Capitalism was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Its utter demise was reported by the BBC coverage of the financial crash, registered by the Occupy Movement, and solemnised on the steps of Downing Street by Ed Splurge himself, a copy of the General Theory and a thirty-seven-point public spending plan in his hand. Capitalism was as dead as a doornail.
How could it be otherwise? Splurge knew capitalism well; they had been adversaries as long as anyone could remember. Splurge’s party had been harping on about the instability of capitalism for seventy years, though nobody else seemed aware of it – certainly not capitalism, which annoyingly went on and on, producing economic growth and prosperity. Even China and India got in on the act, lifting billions out of poverty by entering the global trading network. But Splurge knew that one day, capitalism’s inherent contradictions would strangle it; and at last, inexplicably to his Keynesian advisers but joyously for all that, the day had come.
Oh! But he was a generous hand at the subsidies, Splurge! Soft and proliferous as rabbits, open to any entreaty, always ready to dispense a trifle here, a trifle there, from the public finances. Splurge found it blissfully easy to be generous with other people’s money. And today, the usual band of supplicants – farmers of crops and wind, builders of pointless railways, teachers and doctors – was swelled by new crowds: of bankers, mortgage lenders and insurers, all pleading to him for bail-outs. Before the day was out, he would have nationalized all the latter, with a smile.
“We will need many more public servants,” Splurge told his Downing Street staff, to warm applause. But his press officer, in letting himself out to spread this news, had let two other people in. They were a thin couple, with briefcases and small reading-glasses, who announced that they represented the Office for Budget Responsibility.
“At this stage in the economic cycle,” said one, picking up a pen, it is more than usually desirable that governments should make some provision to balance their books. Many thousands are living on public subsidies. Hundreds of thousands are struggling to pay their taxes. What spending cuts shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Splurge replied. “Are there no presses at the Royal Mint?” he asked. “Are there no work-creation schemes?”
“Plenty of presses,” said one of the representatives, “and running hot as always.” “And countless work-creation schemes,” said the other, “each struggling to create any work at all.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop expansionary policy in its useful course,” said Splurge. “I’m very glad to hear it is still going.”
Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the OBR representatives withdrew. Splurge resumed his labours, signing cheques and issuing public procurement orders with an improved energy. He must have been doing it for hours.
And then, “God save you, uncle!” cried a familiar voice. It was Splurge’s nephew, fresh from his class on Austrian Economics. “Recession to you is but a time for paying bills without money, or at least for borrowing it from the next generation. My classmates and I do not know how we will get by, with all the money that your generation has stolen from us!”
“Bah! Humbug!” said Splurge. “Good afternoon, nephew!”
“I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. Like everyone else in the country, I try to keep my books balanced. What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great nation!”
His nephew left the room, without an angry word, but with a look of disappointment about him. The clerk in the outer office involuntarily applauded Splurge’s resolution.
“And you, and your fellow public servants, I suppose, in these difficult times you will be wanting me to raise your pay? Increase your index-linked pensions? Bring in paternity leave? Extend your paid holidays? Recruit more assistants? And cut interest rates?”
“Oh, yes sir!” said the clerk.
“Very well then,” replied Splurge. “We do need to spend to revive the economic system. Have the papers drawn up for my signature tomorrow!”
And with that, spent out by the day’s events, he made his way tired but happy up to his private apartment on the top floor of Downing Street, where a generous supper awaited him.
Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about this, in that he dined free at the public expense every day.
So let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Splurge, having this free feast before him, felt a strange need to check his own wallet, and saw on one of the banknotes an eery image of someone he thought he had put out of his mind for good…