A Capitalist Carol, Stave 7

The story so far: The politician Ed Splurge has been visited by two spirits who have shown him the error of his high-spending ways; and now he is expecting the third.

 

In the darkness, Splurge remembered the prediction of old Adam Smith, and, lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.

“Are you the Ghost of Freedom Yet to Come?” said Splurge.

“You are about to show me shadows of things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us?” Splurge persisted. The spirit’s garment moved, as if the phantom had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.

“Ghost of Freedom Future,” exclaimed Splurge, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. I am resigned! Lead on!”

He followed the spirit’s outstretched hand, and found himself in his old office in Downing Street. But now it was full of the strangest equipment. Splurge realized he was looking at it in some future configuration. A group of people sat around a circle of computer screens, deep in discussion.

“Next item: report from the Minister of Truth,” said the figure at the head of the circle. Splurge surmised that this must be a Cabinet meeting of the future.

“Excellent progress, Prime Minster,” said another. The last of the nation’s CCTV surveillance cameras have been completely decommissioned and recycled.”

“Well, that at least is welcome news, spirit,” said Splurge. “Freedom is not yet completely extinguished.” But in an instant he realized that he had formed this conclusion too soon.

“Excellent indeed!” said the first, gleefully. “Now that the entire population has been microchipped, we can trace everyone’s movements with far greater precision and reliability. Crime will soon be a thing of the past.”

“But how can this be justified in a free society?” exclaimed Splurge.

The figures round the table did not respond. Splurge knew that they were but the shadows of things that would be, and that they were unaware of his presence, or that of the ghost.

Yet it was almost as if they had heard his question, for they all said in unison, in a sort of mantra, “Only the guilty have anything to hide.” Much mutual congratulation followed.

The first spoke again. “And thought crime…?”

“Quite unthinkable,” said the first, now that all computers are configured to prevent the use of banned words, phrases and concepts. Already this is leading to a measurable fall in criticism of the government.” There was much self-satisfaction again.

“Oh, no! I did not want this to happen,” wailed Splurge. “I just wanted to make people safe. To cut crime. To spare people from upsetting others.”

But the shadows of this dark future carried on with their business…

A Capitalist Carol, Stave 6

The story so far: The second of two messengers sent by Adam Smith is showing the big-government statist Ed Splurge the dismal results of his policies….

 

“Spirit!” wailed Splurge. “What is this miserable place to which you have brought me?”

They stood in some kind of a prison, though much more dismal a prison than any of Splurge’s imagination. It heaved with abject members of humanity. Yet even though the place already seemed to be bursting at its seams, more new inmates were arriving.

“What vile country, spirit, treats people so?” he inquired.

“Yours, Splurge,” responded the Ghost of Freedom Present. “The more laws you have passed, the more criminals you have created out of honest men and women.”

“Are there no proper facilities for their accommodation, their education, and their rehabilitation?”

“You know well, Splurge, that spending on such things buys you no votes,” answered the ghost. “So you choose to spend public money on much more visible causes.”

Splurge was downcast in shame; he knew it was true.

“You, Splurge, spend it to buy off the vested interest groups. You take money from those who work hard and use it for your own political advantage.”

“Oh, spirit! Such Public Choice Theory realities pain me! Take me away from this place!”

“There is yet more to see,” said the ghost. “Let us visit some of these criminals that your bulging statute-book has created.”

Splurge and the ghost passed down an endless corridor of bulging prison cells. “These unfortunates,” it explained, pointing to the first, “are victims of your anti-terrorism legislation.”

“But we must have such laws!” objected Splurge.

“There were already plenty,” growled the ghost. “And each new law you passed cast wider than the last, until near any action could be punished in the most dire way. This woman was arrested merely for walking along a cycle path. This old man, for heckling a politician at a party conference. This couple, for a silent anti-war demonstration.”

“This was not meant to be,” pleaded Splurge. “The police must have exceeded their powers.”

“You gave them those powers,” replied the ghost. “Did no one tell you that power corrupts?”

“This man” – it pointed to another wretched inmate – ”is here simply for insulting someone else. This other, for proclaiming beliefs that some find unwelcome. These, for selling fruit in non-metric measures.”

It turned to Splurge. “It is evident, is it not, that in this country you have created, freedom exists only in name?”

“Oh, no,” said Splurge. “This was not meant to be! Kind spirit, say that human freedom will survive.”

“If these shadows remain unaltered, none other of your race,” returned the ghost, “will find freedom in any action.”

Splurge hung his head, overcome with penitence and grief. A sudden tiredness came over him, and all turned dark.

A Capitalist Carol, Stave 6

The story so far: After meeting the first of Adam Smith’s heralded three messengers, the high-spending enthusiast for statism, Splurge, prepares for the second…

 

Awakening in the middle of a loud snore, Splurge felt that he was restored to consciousness for the especial purpose of conferring with the second messenger dispatched to him through Adam Smith’s intervention.

Consequently, when the bell struck One, he was not surprised to find himself enveloped in an eerie light, the source of which seemed to be in the adjoining room. He rose softly and shuffled to the door.

The moment Splurge’s hand was on the lock, a strange voice bade him enter. “Come in! And know me better, man!”

The spirit that introduced itself gave every appearance of one who had known better days. It had a weak, sickly pallor. “I am the Ghost of Freedom Present,” it explained. “Touch my robe!”

As Splurge did so, the room vanished instantly, and he found himself standing, in his night-gown, in the city streets. As before, there were people about, all wishing each other good-day. But many of the shops and ale-houses seemed to be closed and shuttered.

“It must be Christmas morning,” ventured Splurge, as he sought to explain the evident lack of commerce.

“It is,” said the spirit, “but that is not why all these enterprises are closed. He pointed: “This ale-house, for example, shut two months ago, unable to bear the cost of all the regulations – on planning, on its product, and the terms on which it employs its staff. Like thousands of others, it was driven out of business.”

“The young people you see,” it continued, “a million of them, are not in the street for exercise and enjoyment,” – Splurge wondered why anyone should think they might, given the coldness of the air and the light snow that was falling – “but because they have been driven out of work by the minimum wages that employers cannot afford to pay them.”

“Oh, no, spirit!” exclaimed Splurge. “These laws were meant to protect workers! To guarantee a fair deal to the poorest, to the young, to women, to minorities and the vulnerable.”

“…The very groups who employers stop hiring,” said the ghost, “when times are most difficult. As they are now. Thanks to you.”

“That was the bankers!” Splurge insisted.

“No!” replied the ghost. “It was the easy credit and loose money you created, in the attempt to create an economic boom. But it was a fake boom, which inevitably turned into a bust – a bust deep and damaging, for these wretched individuals and the businesses that, in a more liberal age, once sustained them.

“Spirit! I cannot endure these Austrian visions!” cried Splurge. “Do not torment me with the unintended consequences of my policies! Take me away from this place!”

“Touch my robe!” answered the ghost; and in an instant, the scene dissolved again.

A Capitalist Carol, Stave 5

The story so far: After meeting the first of Adam Smith’s heralded three messengers, the high-spending enthusiast for statism, Splurge, prepares for the second…

 

Awakening in the middle of a loud snore, Splurge felt that he was restored to consciousness for the especial purpose of conferring with the second messenger dispatched to him through Adam Smith’s intervention.

Consequently, when the bell struck One, he was not surprised to find himself enveloped in an eerie light, the source of which seemed to be in the adjoining room. He rose softly and shuffled to the door.

The moment Splurge’s hand was on the lock, a strange voice bade him enter. “Come in! And know me better, man!”

The spirit that introduced itself gave every appearance of one who had known better days. It had a weak, sickly pallor. “I am the Ghost of Freedom Present,” it explained. “Touch my robe!”

As Splurge did so, the room vanished instantly, and he found himself standing, in his night-gown, in the city streets. As before, there were people about, all wishing each other good-day. But many of the shops and ale-houses seemed to be closed and shuttered.

“It must be Christmas morning,” ventured Splurge, as he sought to explain the evident lack of commerce.

“It is,” said the spirit, “but that is not why all these enterprises are closed. He pointed: “This ale-house, for example, shut two months ago, unable to bear the cost of all the regulations – on planning, on its product, and the terms on which it employs its staff. Like thousands of others, it was driven out of business.”

“The young people you see,” it continued, “a million of them, are not in the street for exercise and enjoyment,” – Splurge wondered why anyone should think they might, given the coldness of the air and the light snow that was falling – “but because they have been driven out of work by the minimum wages that employers cannot afford to pay them.”

“Oh, no, spirit!” exclaimed Splurge. “These laws were meant to protect workers! To guarantee a fair deal to the poorest, to the young, to women, to minorities and the vulnerable.

“…The very groups who employers stop hiring,” said the ghost, “when times are most difficult. As they are now. Thanks to you.

“That was the bankers!” Splurge insisted.

“No!” replied the ghost. “It was the easy credit and loose money you created, in the attempt to create an economic boom. But it was a fake boom, which inevitably turned into a bust – a bust deep and damaging, for these wretched individuals and the businesses that, in a more liberal age, once sustained them.

“Spirit! I cannot endure these Austrian visions!” cried Splurge. “Do not torment me with the unintended consequences of my policies! Take me away from this place!”

“Touch my robe!” answered the ghost; and in an instant, the scene dissolved again.

A Capitalist Carol, Stave 4

The story so far: The high-spending, big-government enthusiast Ed Splurge has been visited by the Ghost of Freedom Past…

 

Although they had but that moment left Splurge’s apartment behind them, they were now in the busy thoroughfares of a city. The noise was tumultuous, for there were adults, and more children there than Splurge in his agitated state of mind could count, all talking, singing, dancing, and generally enjoying what was obviously Christmas Day.

They continued, the ghost and Splurge, to a large house. They went across the hall, to a door at the back. In a melancholy room, lined with books sat an old man with a long white beard, quill in hand, writing earnestly, obviously unaware or unmoved by the joy and bustle going on outside.

“Why, it’s Charles Dickens!” cried Splurge. “I did my dissertation on him, and how he exposed the evils of the factory system!”

“Your eyes, and his,” said the spirit, “were clouded by bile and ignorance. “Before the Industrial Revolution, most people were condemned to life in abject poverty, destitute and starving, toiling outdoors in all weathers for an uncertain harvest. They thronged, willingly, to the factories exactly because of the security, income and opportunity that the towns afforded.”

“But the work was still harsh,” objected Splurge, “and the upper classes lived far, far better.”

“Bah!” replied the spirit. “The upper classes prospered by extracting favours and monopolies from the political authorities. Have you not heard that power corrupts?”

“The hours for those without political cronies,” it continued, “were long because this was yet a poor country – until production, exchange and investment made ordinary people rich.”

“Oh, spirit!” cried Splurge. “You mean the capitalist system I decried was the very salvation of these poor wretches?”

“Yes; and what gave them opportunity for self-improvement. Come!”

Suddenly they were at the door of a grand building, proudly declaiming itself “Institute of Education”. People – ordinary mill workers, Splurge surmised – crowded past them, each heading for rooms in which different activities were going on. In this, it was a concert in which they played string or brass instruments. In that, a lecture on Mr Darwin’s new theories. In another, a class teaching reading and writing to adults and children alike.

“Factory owners were fully aware of the benefits of a fulfilled and educated workforce,” explained the ghost, “and made these facilities available. And the workers themselves combined into friendly societies, to make provision for their own welfare needs, without needing the powerful – and corrupt – state that you deem so essential.”

“But you,” it scowled, “would have denied them that every opportunity, and condemned them to starvation on the land.”

“Oh spirit!” begged Splurge. “Take me from here. I can no longer bear these memories!”

He was conscious of being exhausted, and of being back in his own bedroom; and had barely time to reel into bed, before he sank into a heavy sleep.