The Social Capital Trading Scheme

Nat Eb blew gently through the top of his cappuccino – first one in the week and it was already Thursday. Little flecks of froth alighted his nose. He was sitting by the roaring fire in the Crusty Stag with his chums Stumpy Regenkurt and the Reverend Velazquez-Kovács, the brains behind the Living Simply Mechanism – that indigenous Peruvian who had travelled far by foot and sailboat to take up his role as technical advisor to the Minister of Economic Decline. [1]

Dorothy, the voluptuous barmaid, in a tight Santa suit which played to her strengths, set down towering jugs of lager for Stumpy and the Reverend. “Sure you’re having no beer, Minister?” she asked Eb. “Go on,” she said with a wink, “be a devil.” But Stumpy already had a hand on her bum – “Since when did Santa wear hot-pants, love?” he asked. “Why?” twittered Dorothy, reddening, “ever since the arctic melted. Obvious, isn’t it?” She twirled saucily to escape his grasp and disappeared back behind the bar.

“Women … women,” sighed Stumpy.

It was the last evening before the Christmas holidays.

Nat sighed, too. “All this work,” he began. “It can’t go on. No time for the family, no chance to share a pint with my chums. I’ve another meeting at nine with the PM.”

The Rev Velasquez shook his head sadly. He patted Nat on the arm. “My dear friend,” he said. “What happened to Living Simply? You must learn to take it easy. It is you, after all, who has to set the example.”

Stumpy chuckled. “Nat Eb? Take it easy? You may as well get Lord Alex to retire.” He gestured to the Sun which lay face-down on the coffee table in front of them. Lord Alex was about to celebrate his 90th birthday still in charge of the Shanghai Gammon Football League winners, Manchester United. [2]

Stumpy knocked back his beer. Then, straightening the tweed legging over his peg-leg, he said: “You know what you should do? You should pay someone else not to work for you.”

Nat Eb looked up. “Say that again, Stumpy?”

“You should pay someone else not to work for you. You know, offsetting the debit to social capital caused by you over-working.”

“By gum!” said the Rev, suddenly (he’d spent most of his time in England working in the north where people had a much better idea of what’s important in life). “That, oh man-connected-to-Mother-Earth-by-way-of-a-Tree, is the germ of a grand policy measure. Look here…”

He closed his eyes, put his hands together and touched the tip of his Peruvian nose. “Social capital is all the good things in our society. It’s trust, it’s chatting to friends, it’s playing sport together, it’s caring for each other, it’s an amateur dramatic society, it’s spending time in pubs and cafes, it’s honesty, it’s volunteering.” He sipped some beer. “It’s last night’s carol service in St Paul’s. It’s the warmth of a high street with local shopkeepers who know your name. It’s the most important thing we have.”

“And much economic growth has mercilessly gobbled up our social capital and spat it out as private capital into private bank accounts. When Tesco’s out-of-town store puts the local shops out of business; when banks’ help-desks are outsourced to people thousands of miles away who barely speak our language; when advertising fuels the fire of ambition and we have no time anymore for our friends; when growth in private prisons is a plus to GDP…”

Stumpy poked the Rev in his midrift. “Yes Reverend Velasquez, we’ve heard that lecture before. Let’s have chapter two, please.”

The Reverend opened his eyes and threw a withering look at Stumpy. “I should have thought it obvious to you, Stumpy, a man of business. Look: as an entrepreneur you invest in social capital, and Tesco has to buy the credit from you if it wants to expand its store out-of-town.”

“Fantastic!” cried Nat Eb. “The PM will be over the moon with this one. The Social Capital Trading Scheme! We’ll have thousands of entrepreneurs – the lifeblood of our economy–“

“Our society,” corrected Velasquez.

“The lifeblood of our society. We’ll have thousands of them building social capital as fast as they can, entertaining the elderly, caring for the ill, introducing strangers to each other, running local football leagues, staging plays, marketing poetry readings, financing allotments, teaching newcomers local customs!”

“And all funded by you know who. Tesco. Boots. Road-builders. All the big-and-nasties. Any company which wants to consume social capital… it will have to pay for it!” Barely had Stumpy finished his words, he was thrashing out messages on his i to a dozen business partners across the land – lawyers, financiers, deal-makers and local fixers. [3]. He looked at Velasquez in awe, beaming at the thought of the millions he’d be making as trader in the Social Capital Trading Scheme. “I’ve got the lads working on it, just wired two million for a community centre in Burnley, a new church roof in Whalley and a dozen extra carers for the old peoples’ home in Clitheroe… By Gladys, I’ll make a bleeding mint out of this!”

He called over to Dorothy who sprang to their table eagerly like a young reindeer filly in particularly good form. “Now now, darling,” said Stumpy. “This calls for three glasses and a bottle of Bollinger. Organic. No no, Nat, this is my treat and you’re joining in, too. If the PM has a problem, he should call me.” He waved away Eb’s protests.

But Velasquez frowned. “Err, Stumpy,” he said, “it won’t work quite like that. You’ve misunderstood me.”

“What do you mean?” asked Stumpy, alarm slowly replacing the excitement on his face.

“Isn’t is obvious? You can’t commoditise social capital like that. If you treat it just like financial capital then you disintermediate and depersonalise in just the same way. You’ll undo the very good you have done. No, I didn’t mean you’d trade the social capital for cash. You’ll trade it for social capital! The managers at the Tesco store will have to come and work with you in the youth club; they’ll be under your charge when you visit the old people’s home. The management of the car plant will personally come and plant trees with you in the park. Of course, you can take a commission from this. But you’re not going to make speculative gains on this one, my friend. It would completely defeat the object.”

Stumpy scowled. “Blast it, your Peruvian hound! One moment I’m spending like it’s Christmas and the next moment you tell me I’ve got it all wrong. What do I do about the two million, now?”

“Happy Christmas, Stumpy!” chuckled Velasquez raising a glass to his munificent friend.

[1] For an earlier article about the Reverend see The Bustard 5th October 2007 “The Reverse Missionary” (

[2] For Shanghai Gammon PLC the global fertiliser group, see The Bustard 21st August 2010 “The Ministry of Economic Decline” (

[3] For the “i” see Sir Gordon and the Airline Rationing System for Emissions on The Bustard 4th December 2010 (

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