When the Government's Culture Secretary resigned last week I was really quite pleased: she was someone in whom I had no reason to be confident and for whom I had developed a personal dislike (based only on her public persona). When her replacement was appointed I was dismayed: his life-experience thus far is not suffused with an informed, authoritative understanding of what he is now charged with nurturing. But the tradition of the amateur manager is at the heart of the British political system so, in that respect, there has been no change. I will do my bit to remedy this at the ballot box when I am next granted the opportunity.
Meanwhile, the little things in life distract me from troubling over big issues. For example, I used to have a perfectly good arrangement with Lovefilm whereby, for a small monthly subscription, they would post me films of my choice on DVDs. It was simple and pleasurable: I liked the anticipation of opening the post box, the satisfaction of an evening's film-watching from the armchair and the smug sense of completion on posting it back. All of this was overturned when Amazon gobbled up Lovefilm, rebranded it Amazon Prime Instant Video and sent me a leaflet which must have been compiled by or for teenagers, since I don't understand what it is telling me. I have cancelled my subscription until such time as I can find a translator for its over-enthusiastic jargon.
Shortly afterwards my computer died, not only putting an end to the resentment which has built up around my paying an annual charge for data back-up in The Cloud but also freeing up some time for me to read the papers. An article which caught my eye was the sale by Southwark Council of a garage in an alleyway for £550,000 - not surprising, given the fast-accelerating property values in the capital, but a marker none-the-less: publicly owned assets being sold into private hands is never good news as it represents short-term gain in the face of declining public provision. In another article I learned that the council tax on a £136 million penthouse in Westminster is less than that for the average family house in Blackburn. But it was a third article, a review of the thesis behind Professor Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century, which helped me to join the dots.
Since the greed of the financial sector was exposed by the collapse in 2008 of its intricately constructed financial 'products', there has been growing debate around the effectiveness of the capitalist economic model to raise the standard of living for the whole of the world's population. Professor Piketty says that not only will it not happen, we will all in fact get poorer - all but the very rich, who will become even richer. The Professor has based his pronouncement on empirical evidence that inequality of wealth is accelerating around the world, undermining both social cohesion and entrepreneurial innovation.
As any determined plutocrat knows (and as Karl Marx pointed out) real wealth lies not in the vagary of employment - no matter how well-paid - but in the ownership of assets and capital. The majority of the population is not only excluded from such ownership but also denied the alternative of a decent wage by the momentum toward monopolisation of capital. Meanwhile the degradation of the public sector continues as it is forced into a fire-sale of its (our) assets. The Professor prescribes the redirection of taxes from income to property as one way to curb capitalism's excesses.
Armed with this insight acquired from an hour spent reading the paper I reckon I could do quite a good job of running the economy. I would be, after all, just as qualified as, say, the Culture Secretary. But I almost forgot: the Government doesn't run the economy, it's the other way around.