Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Capitalism is good, but it doesn't have to be driven by greed as Boris would have us believe

In an opinion piece in The Times today Danny Finkelstein, defending Boris Johnson's assertion of the virtue of greed,  points us to Korea as an example of why capitalism (the driver of the successful South) is good compared with "Marxism" (the ideology of the failed North). It is not his finest hour! The Korea story is so obvious it teaches us nothing. The success of the South compared withe the failure of the North is not mainly about economic systems. It's not about the virtues of capitalism but about the virtues of freedom and democracy. There should not need to be a defence of the latter when confronted by the extreme venality of totalitarianism. Of course command and control political systems usually historically incorporated central planning of the economy - as in North Korea. But they don't have to and you can look to modern China or modern Russia to see what unbridled capitalism within non-democratic mega States leads to. 

The capitalism of China or Russia is cowboy capitalism. Here greed is not an inevitable consequence of corrupt and unregulated Laisser-Faire, it is it's driver. Yes we have greedy, uncontrolled and dodgy capitalists in the West as well. But nothing as venal as the billionaire "businessmen" who emerged when the leaders of China and Russia decided that greed was good and that they wanted some of it's rewards.

The choice for us is not the imposition of a Socialist state compared with greed-driven capitalism. Our membership of the European Union, among it's many benefits, precludes the possibility of the imposition of command and control in any member state. Capitalism is at the heart of the EU and any country which doesn't embrace that reality could not join or would have to leave. One of the extreme ironies of the UKIP and Tory Right call for withdrawal from the EU is that it would make Socialism in Britain more not less likely! A democratically elected Socialist government in a Britain cast adrift from the EU could do things which would be impossible if we were still a member! Is that what the "Better Out" brigade really want? 

"Greed" is a deadly sin and you don't need it to make capitalism work. Capitalism isn't great - but it's better than all the alternatives. To make it work it must be regulated which means curbing its excesses - and these excesses often come from greed. So our choice is not between North and South Korea as a model but between totalitarianism and democracy and we made that choice long ago when we abolished the divine Right of Kings! But to argue for unrestricted capitalism and for everything to be left to the market is to argue for the crony capitalism of Russia or China where no meaningful checks and balances exist at all. 


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