I had followed the news of the collapse of Jamie’s Italian restaurant empire, but didn’t grasp the whole story until I saw the picture of the Tudor mansion into which Jamie is currently moving his family. It looks a nice home for his wife and five children, but I wonder how this move will appeal to the 1000 or so former employees of Jamie who lost their livelihoods in the collapse of the business. I have no dislike of Jamie, nor do I judge him personally responsible for the plight of a thousand people, but I do see this event as a revelation of the evil of our current economic system. Priti Patel and other baby faced killers will of course see nothing wrong with what has happened, it’s the way capitalism works after all, rewarding those who work hard and wisely, and punishing those who don’t.
Except that’s not how it works at all. In this instance it’s clear that although doubtless Jamie worked hard, he – or his advisors- wasn’t all that wise, falling into the temptation to expand in pursuit of bigger profits when the market was unable to sustain it in the longer term. He made a number of mistakes, the consequences of which I’m sure he regrets. When he expresses his concern for his former employees, I’m sure he is sincere. But because he is a successful possessor of capital, the results of this collapse are bearable (!) for him and his family, while for those who are dependent on wages, the results are disastrous. That’s a revelation which applies to all possessors of capital and all those dependent on waged labour. The words of Jesus directed at spiritual gains are precisely true of our economic system: “to those who have, more will be given; from those who have not, will be taken even the little they have.”
Note that this evil is not brought about by ill-will on the part of Jamie, who has at least as much social conscience as any owner of capital, but rather by the inevitable dynamics of the system itself, which tends towards the enrichment of rich people and the impoverishment of the poor. This bias in the economic system is evident in how it deals with the climate crisis. We should not be fooled when the president of the USA denies climate change. That’s camouflage. He is already planning – see his talk of buying Greenland- to make sure that the resources of poorer, smaller countries will be added to the resources of which his own country has been so careless. That’s how the system works. People may want to oppose it, and may even act against it, but they are working against the odds.
I don’t like writing about this truth. indeed I don’t like thinking about it. But it is already inscribed in the lives of Jamie and his family on the one hand, and those of his former employees on the other. Of course the world can be improved by programmes of social care and justice – these are necessary to ameliorate the effects of the system – but they don’t touch the system itself, which does not exist by magic but by the compliance of all of us who are part of it. My pension comes from capital funds which make money for me because somewhere else, someone is not adequately paid for their work or their land. Profit always depends on someone being screwed, even if, in some cases, they like it.
Karl Marx understood this more than 150 years ago, describing the mechanisms of capital with love and accuracy. His own remedies, however, and even more those of his totalitarian disciples, created some of the worst tyrannies in history. But his democratic disciples, in Scandinavia and particularly in the Britain of 1945 -1960, created some of the best and most equal societies in history. They did so, not by abolishing capitalism as such, but by controlling its power for the common good.
This should be a clue for us, that as long as we have no vision of how to replace capitalism, we should determine to control it, without mercy, so that we cease to kow-tow to the Jamies (and much worse) of society, and give more power to the people he made redundant. I think many people would vote for such a programme, which might also be welcomed by religious people, for as Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Capital.”