Great Scottish Writer—Neil M.Gunn (1941 [1989]) The Silver Darlings.

The Silver Darlings, referred to in the title, are herring. Neil M.Gunn’s most popular novel was published by Faber & Faber in 1941. Think about that. T.S.Eliot was the main man at Faber & Faber. The phony war with Germany was over. Britain was in retreat and awaiting imminent invasion and possible starvation as U-boats sunk tens of thousands of tons of merchant shipping. Gunn dedicated the book ‘to the memory of my father’. And men like him, men of deep faith that have been torn from the land by bailiffs and absent landlords, but still cling onto hope ‘because no landlord owned the sea’ (or so we thought). William Faulkner’s, much quoted requiem to neologisms, still holds true, ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’  

The first trickle of the herring boom allowed ordinary men and women to cling to the land, by going to sea, in much the same way the oil boom regenerated the Scottish economy. Its surplus squandered by Thatcherite monetarist policies that continue causing misery to the poorest while rewarding the richest for nothing much more than being rich. This is a love story, but it’s also a lesson in economics.

Chapter 1, The Derelict Boat.   Toland aged 24, ‘felt full of a great competence. Catrine was only nineteen,’ and pregnant. Like many others they’d survived the winter on shellfish and seaweed. Colic and dysentery their bed companions when they ate the wrong things.

‘Old men, trying to live on nothing to give the young a better chance, had become unbelievably gaunt, so that children would run from them frightened.’

Catrine clings to Toland. She’s hysterical. ‘All along these coasts—the coasts of the Moray Firth—there was a new stirring of sea life.’

The sea is their common salvation. Listen to the almost biblical language of Gunn.

The landlords who had burned them out in order to bring a suitable desolation for sheep (italics my own).   

[They] had set about making a harbour at the mouth of the river, the same river that, with its tributaries, has threaded the island valleys. Money had been advanced by him (at 6 ½ per cent, interest) to erect buildings for dealing with fish.’

I thought this would be a book about Catrine and Toland, but by the end of chapter 1, he’s gone from Dale. And Catrine is with child. She travels to a strange country, Dunster, to stay with her older friend Kirsty. Kirsty has a large croft with only her father to keep, but they also speak the common language of the people, the Gaelic.  Catrine is almost raped on the way from Dale to Dunster by a shepherd. But it’s subtly done. These things didn’t happen in Britain at the end of the Napoleonic era, not to good girls.

She meets skipper Roddie Sinclair. And old woman instructs Roddie to take her to Kirsty’s father’s croft. He’s no rapist (well, to jump ahead twenty years, she says ‘no’ but means yes, I’m not sure how that would translate nowadays). Roddie declares he’s married to the sea, but we know that he’s the strongest, bravest and best skipper, while she’s the bonniest, (mirror, mirror on the wall) she’s the prettiest of all.

But she’s still married to Toland. He’s been taken by a warship, while fishing off the coast, press-ganged into the Royal Navy. Catrine has a vision that he’s dead. But Roddie and Catrine’s lives must run in parallel, because that’s what the good book says.

Catrine gives birth to Finn. The good book follows his life as he grows up, and establishes a relationship with Roddie. A preacher teaches arithmetic with examples from the sea.

‘How many women are in a gutting crew, and what do they do?

Three. Two gutters and one packer.

What do they jointly earn for gutting and packing one barrel of herring?  You!

Fourpence, said the fisherman.

How many herring are in a barrel?

… There can be 800.

What does a woman get for gutting 100 herring?

… Now we have in our midst, a distinguished craftswoman in net making… How much is this woman paid for a net?

Finn raised his hand. ‘The number of knots along the top is 1801. The number down that 504…The total is 909 500 knots.

How many knots does she have to tie to earn one penny, ignoring fractions?

Mag had to tie 5790 knots to earn one penny.’

Finn had listened to endless arguments over the years. Mr Hendry at first said that they might as well haul their boats and close down. From four shillings on the barrel the [government] bounty had gone down to three shillings, to two shillings, to one shilling, to nothing.

Finn’s coming of age is marked by a seeming downturn in fishing. He falls in love, but cannot admit it, especially to himself. This is Toland and Catrine, but for the next generation, and for our generation. The story of love does not grow old and weary in the way our bodies do. In the way his mother’s body does. Only Roddie seems to defy the laws of aging. A hard man and hard taskmaster, he has the patience of Job.

When Roddie and Finn clash, as they must, both have some growing up to do. Catrine, ever virgin, despite being married and having a child, is the ballast.

The Silver Darlings is rooted in Scotland’s past, when those that owned the land, owned the people on the land, and created ‘a desolation’ of wealth. Much as now. They still do, even as fishing has dwindled to less than 1% of GDP, with boats coasting tens of millions of pounds that can catch and package fish for the market while still at sea lying rusting in dock. The lie of Brexit, fouling the nets. Gunn’s requiem for his father and his father’s father way of life and fishing so they might live and prosper. It’s all here. Open the book and read one of the classics of Scottish literature.

Quote

William Keegan (2014) Mr Osborne’s Economic Experiment. Austerity 1945-51 and 2010 –

rich man poor menIn response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “We Can Be Taught!.”

William Keegan (2014) Mr Osborne’s Economic Experiment. Austerity 1945-51 and 2010 –

The first question when purchasing a book about economics is it worth the money? Let’s look at the evidence. The book costs £10 or thereabouts. This includes delivery. Not bad. But it is very short—or concise—depending on your definition. Large borders on the page. Empty spaces. Empty pages to seem more value for your buck, or pound sterling. Notes. Index. I’d guess less than 50 000 words. You can read it in one sitting. And there is a tendency to repeat the same story or telling phrase twice or thrice in different parts. ‘Pushing on a piece of string’ to describe monetary policy or ‘sadomonetarism’ for the government’s reliance on this as a tool to adjust consumer activity is a favourite.

William Keegan writes for the Observer. Anyone familiar with his work knows that he is an advocate of Keynesian expansion during times of economic contraction in the economy. He does not shirk from using words like Depression.   In the aftermath of the banking crisis of 2007-8 and its aftermath when our then Prime Minister Gordon Brown ‘saved the world’ by galvanising world-wide support for government intervention and injecting government money into banks to keep them afloat and save economies going into free-fall, as they did in the 1930s, there was little or no talk of austerity—not even from the Conservative frontbenches.

That came with Osborne and his crony crew of Cameron and Boris Johnson that run government for the rich. Post-second-world- war London like the rest of the nation suffered from shortages of just about everything. ‘Economists calculated that, in order to balance the books, exports would need to rise not only to pre-war levels, but to 75% above those levels.’ In addition to this the flow of cash that supported the British economy, the Land Lease agreement, running at ‘£2 billion a year’ (multiply that by 100 for nowadays) was, with the war ended, abruptly terminated.  The winter of 1946-7 was one of the coldest on record. Nationwide power cuts. A debt ratio of around 148% more than can be produced by all the goods and service that Britain could produce in any one year.

Osborne’s great con trick was a debt ratio inherited from Gordon Brown and Labour of around 7% and making most observers believe that this was insufferable and like Greece, the road to bankruptcy. As Keegan shows John Major’s government ran a greater debt to GDP ratio. And it’s worth noting if the Greek government went to the troika that issued their loans and were asked to pay it back in fourteen years, bond renewal, as the current government has, and not six months then most governments, of whatever political persuasion, would hardly constitute it as a crisis.

Lots can happen in that time. Even a rudderless ship eventually hits shore. With a growing population and expansion from a low starting point in the economy grass roots of economic expansion have begun to appear. Osborne claims credit for this. Austerity works, even when it doesn’t. His failure to use fiscal policy, build a nation for the future when money literally costs virtually nothing is short-sighted and stupid. By measuring Britain’s progress prior to the shock of 2008 Osborne by IMF projection has set back the county by several years.

Listen, who cares? The problem with Keegan’s polemic is those reading it are already aware of this. Just as they are aware of Tory government’s attack on welfare abuse as a Trojan horse to dismantle the welfare state and increase the flow of money to crony capitalists like themselves.

Those who believe all is light in the world of Tory finance and the government is doing a grand job would not pay for Keegan’s book. The problem isn’t preaching to the converted. The problem comes when the Conservatives win the next election and begin in earnest to dismantle the welfare state. What is to be done?

John Lanchester (2014) How to Speak Money.

 

john lanchesterNot many people read dictionaries, especially, a dictionary of money-talk that will be out of date by the time it gets to print, but I was always a bit weird. One of the few and therefore scarce O’grades I got was in the ‘dismal science’ of economics. I got a B grade. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. I know you’re secretly impressed. I was surprised. I’ll tell you my secret: if it wasn’t supply; it was demand. I could even pontificate about elasticity: elasticity is when something is not inelastic. I was good on the laws of diminishing return. It was always a farmer’s field and planting crops and well, you’ve watched The Waltons, you know what happens next. John Boy comes out with a piece of folksy wisdom and in a good year he gets a new hat.  Economics is about telling stories. Recently I personally experienced the law of diminishing returns. At one level I attempted to sell the same story –Lily Poole – to the same people again and again.  Chances of that happen diminish with each frantic effort. The people that buy have already bought. One of the problems of classical economics is it assumes – among other things – that the seller will have perfect knowledge of the market. I look across and in the next field Lavadis and Ewan are also selling the same product, but they are having three and four times the success rate I’m having. I don’t know how that happened. I have imperfect knowledge. But I want to move into their field and bring down their margins of success while boosting mine. Most folk do. In the pub I conducted a quick survey of who had perfect knowledge. I got two ‘Yes’ votes. Three ‘No’ votes and two ‘Fuck off’ votes. ‘Fuck off’ ties with ‘Yes’ and that’s how economics works.

Lets look at ‘paradis fiscaux’ before looking at the mucky letter ‘r’.   You’re probably thinking ‘Jo le taxi’ and Vanessa Paradis. That’s how I didn’t get an A-grade in that O’ level all those years ago. Paradix fiscaux is just a fancy way of saying to poor people, fuck off, we’re not paying taxes. We live in Paradis-fiscaux land and if Vanessa lives there all the better for us.

Our beloved Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put it quite plainly. ‘Nations depend for their health, economically, culturally and psychologically upon the achievements of a comparatively small number of talented and determined people.’

The Wealth of Nations will trickle down to those who don’t really deserve it, but there are a number of economic tools to help them adjust. ‘Reducing payroll – sacking people’. ‘Redundancy –sacking people’. ‘Reform –sacking people’ and making those that stay more productive, which generally means working longer hours for less money and foregoing luxuries such as being sick, wanting a holiday or worrying about pension plans. ‘Rent’ is an interesting word. It’s unproductive, yet it drives the money and housing market. ‘It is an attempt to take a bigger piece of the existing pie rather than make the pie bigger’. The Shards and glass-fronted tower blocks of Central London are the flagships of rent-seeking behaviour, and banks like RBS are the privateers that sail on a sea of finance. The UK taxpayer, of course, owns ‘82% of RBS, and at the time of writing is sitting on a loss of £15 billion’. The Government couldn’t let such banks sink and I dare  not speak its name, has nationalised the big four banks.

A comparatively small number of talented and determined people have smashed the global economy, which since 2008 has resulted in world-wide depression, and this governments answer has been more or the same, more of the four ‘r’s. Let’s look at risk. Perhaps we better not. Sometimes it’s better not knowing.  The rich get rich. The poor get poorer. That’s one constant. Perhaps it’s best to end with an old joke ‘Well, that works in practice, but let’s go and see if it works in theory.’

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole