It has been a tumultuous few years for capitalism. The great recession brought the global economy to its knees and whist another great depression has been averted this has only given way to austerity and inflation. Despite the global economy being the largest in world history, a tiny minority own this wealth at the expense of the majority.
Successive reports have shown trust in politicians is at an all-time a low in the capitalist west and voter participation in democracies continue to decline. Scandals, corruption, cronyism and corporate interests dominate much of the politics of the west.
Socially many western nations are experiencing demographic decline, those that are not, only do so due to immigration. Women continue to represent a tiny proportion of judges, corporate directors and politicians. The only areas the pay of women outstrips men is prostitution and modelling.
Promoting capitalism abroad has also been shambolic with the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan both in chaos and anarchy, despite attempts to model them as examples of liberal democracies.
Despite arguments attempting to defend capitalism such as: ‘it’s the best we have,’ capitalism may have been the sole value system at the turn of the 21st century, it is now struggling under the weight of misdistribution, consumerism, individualism and inequality.
The question is can Capitalism be reformed?
Reform means the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt or unsatisfactory. It does not imply wholesale change.
During the banking crisis the great and good explained how the western world got into such a financial mess, though none predicted it would happen, and how capitalism had to be reformed for the greater good of society. However the crisis was systemic: defective business models in banking that exposed every bank to bankruptcy, defunct corporate structures that amplified rather than reduced risk and perverse incentives from incestuous pay and bonus structures.
The dogmatic views on the role of the market, a central tenant of capitalism may distribute wealth, but it always leads to boom and bust. The need for perpetual economic growth always leads to speculative bubbles, be it real estate, the internet, or telecoms which eventually bursts, dragging the whole economy down with it. Many capitalists have attempted to justify this as a natural occurrence, attempting to fudge the systemic issue – that the need to perpetually grow is the cause of boom and bust.
Freedom has given way to individualism and to Britain’s broken society. With individuals putting themselves over and beyond wider society, they continue to push the boundaries in the name of freedom ever further. Child neglect, particularly in the wake of the Baby P case, binge drinking violent, gang, knife and gun crime and teenage pregnancy are direct results of focusing upon the individual rather than society. After the 2011 England riots, David Cameron alluded to many of these themes while speaking on the UK’s “moral collapse.” Under the banner of “Broken Society”, he listed: “irresponsibility, selfishness, behaving as if your choices have no consequences, children without fathers, schools without discipline, reward without effort, crime without punishment, rights without responsibilities.” He naturally could not see these acts are undertaken in the name of freedom in the first place.
No amount of reform can change acts which are driven by capitalism itself, this would be like arguing for a peaceful war. The debate that is needed now is on Capitalism’s replacement, as hard as this is for ideologues to swallow.
This is part 1 of 2 articles. Part 2 will discuss the solution to capitalism.