The cobbler’s son goes barefoot. This English proverb could almost serve to illustrate the entry for “paradox” in a dictionary of philosophy.

The paradox of capitalism is that, instead of selling their souls to the devil, its adepts give them away for free. One would think that all those masters of the universe, well used to selling sand to the Sahara, eyewash to the blind, and snake oil to rattlesnakes, would tergiversate, negotiate and bargain until the devil cried uncle – or whatever it is the devil cries when he knows he’s beaten – but no. Meekly, obediently, they sign away on the dotted line, as if it’s not their liberty, their country, or their children’s future they’re consigning to perdition, but a deceased relative’s old coat at a Salvation Army collection point.

How many aircraft carriers do you think Britain has? You may ponder your answer a few minutes, recalling Britain’s reputation as a seafaring nation along with her naval triumphs from Gravelines and Trafalgar to Jutland and Taranto. (In that last, remember, HMS Illustrious did to the Axis naval base at Taranto what the Japanese did to Pearl Harbor a year later.) Well, how many? Answer: none. For the first time since World War I, Britain does not have “an operational aircraft carrier,” as the BBC tactfully phrases it, while the British Navy is slated to shed 5000 men by 2020 under the terms of an ongoing charade called “Strategic Defence and Security Review.”

Once we’re at it, how many men do you think serve in the British Army? Answer: 102,000, to be cut down to 82,000 in five years’ time. In other words, Great Britain has as many soldiers as Russia now has on its border with Ukraine – not that I want anybody to jump to hasty conclusions. I’m just mentioning this for comparison, the way a nature photographer may place a cigarette lighter next to a Madagascar hissing cockroach to show scale.

Robert M. Gates is president of the Boy Scouts of America. Prior to that, he was US Secretary of Defense under both Bush and Obama – a bipartisan idyll if ever there was one, as only 14 cabinet members, and no defense secretary, had ever served the presidents of both parties before him. I have read the man’s biography and I understand that the presidency of the Boy Scouts (unless it’s a directorship of Starbucks, which the former spook also has under his belt) is very much the historic role for which Gates is cut out.

And yet – who knows, perhaps prompted by concern for America’s children in his care – even this bipartisan nincompoop, fibber, and toady has had to state the obvious. “With the fairly substantial reductions in defense spending in Great Britain,” quoth Gates, “what we’re finding is that it won’t have full spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past.” The BBC’s comment? “No. 10 [Downing Street] says the UK is still ‘a first-class player in terms of defence.’”

Not even in the Boy Scouts, apparently.