Thursday, August 1, 2013

That Good Old, Bad Old Capitalist System

When I was younger, I used to be very left-wing. This is hardly a surprising admission. Most people are very left-wing in their teens, if they spend time thinking about such things at all. One could speculate all day about the reasons for this. Perhaps it is youthful idealism. Perhaps it is because people who have not started upon a career yet don't know where they will end up in the economic pecking order, and so it makes good self-interested sense to support a fair deal for those at the bottom. (Then again, most young people are said to think the world is their oyster and would therefore, one presumes, expect to end up at the top of the pile-- though I certainly never mistook the world for such a shell-fish myself.)

I can remember (and not so very long ago) regularly fantasizing about posing the following disdainful question to some passing business executives: "Have you made anyone redundant today?". In my fantasy, the question was usually followed by a sudden and violent profanity (on my part), which would startle the business-men out of their smug complacency and leave them in no doubt of my disgust for them.

It never occurred to me, back then, that I might as well have asked the question: "Have you created any jobs today?". Where jobs actually came from wasn't something I thought about much.

All the same, I think there is something perfectly natural and healthy in this antipathy towards business, and towards "capitalism". A society couldn't function without money of some kind, and yet money is obscene. It's obscene because it fixes (as it must) a value upon things which should be considered invaluable-- peoples' time, effort, talents, health, peace of mind, and so forth. I find it interesting that Our Lord describes money as "tainted" in the Parable of the Unjust Steward, despite the fact that his discourses are steeped in commercial and monetary imagery.

I think this is a tension we just have to live with-- knowing that capitalism is never going to be "smashed", that trade and commerce are utterly indispensable, that the business-man is a benefactor to the community, while at the same time preserving the teenagers' unreasonable antagonism towards the whole set-up.

I can't see the faintest prospect for the de-commercialization (so to speak) of our society, and certainly I can't afford to sneer at it since I am as much a part of that commercialization as anybody else. But I do think we should preserve a sense of its wrongness, of all the decencies that it outrages.

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