The G8: Capitalism needs to be improved, not abolished

In the lead up to the G8 summit in Belfast this week, two narratives have featured heavily in the media's coverage of the organisational build up: the pre-summit wrangling over Syria and the anti-capitalist protesters who've been causing a 'scene' in various symbolically 'neo-liberal' locations.

Protest

In the lead up to the G8 summit in Belfast this week, two narratives have featured heavily in the media’s coverage of the organisational build up: the pre-summit wrangling over Syria and the anti-capitalist protesters who’ve been causing a ‘scene’ in various symbolically ‘neo-liberal’ locations.

Both issues will, in their own way, undoubtedly rumble on: the conflict in Syria is unlikely to be resolved any time soon and those waving anti-capitalist placards at Canary Wharf probably won’t be reconciled to the system they profess to despise (not until they’re a bit older, at least).

It’s the second issue that I want to focus on.

A placard at one of the G8 protests in Oxford Street last week read: “No borders, no prisons, no capitalism”.

Whether or not you think borders and prisons are a necessary evil (I do, as it happens), it’s the anti-capitalism of fools that’s the most tiresome, for time wasted calling for the system to be ‘overthrown’ (and replaced with what, exactly?) is time which would better be spent putting pressure on world leaders to make deliverable changes on things like climate change.

To recap for those who missed it, the anti-capitalist argument was comprehensively lost over 20 years ago. We now know that the attempt to rationalise production and distribution in reality amounted to little more than the establishment of “fictional targets to be met by fictional output data”, as the late Tony Judt phrased it.

Most of the world has moved on.

Capitalism certainly needs a strong social democratic movement to counter its excesses. But while Western governments struggle to deal with the changes globalisation has brought with it, capitalist development is literally dragging millions out of poverty in the developing world.

In 1990, almost half the population (43 per cent) of developing countries lived in extreme poverty (subsisting on $1 a day). By 2000 the proportion was down to a third and by 2010 it was 21 per cent – cut in half in 20 years.

The biggest jump in living standards occurred in China, where between 1981 and 2010 680m people were lifted out of poverty by market reforms.

Horray

(HT The Economist)

The key for the left, as those who founded the welfare state in Britain were perfectly aware, is to ensure that the proceeds of capitalism are distributed as equitably as possible and that workers and the environment are protected. There is plenty of room to discuss the model of capitalism we want and progressives should be putting pressure on G8 countries to make strong commitments on climate change and development aid.

This is quite different, however, from pretending that there is a system of economic organisation outside of capitalism which can deliver the good society. Inequality matters; but so does growth – especially to those millions far away from here who are relying on it to escape from impoverishment and squalor.

Embracing rejectionist posturing is to sneer at the millions whose lives are unimaginably better than that of their ancestors – better because of capitalism. It’s also a distraction from the real fight: making the system work effectively for the majority.

12 Responses to “The G8: Capitalism needs to be improved, not abolished”

  1. Ibutsu

    >those waving anti-capitalist placards at Canary Wharf probably won’t be reconciled to the system they profess to despise (not until they’re a bit older, at least)

    How very condescending.

  2. El Niño

    Hey James, why don’t you read Capital? You don’t have to spend the rest of your life being a clueless gobshite.

  3. El Niño

    Hey James. Why don’t you read Capital? There is no need for you to spend the rest of your life being a clueless ignoramus.

    (Better? – You should at least leave a trace of the original post when you are deleting the content of the comment, it wasn’t even a swearword or abuse. Constructive criticism)

  4. Graham

    Odd piece, which seems to lack a basic understanding of capitalism, and the exploitative engine upon which it depends for survival.

    Also, are you suggesting that the fall of the USSR is the comprehensive losing of the anti-capitalist argument? Seriously? No offence, James, but I think more research about the nature of capitalism and its flaws would have helped inform this piece better.

  5. Stuart

    Well, we’re all familiar with this argument, what I fail to see is how it can in any way be seen as putting a “left foot forward”. It’s standard Economist (the magazine) fare: ie, socially and economically liberal, yes, but left? No. Right. Centre-right if you like. Perhaps when the writer is a bit older and has studied the ideas he has written off on the basis of slight acquaintance with a placard, he’ll understand the difference. Or get a job on the Economist. I’m sure it pays better than this blog.

  6. Carol Wilcox

    Capitalism is the ownership of the means of production by a separate class which does not use them – in effect it is rent seeking behaviour which we all know is inefficient. Surely it is preferable for land and capital to be owned by those who use them for production (worker-owned co-operatives), housing and leisure. Capitalism allows financial capital to accumulate in the hands of a minority who are then able to appropriate the surplus labour of those who alone create wealth.

  7. NT86

    It’s necessarily capitalism that’s the problem. Organisational models like co-operatives make profits, but the way those profits are distributed and for what reasons are key. It’s unbridled neoliberalism that’s the problem. Keeping wealth and profit in the hands of the very few and little pay off for anyone who might have helped in creating that wealth (e.g. workers).

    Even in moderately socialist societies, markets, trade and industries do exist after all. Equitable distribution of economic benefits is vital in mending capitalism, but for that to work it requires some kind of global pact because if one or two states attempt that in isolation it won’t work.

  8. Dan

    “moderately socialist societies” – would you be so kind as to provide an example/some examples?

  9. robertcp

    A lot of north west Europe could be described as moderately socialist, social market or social democratic.

  10. robertcp

    I genuinely would be interested in a description of the economy and society that anti-capitalists have in mind. Would there still be free elections, markets and private property?

  11. Philip

    Me too but I don’t think it’s really intended to be a coherent platform. More radicalism as an end in itself.

  12. robertcp

    I think that you are right.

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