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.

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.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.