Who Will Determine the Future of Capitalism?

Amid the worst financial and economic crisis in decades, the U.S. business press tends to get caught up in the daily fluctuations of the stock market and, to a lesser extent, the monthly changes in the unemployment rate. By contrast, London’s Financial Times is looking at the big picture. It recently launched a series of articles under the rubric of The Future of Capitalism. In addition to soliciting varying views on this monumental question, the paper published a feature this week presuming to name the 50 people around the world who will “frame the way forward.”

Kicking off the series, the FT’s Martin Wolf was blunt in asserting that the ideology of unfettered markets promoted over the past three decades must now be judged a failure. Sounding like a traditional Marxist, Wolf writes that “the era of liberalisation [the European term for market fundamentalism] contained seeds of its own downfall” in the form of tendencies such as “frenetic financial innovation” and “bubbles in asset prices.”

An article in the series by Gillian Tett casually notes that “naked greed, lax regulation, excessively loose monetary policy, fraudulent borrowing and managerial failure all played a role” in bringing about the crisis. Richard Layard of the London School of Economics weighs in with a piece arguing that “we should stop the worship of money and create a more humane society where the quality of human experience is the criterion.” Did editorial copy intended for New Left Review mistakenly end up in the FT computers?

Wolf finished his initial article with the statement: “Where we end up, after this financial tornado, is for us to seek to determine.” Yet who is the “we” Wolf is referring to?

Following the damning critique of markets and poor government oversight, the last ones we should turn to for leadership are the powers that be. Yet that is exactly the group that dominates the list of those who, according to the editors of FT, will lead the way forward. The 50 movers and shakers include 14 politicians, starting with President Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao; ten central bankers; three financial regulators; and four heads of multinational institutions such as the IMF and the WTO. Also included are six economists, including Paul Krugman and Obama advisor Paul Volcker, and three prominent investors, among them George Soros and Warren Buffett.

The list also finds room for three chief executives (the heads of Nissan, PepsiCo and Google) and, amazingly, the chiefs of four major banks: Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, HSBC and BNP Paribas. It even includes two talking heads: Arianna Huffington and Rush Limbaugh.

Except for Olivier Besancenot of France’s New Anticapitalist Party, who is included among the politicians in a way that seems a bit condescending, there is not a single person on the list directly involved in a movement to challenge corporate power or even to significantly alter the relationship between business and the rest of society. There is not a single labor leader, prominent environmental advocate or other leading activist. The editors at FT seem never to have heard of civil society.

Then again, the problem may not be thickheadedness among FT editors. Perhaps the voices for radical change have simply not been loud enough to earn a place on a list of those who will play a significant role in the shaping capitalism’s future. In fact, one of the articles in the FT series suggests that in Europe neither the Left nor the labor movement has taken a leadership role in responding to the crisis, even as spontaneous protests have erupted in numerous countries.

In the United States, where those forces are weaker, anger at the crisis has to a great extent been channeled into support for the Keynesian policies of the Obama Administration. That’s unavoidable in the short term, but it doesn’t address the need for fundamental alteration of economic institutions. If, as the Financial Times suggests, the future of capitalism is up for grabs, let’s make sure we all join the fray.

3 thoughts on “Who Will Determine the Future of Capitalism?”

  1. Until recently, to say that one is “anti-corporate” was synonymous with being an avowed Marxist, in much the same way that people in the West hear and use the words “Arab” and “Muslim” interchangeably.

    Yet even now, given all that has happen as a result of corporate greed, fraud, and incompetence, it is still not deemed “acceptable” by the mainstream to be avowedly anti-corporate …

    The only “accceptable” answer right now is to reconfigure the system, which means making minor tweaks to the existing system — which will inevitably be undermined by corporations and their water-carriers in government, the media, and academia — rather than the total restructuring or wholesale replacement that is so obviously needed (and it so richly deserves) …

  2. More than anything I would like to channel my support of sustainable economics in a productive manner. No more preaching to the choir. I would like to advocate for it on blogs where the voice is needed. I would like to communicate with legislators and “important” type people who are also concerned. I am not the best writer but I can get better with practice. I also like doing research and I could be of assistance to others.

    The left always seems to be made up of lots of little groups with their own agenda. Is there anybody out there, Hello?, who is focused on public opinion? Is there a group that is willing to talk with everybody- workers, Republicans, politicians, small and large business folks. You know, develop that social marketing strategy? We need to create that positive epidemic by communicating with the folks who can spread it around. Getting on the “agenda” can be a specific thoughtful, strategic process. (Or it could end up being spontaneous, never rule that out!).

    I’m nobody important, but I do understand a lot about environmental economics. I majored in it in college back in 1977. I was the only one!

    PM ME!!!


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