And still this old school firebrand calls ME a Marxist!
Honestly, you couldn’t make it up.
So how on earth have I attracted this strange label? Well in some quarters it seems that supporting the dream of an independent Scotland is deemed to be clear evidence of loony leftism. That of course is when we are not being branded as old school nationalist fascists from the Mussolini school of black shirtedness.
Maybe that’s it then.
Or maybe it is because I have completely lost any faith I might have had of Capitalism being a good way to run a railroad. Questioning capitalism is still not allowed. We are required to accept it warts and all. End of story. It’s not up for discussion. Anyone who questions capitalism is treated in much the same way as those who once upon a time had the temerity to suggest that the world might not be flat after all.
I don’t question capitalism as a result of ploughing through the pages of Das Kapital. Instead I have given it a once over as a cynical old Lancastrian and it seems pretty damned obvious that it ain’t working.
When capitalism burst onto the scene a couple of hundred years ago, it was the kind of ultra simple idea that was bound to catch on. Lots of ultra clever guys were inventing a whole bunch of cool stuff like steam engines and trains and Spinning Jennys. The Industrial Revolution was making all things possible and factories were the absolute thing. But massive red brick factories don’t come cheap and the money had to come from somewhere. Capitalism created the answer and allowed those with all the old money to invest in the new technologies. They bought stocks and shares, enjoyed the dividends and sold them on for a fat profit.
So it was the First World was born and the rest of the world was left floundering in our wake as we roared off over the horizon riding in our shiny new steam trains. Like Jim Morrison said, ‘The West is the best.’
It wasn’t pretty of course. The average age for a Lancastrian factory worker in 1840 was less than forty. And when the salesmen couldn’t open up new markets for our goods, we used gunboats and soldiers to find buyers for our Sheffield steel and Dewsbury wool and Blackburn cotton.
Buy our stuff our else. Wog.
In the end the big scramble for market share got completely out of hand and World War One put an end to the golden era of untrammelled, buccaneering capitalism. Then came seventy years when capitalism was looked on fondly because it was so patently better than Bolshevik Communism which was all about secret policemen and rotten cabbage. It was easy to miss the bad bits of capitalism when the hard faced men in the fur hats were to be seen on the Kremlin balcony watching their nukes trundle by every May Day.
The comfort blanket of communism was ripped away when the Berlin Wall crashed and ever since it has become harder and harder to see capitalism in any kind of good light. The years since the collapse of the Soviet Union have seem a vast chunk of the world’s wealth flow into the offshore coffers of a thousand or so ulta rich individuals who make Scrooge look like a rank amateur when it comes to hoarding. Now the eighty five richest people on the planet own more than the four billion poorest. Maybe I have become a complete Trot in my old age, but I cannot for the life of me see how this can possibly be deemed to be a good thing.
Those of us who feel it would be a good idea to redistribute these vast treasure troves among the billions who try to get by on a dollar a day are deemed to be barking mad extremists by the very same people who thought it was a great idea to sell mortgages to people with neither jobs nor income and pretend they were worth something by wrapping them up in shiny paper.
Examples of the abject failure of capitalism are all around us and yet we seem determined to ignore them. In this respect, we are al little like the last citizens of ancient Rome. When the vast armies Gauls and Vandals were massing at the gates, the citizens of Rome were still convinced that everything was going to be OK because the the priests in the temple were slaughtering a variety of animals and then promising that everything was hunky dory.
A couple of weeks ago I made a call to the bank to ask a couple of questions about the mortgage. ‘What kind of mortgage do you have Mr Frankland?’ asked the voice on the phone. When I told him it was a repayment mortgage there was something of a stunned silence. It was a bit like I had told him that I commuted to work every day in a horse driven carriage.
A repayment mortgage? How very quaint. He obviously wasn’t used to repayment mortgages. Instead he was used to the shiny interest only variety. The ones with as much reality as the promises made by the doomed high priests of the Roman Empire.
Once you take a step back, the capitalist play book is such utter nonsense.
You take a two bedroom flat in a high rise block in Hackney. You pretend it is worth £600,000. Which is completely ridiculous of course. Then you find a couple of young professionals who between them are earning £80,000 a year gross and £50,000 net. Hi folks! Why not buy a nice two bedder in high rise Hackney? Oh but we simply can’t afford it Mr Banker. After all, a repayment mortgage will cost us £42,000 a year and we only earn £50,000. It’s quite impossible.
Oh don't worry yourselves you nice young hard working couple. I will give you a super duper interest omly mortgage for a piddling £18,000 a year. Peanuts. But Mr Nice Banker, where will you find £600,000 to lend us for our piece of high rise Hackney heaven? Oh that’s easy peasy. I’m a banker. I'm Alchemist of the twenty first century. A high priest. Just you watch. All I need to do is press this button on my key board and hey presto, the money is right here. I could say I have printed the money, but that would be wrong of me. Instead I have merely created a digital six and five digital noughts. Now. You jusy sign here and for the next twenty five years you can give me £18,000 a year in exchange for me creating a digital six and five digital noughts on my screen. And then will we own our little piece of high rise Hackney heaven Mr Banker? No. Who will own it? Me. But what is in it for us then? Oh lots ands lots. You see, in a year’s time your flat will be worth £700,000 and you will have earned yourselves a digital one and five digital noughts.
And all the while nobody wants to stop and take a moment and ask how it can be that a poxy two bedroom flat in Hackney can ever be deemed to be worth £600,000. As in twenty four times the national average wage.
Whichever way you look at it, such a state of affairs is abject lunacy. But we don’t look. To look is the see the kind of truth we don’t want to see. It is the hard truth so brutally demonstrated in the suburbs of Detroit when houses which were deemed to be worth $100,000 fell all the way to being offered for sale at $10 each. And still there were no buyers.
What kind of system can claim that a house is worth $100,000 in May and a sound investment and then turn full circle and value the very same asset at $10 and say it represents a lousy investment in October?
Imagine yourself back in 2007. You have £200,000 in the bank and you need to invest it in your future. It’s your nest egg. It will have to look after you in your old age. It’s a truly massive decision, right? So you need to be sensible and careful and conservative and cautious. This is no time to be throwing your life savings at Fancy Dan dot com start ups.
So you play it safe. Sensible. You go blue chip. You stick to the cast iron rules of capitalism and you seek safety and security in the comforting arms of the trusted and the big.
You divide your nest egg into five and you put it where it is safer than safe.
£40,000 to the nation's greatest grocer.
£40,000 to the nation's greatest bank.
The Royal Bank of Scotland
£40,000 to Europe’s greatest car maker:
£40,000 to the nations greatest oil giant.
£40,000 to the nation's greatest purveyor of all things electrical.
Blue chip compamies selling blue chip products that people will always buy. Surely....
I wonder how much your £200,000 would be worth today after all of those careful, safe investments?
You would have been £140,000 better off had you drawn the cash and stuffed it in the mattress. So much for the cast iron security of blue chip capitalism.
Once upon a time Capitalism was all about building factories and making stuff and selling stuff for a profit which was then shared out among the stockholders. It made sense in a way, though not much for the poor sods who worked in the factories.
Now it is all about finding new and fancy ways to pretend that something that is worth a quid is actually worth a tenner and getting a bunch of suckers to buy it in the hope that it will be worth twenty quid next year.
Those in the middle of the con know they have a matter of months to get their cash out and stuff it away in Grand Cayman before the wheels fall off and the real value to the asset is revealed for all of the world to see.
Two bedroom flats in Hackney aren’t worth £600,000. Not even close. In the old sane days of capitalism, the price of bricks and mortar was deemed to be three and a half times the income of the buyers. Maybe £175,000 would be vaguely realistic. £600,000 is utter nonsense and one day the whole house of cards will crash. And when it crashes everyone will wonder how on earth anyone had ever imagined that two bedroom flats in Hackney could possibly be worth £600,000. A bit like how people now scratch their heads and wonder how in a million years anyone could ever have believed it was worth paying £60 for an RBS share which is worth £3.50 today.
Well. I have never read Das Kapital. But I have an idea that Karl Marx clearly saw the kind of road capitalism was travelling. And he predicted it would all end in tears.
I can only agree. Does that make me a Marxist? I suppose it does in a way. Oddly enough, it is still the case that anyone who agrees with Karl Marx is deemed to be a barking mad extremist whilst those who still feel that Sir Fred Goodwin was on the right track are deemed to be sound chaps one and all.