We need to harness rather than attack capitalism

A renewed enthusiasm for social investment would be a natural corollary to the Labour narrative on 'inclusive capitalism'.

A renewed enthusiasm for social investment would be a natural corollary to the Labour narrative on ‘inclusive capitalism’

The political discourse is dominated at the moment by the fiscal challenges of the years ahead and the need for Britain to pay its way in the world. This creates a problem for the left, more accustomed as it is to tax and spend to alleviate social problems.

The recent financial crisis and the subsequent pressures on government revenues highlighted the requirement for new approaches to social challenges. In an era of scarcer government funds and Labour’s tough approach to the public finances, investments within social enterprise and community organisation can help plug the gap between both public and private sector provision in order to address social challenges.

There is little doubt that society is changing rapidly as a result of mechanisation and globalisation and it would be disingenuous and wrong to suggest that social investment could be a silver bullet to entrenched problems of poverty and desperation.

However, social enterprise and support for impact investment can supplement the efforts of the public and charitable sectors. These projects develop innovative and financially viable solutions that use the power of business to deliver positive social change and foster sustainable patterns of production.

I argue that social finance – in the form of social enterprises, mission-driven businesses and non-profits that deliver financial value can also tackle pressing problems to society at large. This is a growing sector both in the UK and on a global level. In 2013, social investors report having committed £6.3bn, and intend to invest 10 per cent more (£7.5bn) in 2014.

The coalition government has announced measures for tax relief on qualifying social investments in order to continue to build on its impressive growth and attract further capital investment. In the most recent budget, the government announced a tax relief of 30 per cent that is likely to raise approximately £500m for charities and social enterprises.

Labour needs to propose additional measures that build on the good work of the government on this issue, and to embed social investment in the plans for the future provision of public services. This means additional legislative support for the financing of social investment projects, additional capital to be deployed to firms such as Big Society Capital and progressive reforms to the laws surrounding ‘fiduciary duty’ that constrain substantial institutional investment.

We must never forget that the creation of a wholesale social investment bank using dormant accounts was a Labour idea embedded in Dormant Accounts legislation before the 2010 election.

A renewed enthusiasm for social investment would be a natural corollary to the Labour narrative on ‘inclusive capitalism‘ and how we could foster a more sustainable relationship with enterprise and wider society. Social investment, designed to maintain the focus on economic value whilst allowing for additional social dividends, has the opportunity to change society for the better. Profits are principally reinvested into the business and the wider community.

Directly aligned with Chuka Umunna’s ambitious Agenda 2030 vision, social investments create disproportionate benefits to the disadvantaged and often by their intrinsic mission seek to employ ex-offenders, the long-term unemployed and disabled people. By promoting growth, partnership and greater collaboration within the burgeoning social investment market will be critical in creating the economic efficiency that we need and the stronger society that we want.

Following Lord Adonis’s plans for the regions, Labour must build on the Social Value Act to create robust metrics of social value into guidelines for the local commissioning.

In this vein, economic efficiency and social justice are not diametrically opposed but partners in progress. Rather than talking of outdated class struggles, and the false battle between the public and private sectors, we need to discuss how we can harness rather than attack capitalism.

We stand at a crossroads, and the next Labour government will need to decide how to guide the forces of capitalism to ensure a more equitable nation with more opportunities for the next generation. Increasing the focus on social investment would be a great start.

Oliver MacArthur works on the investment team at a charitable endowment, has worked with the Royal Bank of Canada and occasionally tweets. He is a member of Labour in the City

17 Responses to “We need to harness rather than attack capitalism”

  1. Leon Wolfeson

    “Harnessing” regulatory capture, monopolies, wage reduction in favour of capital, etc?

    No, we need to reject capitalism, and embrace the free market, which Capitalism is a gross distortion of and a leech upon.

    The concept that you’re pushing, that the govnermentr must continue to enforce slashing wages rather than risking ending the downwards spiral we’re in is pure right wing rhetoric.
    Moreover, it’s very unlikely that the tax breaks will be revenue positive, and *certainly* will come from spending on the poor.

    Yes, no wonder you’re a fan of capitalism, and it’s inherent hostility to wage-earners.

  2. robertcp

    Sensible but not exactly original. Crosland made similar points for decades before he died in 1977!

  3. Peter Martin

    Harnessing Capitalism for the benefit of all means accepting the principles of Keynesian economics not the Austerity neo-liberal economics which the Labour leadership has miserably failed to reject.

    Keynes isn’t about “tax and spend”. Sometimes governments need to tax more than they spend to curb inflation. Especially if, like Germany, they have more money flowing into their economy from exports than leaves in payments for imports. Britain’s economy isn’t like Germany’s. Not all economies can be. We can’t all run export surpluses to the tune of 7% of GDP. Britain runs an external deficit of about 4% and there’s nothing wrong with that!

    The other important factor is the extent of savings in the economy. If companies and individuals wish to save then government needs to borrow those savings and spend them back into the economy to keep it functioning close to full capacity. Savers don’t give anyone a job. Spenders do.

    So if the external deficit is 4% of GDP and savings are 2% of GDP then government has to run a deficit of 4+2 =6% of GDP.

    If government presses too hard on the issue of closing the budget deficit they will crash the economy and create levels of unemployment of 25% or more , such as we see today in Greece and Spain. The above equation will still hold. It will simply mean that the population will end up too poor to either save or buy imports.

  4. PoundInYourPocket

    4 billiion people live in poverty within countries that run capitalist economies. It will be a long while before those 4 billion that are excluded start to become fully included. The measures outlined above are just the capitalists bunging the excluded a few quid to keep the system going. What we need is a political party that champions the interests of the excluded and that clearly isn’t the Labour Progress party.

  5. Allan Frewin

    I’m not convinced Capitalism can ever be harnessed for the good of the majority. Capitalism isn’t a horse – it’s a predatory animal – it’s a shark. People trying to harness sharks get their faces chewed off. My concern with this social finance initiative idea is that, were it ever truly to take off and gain traction, it would inevitably hit up against those in power and those with all the wealth (it would certainly eat into their profits, for obvious reasons) – and they would then work flat out either to control it for their own purposes or to destroy it, legally or by force.

  6. sarntcrip

    THE FAIREST WAY TO HARNESS CAPITALISM FOR THE GOOD OF ALL IS TO BOOST THE COOPERATIVE MODEL OF INCENTIVISING WORKERS THROUGH PROFIT SHARE AS JOHN LEWIS AMONG OTHERS DO THE MOST POPULAR SUPER MARKET AMONG THE MIDDLE CLASS IS WAITROSE WHICH COULD AND SHOULD BE USED AS AN EXAMPLE OF WHY THE MIDDLECLASS NEED NOT FEAR SOCIALISM SOCIALISM DOES NOT MEAN ANTI-CAPITALIST AND LABOUR MUST STOP BEING FRIGHTENED TO USE THE WORD SOCIALIST it is a force for good not ill as is capitalism can be if not hijacked by the over privileged and the greed of unbridled globalisation greed

  7. sarntcrip

    harnessing capitaism for the benefit of all means by passing the roulette wheels of the stock market in favour of a massive widening and if necessary slight remodelling of the co op model john lewis and waitrose do it very well enhancing worker incentives wit profit sharing and shared ownership rather than allowing businesses to be bought up by faceless hedge funds who end up asset stripping for their own profit

  8. sarntcrip

    it need not be original it just has to work

  9. PoundInYourPocket

    I agree with that entirely and an impressive example is the dehumidifier company EBAC in the NE that’s converted itself into a trust so that profits go to both employees and to the local community. But these are very rare examples. But as these will always be voluntary conversions they will always be rareities as they need to be private companies with a philanthropic owner. I agree with the idealistic aims of “inclusive” capitalism, but capitalists won’t voluntary let go of their welath and influence. and there’s no political leverage to make them do so.

  10. Ollie MacArthur

    I’m unsure how the mass use of block capitals enhances your argument…

  11. Ollie MacArthur

    I’m unsure how the mass use of block capitals enhances your argument..

  12. Joe J

    It’s a good point to be fair though about John Lewis and Waitrose. Not so sure about the socialism comments! Social values guiding a capitalist economy, but not socialism… ie. this article and more co-operation

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    John Lewis and Waitrose are not socialist. They’re mutualist.

    There’s a distinct difference. Moreover, Labour needs to appeal to the broader left, as it did in 1945. There’s also the fact those idiots in the SWP have made the word toxic here.

    Moreover, capitalism is not “hijacked”, capitalism IS the hijack of the free market!

  14. robertcp

    I agree.

  15. Ollie MacArthur

    I note you use the examples of John Lewis/Waitrose rather than the recent troubles at the co-operative…

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    The co-op bank wasn’t mutual. even before the takeover. I’ve long criticised the company holding structure.

    (What the regulator did in terms of capital holding to it was still stupid, but that’s another topic entirely)

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    No, that means very slightly removing the distortion of capitalism from the free market. It’s unambitious, frankly.

    Let’s talk basic income.

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