Viewpoints: What should capitalism do?

Handshake How can capitalism become more inclusive?

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Men and women who hold some $30 trillion (£17.8 trillion) of assets under management - that's one third of the world's investable assets - will gather in London on Tuesday.

Their purpose? To discuss practical ways to "renew the capitalist system".

The Prince of Wales, former US President Bill Clinton, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, and Bank of England governor Mark Carney are among the speakers at the Conference on Inclusive Capitalism.

So what should capitalism actually do?

The BBC has gathered a range of viewpoints on the subject.

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Lady Rothschild

If investors say we are only going to put our money in companies that have a long term view towards society then, surprise surprise, the corporations will behave that way”

End Quote
Lynn Forester, Lady de Rothschild, EL Rothschild

Capitalism has to prove to society at large that it is a forest for general prosperity and dynamic growth. Because of the scandals of the last five years and because of the growing inequality, it is up to business to prove that what is good for society is good for business.

The onus is on us now in the business and investing community.

Inclusive capitalism is really no different from conscious capitalism or progressive capitalism. It is an effort to convey that capitalism is part of a broad-based improvement for all of society, that it doesn't stand alone. Inclusive capitalism is good capitalism.

Bad capitalism is rigging Libor rates, it's selling instruments that are improper investments for your investor, it's taking advantage of workers, it's not caring about the sustainability of your supply chain. There are lots of things that are bad capitalism.

Lynn Forester, Lady de Rothschild

  • Chief executive of private investment company EL Rothschild
  • Founder of the Conference on Inclusive Capitalism

That's why we have such low confidence from the public at large in capitalism, because for too long we who are in business allowed bad behaviour. We have to acknowledge we have done some things wrong.

One of my main objectives in being the founder and co-host of the Conference on Inclusive Capitalism was to bring investors into a room, so that investors can decide that they're going to go to management and ask for more than just return on equity.

They're going to ask management how are you making sure that your supply chain will last? How are you engaging with your community so that you are still admired and valued by your community?

If investors say we are only going to put our money in companies that have a long-term view towards society then, surprise surprise, the corporations will behave that way. So our time horizon is 20 years not 12 weeks. That's the immediate objective.

Start Quote

Dr Malcolm Brown

Capitalism should start to believe in grandchildren”

End Quote
Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, Church of England

Only an economic culture which has ceased to care about future generations could sacrifice so lightly the interests of people far away in geography or in time, and the long-term flourishing of the earth.

If capitalism is about value, not just cost, it would factor in the interests of our grandchildren and their grandchildren, who will rely on what we research, invest in and commit to now. Earlier capitalists invested and built for a future they would not themselves see.

We are that future - but capitalism has become careless about handing enough on for those after us.

But, replies the capitalist, "Capitalism only reflects its surrounding culture. Don't blame me if a short-term culture begets short-term capitalism."

Capitalism is usually too modest about its impact - and too quick to disclaim responsibility. We have lived so long with capitalism that it has taught us who we are and how to behave - but its anthropology is too thin to teach us to live well.

Rev Dr Malcolm Brown

  • Church of England's director of Mission and Public Affairs
  • He carries specific responsibility for work on economic issues
  • Has been ordained for over 30 years and has worked as a parish priest, an industrial missioner, and as director of a theological think tank

Capitalism is a complex of ideas and practices in tension with each other. The creativity of that tension has given the world innumerable good things. But the tension is inherently unstable and today's global capitalism has traded creative tension for unstable short termism.

For instance, Adam Smith knew that market capitalism relies on a shared social morality (to secure things like trust) which capitalism does nothing to create or sustain.

Capitalism actually benefits from externals which it devalues. Similarly, free competition is a basic condition for functioning markets - yet without external constraint, legal or moral, capitalism tends toward monopolies and cartels (as we have seen in banking).

So maintaining the tensions means valuing things which capitalism does not value - like moral communities, legal restraints and the interests of people now outside the marketplace. Only by holding those tensions can capitalism realise its promise and not degenerate into a threat.

The most urgent need is for capitalism to recover the idea of intergenerational justice - believing that your great great grandchildren are worth investing in today.

Start Quote

Madsen Pirie

Capitalism should act against anti-competitive practices to give people instead the power of free choices between competing goods and services”

End Quote
Dr Madsen Pirie, the Adam Smith Institute

When people forgo current pleasures and invest instead, hoping to gain by providing goods and services people might want in future, we call it capitalism.

It has generated the wealth that has lifted large parts of humankind from subsistence and starvation, and has enabled us to fund life-saving medicine, education and the arts, as well as opportunities and material comforts.

Just as democracy can be corrupted by repressive populism, so can capitalism be perverted by "rent-seeking" - when people seek to gain more than the goods and services they produce are worth to others.

Sometimes they use political influence to sustain monopolies or to prevent new entrants and innovators from competing for custom. Sometimes they use governments to provide subsidies from taxpayers, or to prohibit cheaper imports.

Dr Madsen Pirie

  • President and co-founder of the Adam Smith Institute, a free market think tank
  • He was part of the team which pioneered privatisation and the extension of market choices and incentives

Sometimes they do deals with governments that provide taxpayer funds to cushion losses derived from incompetence or recklessness. These forms of crony capitalism detract from capitalism's real benefits and achievements.

What capitalism should now do is to free itself from these rent-seeking perversions and spread its benefits as widely as possible.

It should act against anti-competitive practices to give people instead the power of free choices between competing goods and services. It should spread ownership of capital and investment as widely as possible through such things as personal pensions and individual savings accounts.

It should lower the barriers to entry so that everyone can aspire to start up a business to bring goods and services to others. It should seek a tax system that rewards success rather than punishing it.

Capitalism should become inclusive, making it as easy and as attractive as possible for as many as possible to set aside some part of present consumption in order to invest some of their resources and their time in providing goods and services that others will want. It should become true capitalism.

Start Quote

Clive Menzies

The means to life cannot be conditional on paid employment but is a right for all and must be provided in the form of an unconditional citizens dividend”

End Quote
Clive Menzies, Critical Thinking

A 2011 study in the New Scientist revealed that 147 "super entities" control 40% of 43,060 transnational corporations and 60% of their revenues. The study was based on shareholders and directors but doesn't reveal beneficial ownership and control hidden behind nominee companies, trusts and foundations. Evidence suggests power is even more concentrated than the study indicates.

This stateless power dominates politics, media and education. Financial capitalism seeks to monetise and control everything, influencing legislation and regulation in its favour.

Stateless power is drawn from three fundamental flaws in the economic system, evolved to benefit the ruling class over centuries, but these flaws have been expunged from economic discourse:

Clive Menzies

  • Political economist with a background in business and investment management
  • Founded the Critical Thinking research project at the Free University and is a member of the Occupy London Economics Working Group

Flaw 1. Private capture of the value of land, resources and other commons (such as water, the radio spectrum, genes, nature and knowledge), gifts from nature (or God), the value of which is communally created. The value of these must be shared for the good of all to fund public services and an unconditional citizens dividend.

Flaw 2. Interest on money creates no wealth but systemically drives inequality, environmental destruction, conflict and exponential, unsustainable debt growth. Debt must be unenforceable in law and usury (lending money at interest) illegal. Debt must revert to a social construct rather than its current role of facilitating wealth extraction, exploitation and oppression.

Flaw 3. Increased mechanisation and technology has rendered full employment unachievable, unnecessary and undesirable. The means to life cannot be conditional on paid employment but is a right for all and must be provided in the form of an unconditional citizens dividend sufficient for a decent life.

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