Saturday, 3 January 2009

Cameron and 'ethical capitalism'

. Blogging is going to be light over the next couple of days while I venture out into the real world of leaflet delivering etc and spend some quality time with my partner.

Conservative Home brings us news of David Cameron's call for a more 'ethical capitalism'. He explains this as meaning a capitalism where business is 'not just about making money'. Business should recognise that it has 'real responsibilities'. Of course, this sounds very nice and wholesome but as we should realise is the case with Cameron in just about everything he says concrete detail of what the fluffy words actually mean is a little thin on the ground.

Let's try and fill in the gaps for good ol' honest Dave (who, yes, does remind me of a dodgy used car salesman). Business taking 'real responsibility' is presumably code for 'let business do it instead of the state regulating'. What else can it actually mean?? It's a well established fact that businesses can and do make donations to charity and some are active in their local community. This is a good thing but does nothing to change the underlying rationale of business, the market or anything else you care to mention. However, it could, on one level be said to be representative of an 'ethical dimension' to capitalism.

People will look at things like the success of Fairtrade and say this proves capitalism can operate in a humane way. However, it proves nothing of the kind; such things are successful because the movement of consumptive behaviour and pressure makes such things actually profitable and worth-while. In other words far from proving the inherent virtue of the market it actually proves the reverse case; that the market operates in an ethical way as a result of outside pressure.

Now, you may argue; fine, so leave it to consumers to regulate the market and all will be well. However, there are cases where this is simply not possible due to a number of factors. For example, the size of a market, necessity or scarcity and monopoly can leave companies practically immune to consumer pressure. So, there are cases where practically the state is the only body capable of providing the controls necessary and state regulation is the only 'ethical' route to take. All is well and good when there is no conflict between the rationale of the market and a certain amount of philantrophy and/or ethical behaviour. However, once that changes and the two things come into conflict then which way does the market jump?? I think we all know the answer to this one.

I have to admire the honesty of the first contributor to the debate on Conservative Home. James Maskell says;

"Theres a difference between ethical capitalism and capitalism where no one loses out. Ethical capitalism exists to a certain point already. In capitalism people do lose out but thats the way this economic system works... There are always losers in recessions and recessions are a natural part of the business cycle."

So, the question to the delightful Mr Cameron has to be inevitably what does his party propose to do about the 'losers' James rightly talks about?? No amount of 'ethics' will persuade a business to keep people on at a loss. Social responsibility is not the same thing as social welfare; and Cameron's rather Victorian reliance of charities is so utopian as to defy belief, the notion that charities are in a better position than the state to help Cameron's 'deserving' poor than the state is rather shot to pieces by the current hemorrhaging of cash charities are experiencing.

In reality, what David Cameron is showing us is that the Conservative Party has become almost stupidly desperate to find a narrative within this crisis. He is showing us that the right is experiencing a similar crisis to the one that the left endured post the collapse of the Soviet Union. Suddenly, it's system is looking weak and vulnerable and a loss for words has occurred; this should present the left with an opportunity to re-articulate core values and establish itself some political credibility. However, only time will tell if this is what will happen....

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