‘Is capitalism at a crossroads?’, Observer, 1 October 2017.

Seen from space, capitalism seems to be ticking along quite nicely. Globally, at least, the markets and growth they promote have pulled millions out of absolute poverty. Zoom in, though, and the picture is more worrying – and not only in those post-colonial nations whose resources continue to be exploited by unscrupulous businesses and the kleptocratic despots and pseudo-democrats they rely on. Even in developed countries, the belief that things can only get better and that a rising tide lifts all boats is increasingly being exposed for what it is – an assumption based on a kind of capitalism constrained by unions and governments, as well as by technology.

Thanks to technological progress, the decline of organised labour and politicians who think the easing of those constraints would promote faster growth, capitalism is failing to generate social mobility and even basic welfare provision for those who need it most. But the extent to which that is the case varies considerably between countries, and that comes down to political choices. Britain has always sat somewhere between the more managed, corporatist capitalism of, say, Scandinavia, and the devil-take-the-hindmost, liberal version practised in the US.

The alternatives offered by Corbyn and May, then, are neither so stark nor so unfamiliar as they seem. If capitalism here is at a crossroads, it’s more likely to stumble hesitantly straight on than to turn sharply left or right, whichever party wins the next election.

Originally published at https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/oct/01/is-capitalism-at-a-crossroads


About tpbale

I teach politics at Queen Mary University of London.
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