New Internationalist

Why can’t the 1% play nicely?

April 2013

Thanks to capitalism the people who would have been labelled bullies in school are described as captains of industry in the adult world says Steve Parry.

It’s been a few months since I last updated you on my daughter. She has just turned two and her political development is currently expressing itself as a highly aggressive strain of nihilistic anarchism. Not so much ‘smash the state’ as ‘smash anything not hidden on top of the wardrobe’. She’s not that interested in the ‘all property is theft’ elements of the doctrine either; indeed, she has more in common with the ‘all property is MINE… and I’m going to break it’ school of thought.

She is, at this moment in time, the most selfish person I’ve ever met (and I’ve worked with celebrities), so, along with the lovely staff at her nursery, I’m in the process of undertaking a subtle social reprogramming exercise, encouraging her to share – and not to attack anyone she sees as a threat to her stuff.

Of course, I’m ramping up my daughter’s anti-social behaviour a tad for comic effect, but I have noticed that as a society we all seem to agree that children should be encouraged to share, be gentle and to co-operate with their fellow baby. But all that goes out of the window once you graduate to the ‘grown-up’ world. Then you’re confronted with the real values of capitalist society: selfishness, individualism and greed. The people who in school would have been labelled bullies, in adult-land are euphemistically described as entrepreneurs, captains of industry and venture capitalists: their ruthlessness presented as brave go-getting.

It’s not enough for these people to be filthy rich on the back of others’ sweat; they also want to be liked and admired

One of the hardest things to handle is that this sort of behaviour is respected as a kind of precious talent that, if nurtured, will resuscitate the economy. But manipulating someone out of their money when they’re vulnerable does not take genius, just a well-tuned lack of empathy.

My biggest problem, however, is the chasm between what these people actually do and how it’s presented; the sanitization of their behaviour by media and politicians, and the plaudits it brings them. It’s not enough for them to be filthy rich on the back of others’ sweat; they also want to be liked and admired. Why else all the tax-deductible benevolence for charity? ‘Sure, I’ll help the poor, that’s the kind of guy I am – but what’s in it for me?’

The playground mantra of share and share alike is given lip service and then utterly ignored. The austerity measures being meted out to Greece, for example, are presented, almost unquestioningly, as a bitter but necessary pill prescribed by dear Dr IMF to her sickly patient; when in fact it’s the economic equivalent of organ theft.

For the one per cent, childhood socialization is just a decade-long method acting class: of course you need to be able to give the impression you’re thoughtful and generous, but remember it’s just a shtick. Like a dog turd dusted with hundreds and thousands, the reality that lurks beneath the façade stinks to high heaven.

I’m sure my daughter will grow out of her selfish phase, but for IMF boss Christine Lagarde and her ilk it seems to be taking a lifetime. Maybe a few afternoons a week at my daughter’s nursery would sort them out? If not, at least she’d give them a good kick in the shins.

Steve Parry is a comedy writer, performer and political activist. He is Welsh and lives in north London. You can contact him on Twitter @stevejparry

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 461 This column was published in the April 2013 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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