Terrible blog title aside… An article in this week’s New Statesman reminded me why journalism – when it’s good – can be so valuable. In this instance by shedding light on an aspect of capitalism that seems to be both obvious and yet mostly neglected.
The world seems to have become more and more polarised between the “pro capitalists” (neo-liberals) who see the market as the solution to everything, and the invisble anti-capitalists (such as the Occupy movement) who want to see such a radical change in the global system that – in all honesty – is simply not going to happen.
The middle-ground of “making capitalism more humane” which was always a mainstay of left-wing British politics, appears to have transformed into a motley collection of One Nation Labour spin (“Predatory Capitalism” is all well and good, but where are the policies) and more sinister attempts to clothe traditional capitlist economic in social language to pretend it is not the same morality-blind force that it has always been (a large amount of what passes for social enterprise and Corporate Social Responsibility falls clearly into this camp).
What the article by John Gray (in his review of The Locust and the Bee, by Geoff Mulgan) achieves, for me at least, is a distillation of something I already knew – in clear, open and unambiguous terms:
“the prospect of a kindler, gentler, more co-operative capitalism . . . is just a mirage . . instead . there is a clear need to decide where markets should operate and to build countervailing institutions where they should not. Recent governments have done the opposite, dismantling non-market institutions while babbling on about society and community . . . Capitalism needs to be complemented by strong institutions with a different ethos. This will not come about in some benign process of social evolution but only when governments have shaken off the idea that every institution has to be turned into a business. Capitalism may be the only game in town but it doesn’t have to be the whole of life.”
This simple yet powerful approach is nothing new, but highlights the key issue in such a way that it could form the backbone of almost any policy approach. Policy approaches that, over a 5-10 year time-frame at least – could appeal to the broadest group of left of centre leaning people – the more revolutionary left as well as the traditional left and the centrist social democrats.
So why on earth are we still arguing about differences in opinion over implausible and impractical solutions that neither the public mood nor international powers make possible, when a shared short-term vision might actually improve the world today and increase the chances of more radical longer-term changes?
And that’s not a rhetorical question – I genuinely would love to know why! The right-wing seems to manage to bring together diverse values and opinions to further neo-liberalism, but the left-wing can’t seem to get over its factional nature to fight them!