Cap­i­tal­ism on the wane?

The Week - - Politics -

We thought we’d reached “the end of his­tory”, said Philip Aldrick in The Times. The fall of the Ber­lin Wall was said to her­ald the de­ci­sive tri­umph of free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism – its “fi­nal coro­na­tion”. We were wrong. Since the fi­nan­cial crash of 2008, cap­i­tal­ism has be­come a dirty word. Most Bri­tish peo­ple, as a re­cent poll found, re­gard it as “greedy, self­ish and cor­rupt”; are more sym­pa­thetic to so­cial­ism; and favour re­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of the rail­ways and util­i­ties. It has got to the point where both the Prime Min­is­ter and the Chan­cel­lor felt com­pelled to give speeches last week jus­ti­fy­ing a sys­tem that “has de­liv­ered vast wealth across the West” and dou­bled liv­ing stan­dards in the UK in 40 years. “A free mar­ket econ­omy,” Theresa May in­toned, “is the great­est agent of col­lec­tive hu­man progress ever cre­ated”. That a Tory PM should harp on that point , said Toby Helm in The Ob­server, is a mea­sure of how ter­ri­fied she is that Jeremy Corbyn may be right: that his re­jec­tion of con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ism is “the new main­stream”.

Ex­cept it isn’t, said Aditya Chakrabortty in The Guardian. The Bri­tish peo­ple haven’t em­braced Karl Marx. It’s not cap­i­tal­ism they’ve turned against, it’s the ap­palling way the Tories have han­dled it. The Con­ser­va­tive Party once took it as read that “the way to keep vot­ers true to cap­i­tal­ism was to al­low them some share in its div­i­dends”, to make them feel part of a prop­erty-own­ing democ­racy. Yet the Thatcherite poli­cies they’ve es­poused since the 1980s – re­lent­less pri­vati­sa­tion, dereg­u­la­tion, an aus­ter­ity pro­gramme tar­get­ing the poor – have done the re­verse. Home own­er­ship has slumped to its low­est point in decades; “share own­er­ship among in­di­vid­u­als is be­low where it was when Thatcher en­tered No. 10”; the av­er­age Bri­tish worker earns less than he or she did be­fore the fi­nan­cial crash. In fact, to­day’s 15- to 35-year-olds, as the Res­o­lu­tion Foun­da­tion now fore­casts, could earn less over their life­time than their par­ents did. In sum, the Tories have “de­fended cap­i­tal rather than cap­i­tal­ism”.

But what we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced is far from any­thing re­sem­bling “un­bri­dled free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism”, said Oliver Wise­man in Capx. Take hous­ing. It’s a mar­ket that bears no re­sem­blance to the “un­reg­u­lated Wild West” that Corbyn imag­ines our econ­omy to be. It’s a mar­ket in which the Gov­ern­ment “builds houses, sub­sidises houses, taxes houses”; in which “it de­cides how many houses should be built and where”. More of­ten than not, it’s gov­ern­ment rules and plan­ning reg­u­la­tions, not the un­bri­dled free mar­ket, that thwarts the sup­ply of new houses. That’s why there is some­thing bo­gus about this en­tire con­tro­versy, said Ben Chu in The In­de­pen­dent. Bri­tain, like most af­flu­ent coun­tries, has a mixed econ­omy. May and Corbyn may dif­fer as to where the di­vid­ing line be­tween state and mar­ket should fall, but their dif­fer­ences lie “on a recog­nis­able con­tin­uum”. May says she wants a louder voice for work­ers in board­rooms. Corbyn is not call­ing for the na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of su­per­mar­kets. To talk as if one side is of­fer­ing us “cap­i­tal­ism” and the other “so­cial­ism”, is noth­ing short of “fatu­ous”.

Karl Marx: back in fash­ion

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