Satchelnomics: Responsible capitalism, an oxymoron?

Image: Michelle St Laurent at
You are contemplating the black Nina Ricci top and skirt confection featured in the new Harper's BAZAAR and can barely contain your lust. You MUST have this outfit... you deserve it! It would complete you! But a pang of guilt rises up and threatens to steal this moment of material delight. Drats!

The last time you spent a fist full of cash on a designer ensemble such as that, you wound up selling it for $50 at the markets (or was that $30? You may have lied to yourself). Those dividends are no girl's friend. What to do to curb this cumbersome dilemma? And why the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that cannot be appeased with a cup of tea and a biccie?

By golly, it's your conscience. Old Jiminy Cricket is up to his old tricks, pulling you back towards the safety of sensible economic habits, which are all-too easily overcome by the persuasions of glossy magazines and a glimpse at what that girl over there (on a blog, out in town) is wearing. 

You are not a nincompoop; you can see this for what it is, yet another ploy to keep you from financial wellness and heap things upon some latent insecurity. But the seed of thinking has been planted and threatens to sprout up like Jack's beanstalk in your brain. It's confounding and tiring. You log onto Net-a-Porter. Buy and be done with it, you think. 

"NOOOOOOOO!", says Jiminy, "Don't be so weak-willed! You can do it. Put that credit card away! There are BETTER things that you can do with your money, you have enough clothes to fill a cavernous hole the size of Mars, this latest attempt to fluff up your self-worth is not going to work (well, not in the long-term), and the banks don't really need your business."

You are frustrated by these grains of truth. "But we must help the retailers stay afloat!", you counter. "I am part of the First World economy and it is my duty, neigh my right, to spend my hard-earned cash on whatever I like!". 

Jiminy sighs. He knows you have dental and phone and electricity bills to attend to, which have momentarily skipped your attention but will inevitably come back to haunt you and see you survive on packet noodles for a week. He also knows how very much you aimed to save more and give more and spend less in this year of the dragon. Where did that resolve go? 

You are a woman possessed by the devil that is Prada (in a Nina Ricci dress).

But you are not alone. In Hong Kong, "mainlanders" from China (that behemoth of economic growth) with a taste for Capitalism, apparently unaware of the global financial crisis in Europe and the sorry tale of America's economic woes, are lining up to get into Louis Vuitton and Gucci megastores.

"And when they get in there, they spend $50,000 at a time," reports one girl-on-the-ground to GWAS from Hong Kong. "One mainland family spent 500,000RMB on Saturday in designer shops, mostly Louis Vuitton and Gucci. That translates (at today's rate) to $83,333 Australian dollars."

Doesn't that seem a little... obscene? A bit out of whack? A big not right?

Indeed, while Apple reportedly has a cool $81.5 billion in its bank account and made more than $37.5 billion in cash profits during the last fiscal year (yes, we concede, it employs 60,400 full-time workers), the United Nations has reported that three BILLION people are at risk of being sent into poverty as the population rapidly grows, swelling to an estimated nine billion by 2040.

According to the UN, the number of middle-class consumers are expected to increase by three billion over the next 20 years, causing the demand for resources to rise exponentially. And it's anticipated that, if not curbed, our rampant consumption, our gluttonous sucking up of stuff, will result in issues for the whole world down the track. Doesn't take a Bill Gatesian genius to see that.

The UN notes that while the number of people living in poverty has been reduced to 27 per cent, from 46 per cent in 1990, and the global economy has grown 75 per cent since 1992, efforts towards sustainable development are not fast or deep enough to counter the world's economic issues, which are driven in part by the First World's unashamed fatuousness.

"The current global development model is unsustainable. To achieve sustainability, a transformation of the global economy is required," the report said. "Tinkering on the margins will not do the job. The current global economic crisis... offers an opportunity for significant reforms."

Indeed, the world is at risk of tipping off its axis, and we will all fall off. Panic stations!

The UN has a number of recommendations: in addition to the eight Millennium Development Goals, it aims to work with international organisations to create an "evergreen revolution", which will double productivity while reducing resource use. It also recommends that national credit and fiscal systems should be reformed.

There are two opposing forces at work in the world, one controlled by gold, the other by goodwill. In the gold corner we have all manner of things that entice us to consume and to work towards consumptive goals (food, shelter, rest, dress, self-betterment for employment or promotion, financial growth), while in the goodwill corner we have the UN and a set of rules aimed at making the world a nicer place to live in for everyone (fair distribution of resources, helping those in dire need, education in sustainable practises).

The only thing is, no one is forced to take either side, and most of us rest somewhere in the middle. This apathetic state of affairs is not necessarily to be ashamed of – there are greater forces, embedded long before any of us walked the earth, at work causing us to stumble and fall into pits of debt and economic crises and to lose sight of the bigger picture.

The whole financial system is essentially based on inequality and the buffeting of the powers that be. "I care not what puppet is placed on the throne of England to rule the Empire... The man that controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire. And I control the money supply." So said Baron Nathan Mayer Rothschild, whose powerful family heritage pathed the way for international banking (today the Rothschild family is worth a reported $100 trillion).

A dogged opponent of private influence in the country's banking system, President Lincoln once said, "The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. The banking powers are more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy... The money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in the hands of a few, and the Republic is destroyed.”

The chief executive of Britain's state-rescued Royal Bank of Scotland has reportedly turned down his bonus of shares worth close to £1 million (on top of his £1.2 million salary). Given that British taxpayers own 82 per cent of RBS, as it was rescued during the global financial crisis in 2008, since then slashing tens of thousands of jobs, this is not such a noble gesture, but was welcomed by parliament as a step in the right direction.

''This is a sensible and welcome decision that enables Stephen Hester to focus on the very important job he has got to do, namely to get back billions of pounds of taxpayers' money that was put into RBS,'' the finance minister George Osborne said.

Still, as Britain moves towards is second recession in three years, with its commensurate falls in employment and company bankruptcies, this is a tactically wise choice. It's about making things right when things have gotten out of whack.

As we each participate in the economy by way of work and exchange of money for goods and services, we would do well to observe how the world is working and be mindful of lurking influences. For example, Bloomberg is to launch a new luxury title next month called Bloomberg Pursuits, an offshoot of its business magazine Bloomberg Markets. It is said the two magazines will be polybagged together for their affluent readership.

Now, a businessman in a nice Armani suit might receive this and think to himself, "Well, I could put money towards that rundown public park up the street, or a few extra dollars into research for Cystic Fibrosis, or I could, as this magazine suggests, take my money to the nearest Rolls-Royce dealership and get me that new Phantom model I saw on Top Gear!"

The world has a rather insidious way of creeping into our minds and making all things seem permissible, completely fine, clouding any reasonable sense of what a balanced and humble life might look like while leeching out of us the very will to live by disordering priorities.

In the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, many a businessman took his own life and still more were affected by depression. In Greece, there is a growing mental health crisis; people have lost hope.

"A friend of mine committed suicide based on the bubble bursting, with his businesses and things like that, and it really upset me," said Frank Buckley, the Irish man made famous for creating a house out of decommissioned euro banknotes.

"And I just thought, God, this is paper, people are committing suicide... Ordinary people just don't have a say, and people are getting very frustrated, so I felt there needs to be debate, kids in schools need to come down and see and talk about it... What does currency mean? It can't be the hold on everything, it can't be; it's taking people's lives, it's ruining people."

The management of one's personal economy is a matter for us alone; a negotiation of resources between you and your family and, perhaps, with God. To be wise about the persuasions of the world and the distribution of our resources (time, money, love; spend, save, give) is to be a responsible Capitalist, someone who sees their worth and role on earth for what it is and acts accordingly.

While investing in businesses, products and services with integrity will put you in good stead, and so too will giving where you can to those in need, to rail against the notion that we are deserving of more things than are necessary, and to dismiss the buying up of goods and the earning of more money as the salve we need, may be a matter of greater urgency than we think.

To untangle ourselves from economy completely is impossible, and Jiminy himself was no killjoy, but to kowtow to the market's every whim by acting on impulse without some contemplation is to rob us of true peace and prosperity without a purpose greater than self-gratification is pointless.

Jiminy Cricket: Now, you see, the world is full of temptations.
Pinocchio: Temptations?
Jiminy Cricket: Yep, temptations. They're the wrong things that seem right at the time... but... uh... even though the right things may seem wrong sometimes, or sometimes the wrong things,
Jiminy Cricket: may be right at the wrong time, or visa versa.
Jiminy Cricket: [clears throat] Understand?
Pinocchio: [shakes his head] Uh-uh. But I'm gonna do right.
Jiminy Cricket: Atta boy, Pinoke! And I'm gonna help ya. 

Girl With a Satchel