Café Marx

BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN

Across the road from my office is a café run and owned by a communist lady. We have become good pals at the local gym. She supports Corbyn and is not for turning. I enjoy teasing her for selling millionaire shortbread and Coca Cola. She gives me as good as she gets and asks me which wall I’d like to be shot against when Momentum take charge. She does a bacon butty to die for and sausage rolls which melt in the mouth – items which may have to disappear from her bill of fare when the black part of the Black-Red Alliance builds up a head of steam.

Just because someone’s a communist does not automatically make them a pariah for the sound. Too often politics divides people – look at Brexit – when, really, for the common good, it should be compartmentalised and kept away from the rest of life. I remember the days when you’d never mention politics (or religion) in the pub – two subjects on which people disagree the most, so the least compatible with alcohol. My café owner friend and I have discussed politics in the past but know we are both beyond proselytising to each other, which is fine, and she’s careful not to talk politics in the café to her customers (in my area you can pin a blue rosette on a dog and it will get elected).

I’d prefer to be stuck on a desert island with the café owner than one of those useless idiot millennials, who lazily blame capitalism – the system – for their troubles and wish for the hard choices in life to be removed from them by a warm, embracing (imaginary) state. In any case I’m sure she could do wonderful things with some fish and a few coconuts. She’d not agree so easily to being governed by an omnipotent government with virtually no checks on its discretion and I am sure she’d soon be fed up with the realities of communism; when her customers dry up along with any economic growth and the latest imagined utopia.

“What will you do when your Communist Government tells you to stop serving certain items at your café?”, I asked her once.

“I will tell them to get lost,” she replied.

Yet I have seen these Communist rule-makers in action in the last decade in Venezuela. I have seen their price-setting and their one-size-fits-all, centralised laws conjured up by so-called experts. Tell them to get lost and your corpse has a 1 in 3 chance of being found before being eaten by rats at a local rubbish tip. I have seen how complex the rules and systems get when supply changes – there is never sufficient information or knowledge to determine or predict what solutions are best for dealing with glitches. Even if these experts had been recipients of real-time data from a workforce of AI, they could never have foreseen sudden rushes for product, spontaneous fads, medical crises or disasters – had they been at their desks in the first place.

My café owner – although she will never admit it – is one of millions of creative capitalist people, with specific local knowledge and perspectives, radiantly pushing her ideas towards dealing with the problem of sating local needs; in this case my occasional penchant for a bit of fried pig.

She is living proof – in the triumph of her café – that a decentralised process, replete with lessons from experiments of success and failure, works. Other café owners have tried and failed – she has succeeded, partly by keeping her political beliefs out of the workings of her café. She is just as happy to sell Cuban coffee and Coca-Cola as I am to buy Cuban cigars and Pringles. It’s not as if she takes her politics into her business model – we all know what happened to the Marxist café in Michigan whose hours were set by group decision; where there was equal pay and equal say across the board.

There are three key truths any remaining Corbynite millennials would do well to learn:

First, “If government remains committed to protecting from the downside of economic change all who clamour for such protection, the powers of government must necessarily expand until little freedom of action is left to individuals.” (Boudreaux) While we’re at it, Scandinavian nations – sometimes cited as examples of successful socialism by Corbynites – are not actually socialist at all, because they do not feature government ownership of the means of production, and in many ways have freer markets than most other western nations.

Second, in socialist systems it’s always the dross that rises to the top. Look at murderous Maduro and billionaire Castro. The top gets riven by corruption and nepotism. Recall the tale of the Russian journalist Anatoly Kurmanaev who went to an event held by the Central Bank of Venezuela. He expected to learn how the bank planned to improve the economy. Instead, at 10 am, he found himself at a beach party where vodka and rum flowed. Nelson Merentes, the head of the Bank, was there. Kurmanaev found Merentes “waving maracas and dancing with a bevy of young women in tight denim shorts”. Under collectivism the “worst get on top”, Kurmanaev noted.

Third, you can have your really dumb political ideas in our free society, but you should leave them at the door when entering a pub or café, especially if you intend to run one.

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