‘Caring Capitalism’ – a contradiction in terms?

Ask ten people – occupiers, bankers, journalists, company directors – not whether they agree with capitalism but instead “What is Capitalism?”. The ten different answers proffered suggest that the ‘are we anti-capitalist?’ question is moot.

Those who identify with the anti-capitalist label describe capitalism as necessarily exploitative. They see it as a system in which fatcats callously use and abuse the labour of subordinates to further their own greed and gains.

Those who identify themselves as capitalists see it as a system which allows trade, social mobility, entrepreneurship and rewards for hard work. They compare it favourably with failed communist systems. They can’t see an alternative unless we go back to the stone-age.

Many of these capitalists believe that in recent years capitalism has gone wrong. They agree with the anti-capitalists that a tiny minority have raked in profits without the corresponding hard work and market success that could perhaps justify such riches.

In a pure capitalist system, no bank or business would be ‘too big to fail’. If those in charge made mistakes, they’d lose money and power and status in just the same way that a small business owner would. When governments use tax-payers’ money in bail-outs, capitalism is transformed into ‘corporate socialism’. This is a system so ludicrous that it’s little wonder people are camping on cold city streets across Europe and the U.S. Put simply, this is a system whereby the wealthiest 1%, drunk on their own power and greed, crash economies leading to suffering for everyone except themselves… then insist we prop them up so that they can carry on lording it over us (and our governments).

There are very few people who truly believe this is okay. Those who do must surely be members of the self-serving elite, or masochists. Splitting the rest of us into capitalists and anti-capitalists (and assuming that critics of capitalism must necessarily be socialists or communists) is a simple divide-to-rule strategy. We should be making alliances with all those who see that the current system has gone wrong.

Some in the Occupy movement would like to do away with money, to replace it perhaps with a barter system. Others believe that it is not money per se that is the problem – money, after all, is just tokens that allow us to exchange things without having to do a straight swap. Many argue that usury is the real root of all evil. Usury – condemned by the early Christian church and by Islamic law – is the begetting of interest via provision of loans. It enables people to make money simply by having money, to become wealthy without work. It rides on a ‘something for nothing’ culture (which, strangely, is what the Occupy movement is often falsely represented as wanting). Promotion of high-interest loans to the poverty-stricken is the most crass and socially destructive end of the usury spectrum. The complex gambling inherent in today’s institutions of high finance is also all about using money to beget money – and as we’ve recently experienced, the gamblers risk not their own livelihoods but ours.

So, we could regulate to minimise the excesses of usury and high-finance gambling. What else could we do to address financial injustice and economic crisis? Something all occupiers would agree on is that a tinkering with the current system – shoe-horning in a few extra regulations – is not enough. Radical overhaul is required. If we can find a way to join forces not only with unions, students and public sector workers but also with small business owners and entrepreneurs, we might have a serious chance of achieving this. Taking a majority of the self-avowed capitalists with us into a better future… that must be the goal. So what are these capitalists thinking? I asked…

‘Capitalist’ Number One admitted to being

jaded by a system that awards 50% pay rises to executives who – like bankers, and unlike true entrepreneurs – take no real hit on the downside.” Despite disillusionment he said “I still believe in capitalism as a system for ensuring greater prosperity for all… but what we have is selfish cronyism where cartels of old boys’ networks reward each other for failure.”

‘Capitalist’ Number Two said:

How about obliging individuals and corporations to devote a significant proportion of their resources, energy and profits to serving their communities? Small businesses and individuals would ‘pay back’ on a local scale; the big boys would contribute on an international scale. The penalty for avoidance would be crippling taxation or, ultimately, criminalisation. Harness the energy of the smartest people and put funds where they’re really needed. Imagine the good that Microsoft and others could do, not to mention banks, if obliged to focus their brainpower and resources on solving (instead of creating) global problems. I’ve even worked out how this could be implemented…”.

‘Capitalist’ Number Three sees trade as an essential tenet of humanity but would like all unethical trading to be outlawed. She says we already know how to do this:

Workers’ Co-operatives, Social Enterprises and Community Interest Companies have ethics enshrined in their constitutions to cover environmental and social considerations, workers’ rights and animal rights. Fairtrade regulators, the Soil Association, Radical Routes and other bodies already exist; these could be networked and expanded to oversee businesses and to alert a fearsome inspectorate (something like HMRC but with more teeth and fewer loopholes) should breaches of ethics be suspected. Fines large enough to act as a serious deterrent would be imposed for a first breach; subsequent breaches if proven to be intentional or due to negligence would result in forced company closure, with assets to be seized and put directly into redressing the problems caused.”

If these kinds of solutions were implemented, would the resulting system still be Capitalism?

You could call it Caring Capitalism”, suggested Capitalist One. The others shook their heads and grimaced.

Let’s skip the ‘isms’,” said Capitalist Two. “Let’s just call it… a collection of Bloody Good Ideas?”

That’ll do,” decided Capitalist Three. “Now can we get on with the revolution?”

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