Just like Konrad Werner, I don’t understand the economy. I don’t understand it, and I get a headache when people try to make me understand it. It’s the same headache I get while cleaning or doing IQ tests to find out whether I’m hochbegabt or not – a fuzzy, non-painful headache, like there’s that static on the telly we used to get at night where my thoughts should go.
I don’t understand the economy, I never have. I grew up in the suburbs of London, but one day, when I was a kid, we went up to town and saw these homeless people living in cardboard boxes on the streets. I was born in 1980, so for me it’s normal that under capitalism some people can’t afford to live in houses, have to sleep in these tiny cardboard dens on the ground. I don’t get upset by the sight of homeless people, their plight doesn’t touch me in any meaningful way whatsoever – well, when the temperature’s above two degrees, say. I was one of Thatcher’s children but my mother, who’d grown up in the countryside, was distressed at the sight of those cardboard cities. My interest, however, was purely academic.
“Why don’t the banks just print extra money off and give it to them?” I asked her, genuinely curious, and she tried to explain to me about inflation.
I don’t understand why quantitative easing was okay and didn’t lead to huge inflation but printing up more money so people don’t have to sleep outside in the cold isn’t. I do not understand this. This is a thing which, no matter how much I flirt with people who are studying business administration, I’ll never understand.
Still, you don’t have to be an economic expert to realize that capitalism has failed. It’s like that bit in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves when Duncan goes to Maid Marian: “He fancies you, my lady. I may be blind but there are some things I can still see.” Capitalism has failed. And it gave us loads of great stuff, but it’s now failed. Like Konrad says, we are no longer living under capitalism, anyway. What we’re living under is Crap Socialism. It’s socialism for the corporations and pure exploitation for the poor. Mini-jobs, workfare, all bollocks. In England you have McDonald’s paying people on zero-hour contracts. Fucking McDonald’s! There can be no other more symbolic symbol of capitalistic capitalism than those two golden arches. If McDonald’s can’t afford to promise its workers a basic living each week, then guess what? Capitalism has failed.
I’m not saying we have to go back to communism or socialism. But I agree with Russell Brand, I think we need a revolution. I think profit should become a dirty word. That’s what I think.
Capitalism makes people unhappy. It makes people think they care about stuff like sofas. Nobody cares about stuff like sofas. I mean, I know there are people who are really into interior design but the rest of us are just pretending.
“I don’t know how you can live in Neukölln,” says a Russian-German friend. Actually, he’s from the Ukraine, but he’s an Aussiedler, so, as you can imagine, he’s kind of spießig.
“I like it,” I say.
“All those people,” he says. “The dregs of society. That’s why you always imagine you’re working-class. You’re middle-class. Your parents might be poor, but they’re educated, and you have a Bachelor’s degree and you’ve written two books and you teach English for a living. You should move to Steglitz. You’d realize how middle-class you were then.”
“I love Neukölln,” I say. “I love walking around and seeing how fucked-up everyone is. Like, Neukölln is this tiny bubble where you have to admit that capitalism has failed. And it’s failed because people are too weak. Because people aren’t mean enough. People are too good for capitalism. You know how Sarrazin slagged off the Turks? He got it wrong. The Turks in Neuköllln are really capitalistic. It’s the Germans in Neukölln who are totally fucked-up. You walk around and you see these Germans with limbs missing and teeth missing and parts of their face missing. And I just want to touch them and say: ‘I know. You’re doing your best. You’re searching through the bin for empty plastic bottles so you can take them back to the Pfandautomat and get enough money for alcohol. You’re doing your best. But your best isn’t good enough.'”
“They could just stop drinking,” he says.
“But capitalism needs people to need things,” I say. “Sofas, vodka, Dolce and Gabbana handbags. Stuff.”
“They’re just lazy,” he says.
“Yeah,” I say. “A lot of human beings are too lazy for capitalism. That’s why capitalism has failed. It’s okay. We just need to forgive ourselves for being too lazy and too weak for capitalism. I can’t wait for the future to start. I can’t wait to live in a world where, okay, maybe not everyone’s happy, but almost all the children are. Children are happy, well-fed, relaxed and curious and all the unhappy adults who are unhappy aren’t blaming themselves and thinking it’s because they need a nicer sofa.”
“Hmmm,” says the Ukrainian.
I can tell I haven’t convinced him. But it doesn’t really matter, because capitalism has failed and sooner or later everyone will notice and then we can start living properly and actually doing things, actually making things that actually, actually matter.