First of all the Georgian silver goes and then all that nice furniture that used to be in the saloon: then the Canalettos go...
(Harold MacMillan speaking on privatisation).
With most of us it is not the Georgian silver but the cheap plaster ornaments, and for nice furniture, read IKEA self-assembly and, as for the Canalettos, read prints from the seaside – but we get Harold's point nevertheless. You sell off something to help get by and then, shortly after, you have to sell off even more. That is what our state has been doing and attempting to do for some time now. Nationally-owned resources have been sold off for a short, economic fix.
All in line with the theory of ordoliberalism – a German term that means the state is limited in its role to simply providing the necessary 'order' for the private sector that works within it; the state thus becomes more of an indirect player in the nation's economy. This ensures that private institutions have to safeguard that the rules of fair competition are being kept and, significantly, that the central bank of the country is free of state domination whilst it carries out its duties of keeping matters under control – such matters as tariffs, prices and wages, etc.
Germany supports this view of economics, and what Germany supports, the Greater German Union – oops, I mean the European Union – will generally support as well.
So will it help us if we leave the European Union and shake ordoliberalism from our coat-tails? It is not that simple. Certainly, if you believe what most of our media and politicians are telling us, then leaving the EU is going to be an economic disaster (particularly if you listen to Nicola Sturgeon and her gang): we will lose jobs, our NHS will collapse, cancer rates will shoot up, and, talking of shoot-ups, terrorists will freely roam our streets. We will be considerably poorer and totally wretched.
But here is a great truth about economics: the economic situation of any country is reasonably easy to see at the present and much easier to tell what has happened in the past to thus arrive at the present: following from this it is almost as easy to say what should have been done: it still is impossible to say how the economic situation will develop and what should be done. That is because of the complexity of any given economic situation. What is good for one may not necessarily be good for the other. If you are on a seesaw and go up, the other side must go down; but economic dependency is more like a multitude of inter-linked seesaws operating under totally diverse gravitational rules; if your end goes up so might the other, but some seesaws, thousands of miles away, may go down.
Even in a small-scale scenario like Scotland, it is hard to predict the economic future; much less feel confident (as politicians pretend to be) about what is best. Land has almost quadrupled in value over the last 20 years or so, but who has that benefitted in Scotland? The landowners of course; but has that fed through to the ordinary citizen? Our seesaw remains down.
And the wealth difference has nothing to do with Brexit although, in the future, Brexit will be the excuse for all economic reverses. The wealth gap remained pretty steady through the middle of the last century, but is now heading to replicate the position at the end of the 19th century, when 1% of the population held 70% of the wealth. The average position mid-20th century was that the richest were earning around three times the national average. Today, that figure is over eight and growing.
That situation has nothing to do with Brexit but can be predicted to lead to trouble in the future – and it is economically more important than Brexit.
There will be both winners and losers with Brexit. Much will depend on how we tackle it; that is in our hands and is impossible to foretell – although, judged on past form, we will not do very well.
That does not stop the predictions of outright disaster. Almost the whole media, at the bidding of their owners and big corporations, forecasts economic disaster: they do this in a propagandist way; not relying on facts or upon reasoned argument, but by using subtle techniques to imply this great crashing of seesaws.
The New Statesman, for example, still masquerading as a left-wing journal, (but carrying advertisements for Lexus cars and financial companies looking for £50,000 minimum investment) is one of the cleverest knockers of Brexit. Almost all their articles on the subject end with the direst of warnings. And, up to a point, they are correct; one of the industries likeliest to suffer from Brexit is the financial industry. London has oft been described as the money-laundering capital of the world and it and couthy Edinburgh are homes to hundreds of shell companies that stem from Russia to South America. Jobs could be lost in the financial industry alright.
Other seesaws could rise though – especially in such a potentially energy rich country as Scotland; it will considerably help if the Scottish government sets up an energy supply company such as Nottingham now runs. This type of move will be eased by Brexit but it is not going to be easy going up against big and established businesses and attempting to drag our family silver back. Although there are snags and short-comings in the SNP's plans for an energy company, we still have to support its general direction and hope that other parties will back such moves. The Tories might cavil at what they see as back-door nationalisation, but they would do well to ponder MacMillan's words.
Bill Paterson is a writer based in Caithness