Friday, 17 May 2013

Lord Sainsbury - Is there a new way?

Last night as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas I went to listen to Lord David Sainsbury deliver the Observer Festival of Ideas Lecture.  The blurb says:  "His topic is Progressive Capitalism. Progressive capitalists believe in the crucial role of institutions, the need for the state to design institutions and the use of social justice (fairness) as an important measure of a country’s economic performance. Sainsbury will show how a progressive political economy can be used by politicians and policymakers to produce a programme of economic change through reforming the UK’s equity markets, corporate governance, innovation and education and training institutions with the state having an enabling role rather than the command-and-control stance of traditional socialism or the minimalist role of neoliberalism."

He dismissed the idea of "responsible capitalism" as championed by Ed Milliband, as a meaningless phrase.  Who is for "irresponsible capitalism?" he asked.  He didn't have time for woolly ideas like the Big Society or The Third Way - they don't stand up to any scrutiny he said.  He struck me as a thoughtful man who cared about society, but still, underneath all the talk of "governance", "enabling", "social responsibility" etc, he was still peddling the same idea, just pulled into a slightly different shape.  It is still capitalism as we know it today, a system that is based on constant growth and new innovation.  His shape is more accommodating to the poor than sheer, open competition, but it is still proudly a competition based, incentives based, constant growth based capitalist structure.
He had a lot to say and most of it was very business orientated and to be honest so jargon ridden my non-business brain had difficulty keeping up!  That is my problem not his, he speaks very well.
I was dying to ask him though - Is there another way?  Do we have to "race to the top" or avoid "racing to the bottom"?  Can we envisage another, entirely different system that isn't racing anywhere at all?  Is a system founded on constant growth the only way to run a nation?
The plain and simple fact is capitalism brings many benefits to society, that is undeniable, but in the process it  destroys many people and the planet.  Now we have got to here, can we stop, bring up those who are struggling to decent standard of life and just stay where we are and not race anywhere?  Is an economy based on a stable, level trajectory a possibility or it it always about constant growth?  Are we locked into a system where there is no alternative other than old style communism?  And how will capitalism help us out of a collapsing system when there are fewer and fewer resources to supply our imagination for new products?  Where then?
I feel like a naive greeny saying this, one of those hypocrites who wants a green, just world but still goes to a supermarket and drives a car.  But I really want to know what big business brains think about a new way.  Can these intelligent people suggest an alternative that will work?
I didn't get a chance to ask him, but as the new series I am working on called "Shared Planet" is covering this topic, I might write and ask if he will answer it on air.  I'd love to know what he thinks.

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