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It’s a Craig Whyte economy

Suddenly everyone knows that the Rangers owner is a devious parasite. So why don’t they realise that he is the embodiment of British Capitalism and not an aberration?

I like verbs. They are a g00d sign that a collection of words placed next to each other (for example, in a sentence) have some underlying meaning. It’s the difference between ‘Jack and Jill went up the hill’ and ‘the hill was a challenging factor for Jack and Jill’. Both sound like they contain information but only one actually does.

So give me some verbs for Rangers Pimpernel Chris Whyte. No, not requests, words to describe what it is that he does. Nouns are fine – he’s a ‘businessman’, a ‘venture capitalist’, an ‘entrepreneur’, a ‘wealth-creator’. But what does he do? He ‘does business’, which means nothing. He doesn’t seem to ‘invest’ in things. He certainly doesn’t make, build or create things. And while one might reasonably call him a ‘wealth-syphoner’, I have been reading for weeks now (actually longer) in the hope that someone would tell me what he does.

I was suspicious from the start. I have spent a little time learning the meaning behind the lexicon of the modern economy and ever since I discovered the meaning of ‘leveraged buyout’ and ‘asset-stripping’ I approach any ‘business leader’ for whom I can’t put my finger on the outputs of their ‘business’ with scepticism. Deep, deep scepticism. A venture capitalist is – in theory – someone who invests lots of money into good ideas to help them become great products, companies or technologies. But that is not what a venture capitalist is in most cases. Mainly they buy up other companies and try to find a way of wringing cheap money out of them. The Craig Whyte approach seems to be a specific slash-and-burn strategy. He has put 23 companies – that’s twenty-three – into administration. And got rich doing it.

Being the director of a company was something I understood as a serious business. When I discovered years ago that Tom Hunter was still a millionaire while a string of ventures to which he was attached went down the tubes I couldn’t understand it. Being the director of failing ventures was the kiss of death, a permanent stain on your reputation. Now it is an occupation, and a richly-rewarded one. Hunter borrowed, gambled, failed, and then either walked away or at least walked away from the failing bits (his creditors sucked it up) while ‘buying back’ the working bits. I couldn’t believe it. Moral hazard didn’t even seem to come into it.

Whyte makes Tom Hunter look responsible. Having tried to follow his trail of destruction I can’t find a single thing that he has actually created other than shell companies. I have come across some things he destroyed though, like other people’s companies. People who built things, made things, did things, worked, created real value. As soon as they need investment though, Whyte is there, buying up the company and ripping it apart like a hyena. It is something I have also noted that the people who actually create things seem never to become anything like as rich as the ones who destroy what they did.

And so is our economy. Most people still don’t understand it – in large part because of the absence of verbs – and so mostly it goes on undisturbed. The banks should have alerted us, but instead people think it is a problem with ‘banking’. It’s not; it’s a problem with Britain, with Anglo-capitalism. It is a web of deceit which feeds on good people and shelters under ideology. We catch the occasional miscreant – but only in the case of monster-sized catastrophe (Fred Goodwin) and high-profile cases (Chris Whyte). Meanwhile, this destructive nonsense continues to strip out from the economy all that is good. We have not only allowed the parasite to overwhelm its host, we celebrate the parasite even as the host dies.

Thorstein Veblen was a late-19th-century American economist and sociologist. Even back then he identified the difference between ‘business’ and ‘industry’. He didn’t consider business to be a socially useful activity, only industry. We, on the other hand, consider industry to be an unfashionable waste of time. Why make anything when you can buy a football team with its own money and pretend you matter?

You don’t matter, none of you. Or at least not in a good way. You rip up and distort all that is of value, only and entirely for your own benefit. We worship you, oh parasites, and in return you destroy anything you can make a profit from destroying. That is the fundamental truth about the British business model. If Craig Whyte had stuck to destroying roofing businesses he would still be described as a Heroic Captain of Industry. Like the rest of them.

It is time to judge us by our verbs and not our nouns. Stop following the money; follow the ‘value’. And then discover how many ‘wealth creators’ you find gorging themselves at each dead end you find as the value evaporates. It really is a Craig Whyte economy.

Robin McAlpine