Capitalism: The unofficial story
Susie Steed- Economist & comedian | Unusual Suspects Festival 2017
I’ve started running walking tours of Capitalism. The tour started in London and I’m currently performing it as part of the Edinburgh Comedy festival.
A walking tour of Capitalism. This might seem like an odd theme for a walking tour. In Edinburgh ghost tours are pretty popular, but the story of capitalism is far spookier to me. I’ve called it a tour of capitalism but it’s really about the economy and the tale of where our money came from. The story starts with the British Empire and takes us up to the ongoing Banking Crisis.
I wrote the tour for a few reasons. The first is to break economics down a bit. I often hear people saying it is something they don’t understand. I get why people say that. There are lots of reasons to be confused. Economics is often presented in a very confusing way. So although I talk about big themes like debt and trade I’m trying to keep my tour jargon free. Instead I focus on the stories, the people and places that got us to where we are.
The second reason I wrote the tour is because I feel there is a collective amnesia around how this country became a world power. The version of British history I learnt at school, let’s just call it ‘selective’. I did history A Level, but I didn’t learn anything about the British Empire. I learnt about the World Wars, but not about the opium Wars. If you don’t know about these, they are very much the opposite to the war on drugs. They were the wars for drugs. It’s kind of hard to believe but we went to with China to make them buy drugs.
So on my tour I’m trying to fill in some of the gaps, to look at events that may have been excluded from our curriculum but are reflected in the street names and buildings in our cities.
I also link our history of empire to the where our economy is right now, in my view, not in a great place. So, right now banking and financial services dominate the British economy. It’s impossible to understand how we got here without the role of the Empire. For centuries Britain barged in and took resources from other countries. It’s remarkable that many Brit’s don’t realise this, even more so that we have managed to rebrand ourselves as a nation of people who are polite and good at queuing.
But it wasn’t just the army and navy that was important, but the financial institutions they were based around. This is reflected in the histories of some of the biggest financial players in the economy. For example, Lloyds of London, the worlds biggest insurance broker, is the company that devised the first insurance contracts for slave ships. HSBC, the UK’s largest bank was founded from the profits of the second opium war. In keeping with it’s history the bank is still playing its role in the global drugs trade today taking in suitcases of money from Mexican drug cartels.
So, as the empire fell apart, and our soldiers withdrew from the colonies, finance expanded to fill the gap. This has happened in several ways, the most obvious being the growth of tax havens, most of which are former British colonies. If you look at where international finance flows from and to, you see the old outline of the empire.
And the legacy of the empire lives on somewhere else — in the collective memory of a lot of Brits. But they don’t remember the empire for what it actually was. They either don’t know or don’t want to know about the horror and brutality of it. Instead they have imagined a warped rose tinted memory of it. Where we went on some kind of jolly, fuelled by gin and cucumber sandwiches, and countries just happened to give us all their natural resources. If we really want to move forward then this is the thing that needs to be challenged first.
Note — if you could link to where to buy tickets for my tour: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/susie-steed-money-walks-the-unofficial-story-of-capitalism