Jan 292014
Ground Zero, Santiago Presidential Palace, 11th Sept 1973

They say it is for your own good.

The cut backs (“The Cuts”). Is it possible to cut too far? Cut far beyond last year’s growing point. Back to the main stems. General wisdom says, the most the pruning saw cuts should be to above the first major stem divide. Hoping for new sprouts the next spring, which will form new fruiting branches in future years.

But it is most important not to cut all the stems of the apple tree at once. Leave at least one or two main stems with live branches. However high and tangled they are. Don’t cut too deep. Or you overstress the tree. In order not to kill it, some fruiting branches need to be left growing off one of the main stem.

In the long conversation on the pruning topic, one of the precursors for a main stem graft, which is widely used today to promise new forms of sustained fruiting, goes by the name ‘Human Capital’. The ‘Human Capital’ name involves the idea of replacing the principle of welfare state universal benefits with targeting and charging but with a philanthropic twist: the selected recipients of state education, health-care or other services are charged on a cost/benefit basis. The benefits are calculated (exactly how is a long running economic argument) so nobody get more than their fair share. Fair share in the context of ‘Human Capital’ means in some sense deserving of receiving but simultaneously being charged, with the state (or privatised element of the state) expecting to get something back in return, like more productivity or bigger and better jobs being done. In other words, state benefits are no longer universal.

It is true the orchard has been neglected over the last twenty years and more, and the branches of the ‘Human Capital’ stem grafts have been romping away. However, the main result has not been more apple fruit all round. Quite the opposite in fact. Ivy has been the main benefactor. First it grew in the shadow of overgrowing hedges and overhanging trees, and then increasingly simply as a multiplying derivative of its own great mass of ever-green shade. The ivy has proliferated everywhere. Serving only itself. Glossy. Green.

Fruits have been poor and sour in recent years.

Cut back one week there is the remembrance that green is a colour Mondrian detested, and avoided using the colour in all of his paintings of apple trees.

The ‘Human Capital’ graft was originally one of The Chicago School ideas of the 1960′s, and was especially successfully implanted in the universities of Chile. The economist Miguel Kast had trained in Chicago 1970-73 before returning to work at Odeplan, the Chilean state planning agency. There he became the architect for the state’s ‘focussed’ anti-poverty measures implemented under the Pinochet regime, being appointed Minister of Labour and Social Security in 1980 .

Cutting back much harder, there is the remembrance of Ground Zero, September 11th 1973 that is (not 2001), the date of the Pinochet coup in Chile: the storming of the presidential palace in Santiago, assassination of President Allende, and the violent overthrow of his democratically elected government.

In the Wordstall archive there are the yellowing copies of old newspapers, the front pages carrying throughout all South America with the headlines of Allende’s fall the day after, along with a graphic full page photograph showed the smoke billowing out of the windows of the palace. The photograph had been wired to the newsrooms of Rio de Janeiro and every other city and provincial town in the region. As the news spread out, it felt like a shadow was descending over every man, woman, and child, although at the time it was impossible to put a name to the feelings of insecurity and fear.

In this respect as in others, Pinochet’s Chile was the precursor: not only was it the first Latin American country to fully privatise the administration of its pension fund in 1980, it also pioneered the conditional safety net, establishing the Subsido Unico Familiar in August 1981. Combining the idea of human capital with the principles of targetting…” (Lena Lavinas, 21st Century Welfare, New Left Review 84 (Nov/Dec 2013), P. 5-40)

These coordinated plans of central government are now frequently given the name ‘Conditional Cash Transfer Programmes’. They have been and are being deployed worldwide in all regions of the world – and closer to home of course in the orchards of these misty isles for many years now.

The task of cutting all the ivy at ground level for every apple tree has now been completed. The main stems and branches have been exposed. They look alive and the next growing season will reveal which of these will blossom, which stems will sprout new shoots, and where new fruit will be set.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of buzzing going on within the hive. The bees are mostly asleep this time of year, but it appears that a fierce argument is currently going on about whether the richest ‘Human Capital’ of the misty isle should pay 50% tax.

Both the quantity of next season’s harvest and the likely sweetness of the fruit remains uncertain.