On the 23rd of this month, in light of the storm which has been engulfing politics across the world, Shout Out UK are teaming up with CapX to host the event The Case for Capitalism: Is Capitalism Working? Join us for an evening of heated debate as modern capitalism is placed under the microscope and scrutinised – encompassing speakers on both the Left and Right.
Prior to the debate we launched an article exchange, view one here:
With 62 people having as much financial wealth as half of the world’s population (roughly 3.5 billion), is it not time we change Capitalism?
Kenya, 2012. It’s my birthday and I have managed to get my hands on a pirated copy of The Dark Knight Rises. I’m sat in a rundown internet café, heavily sunburnt and slowly being eaten alive by mosquitoes.
About 30 minutes into the movie, Selina Kyle (played sportingly by Anne Hathaway) is talking politics with the Dark Knight himself, Christian Bale. She says this, something that has resonated with me ever since: ‘There’s a storm coming, Mr Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us’.
Let’s flash-forward to 2016. Oxfam have recently released a study which suggests that 62 people now have as much financial wealth as half of the global population (roughly 3.5 billion). Moreover, as austerity measures rip apart public services in this country — services which our grandparents built together after the Second World War — the majority of us, particularly young people, are now living in huge debt with little to no money or prospects.
Now, I was born in 1990 — the year Margaret Thatcher was ousted as leader of the Conservative Party by John Major. I cannot pretend that I grew up under the allegedly ‘harsh’ and ‘cold’ years of Thatcher (as my parents often describe it). However, that said, Thatcher’s legacy has continued to influence British politics — and thus my own life over the past twenty-five years as a result. Tony Blair’s New Labour project for instance was essentially Thatcherite in nature with a complete and utter dedication to free markets and privatisation (or ‘public-private partnerships’ as Blair called them). This current Conservative government is no different, if not more potent.
What Thatcher did — and I am sure that both the Left and Right can agree on this — was fundamentally transform British politics. Thatcher, accompanied by Ronald Regan in the United States, introduced the world to ‘neoliberalism’. What’s that?
Well, neoliberalism is a slippery term that can be, and is used, to denote all kinds of different things. For me however, the academic David Harvey captures its key elements. Neoliberalism, as Harvey writes, is ‘in the first instance a theory of political-economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade’. In short, neoliberalism champions the logic of capitalism and ‘the market’, and seeks to minimise ‘political’ (social democratic) interventions in markets and economic affairs on the grounds that they inhibit the alleged benefits to be gained from free market mechanisms. It’s almost inherently suspicious of democracy as this potentially risks interference with, or contamination of, ‘the market’.
Alright, so what’s it done? Well, ultimately, the result of neoliberalism over the past four decades is this: the modern world. Characterised by massive income inequality on a scale that we haven’t witnessed for over 100 years; the breakdown of community and collective values, replaced instead by rugged individualism; and a serious loss of autonomy among nation states as they desperately fight to retain capital — and to avoid capital flight — by satisfying the demands of corporate power. And so we have the slow ‘hollowing out’ of democracy — and thus the cynicism which is often associated with contemporary politics — as the financial interests of a few regularly trump the needs and desires of the rest of us. Indeed, one could even argue that the rise of Donald Trump and his apparent ‘anti-establishment’ rhetoric, which is virtually sending the Republican Party into cardiac arrest across the Pond, is indirectly a result of the failed neoliberal experiment.
In short, people are not happy with politics and the way things are being run. Looking at the modern world today, you don’t have to be a drooling-at-the-mouth-Marxist to reach the conclusion that something is seriously wrong. The financial crisis in 2008, and the economic instability that has followed as a result, indicates — at the very least — that capitalism (or ‘neoliberal capitalism’ if you will) is very ill. 2008 came about because capitalism had outgrown what little restraints it had left and became too powerful, overbearing, and all-encompassing.
Bleak, right? Sorry. So what’s my message — shall we overthrow capitalism and replace it with some kind of utopian, anarchist-socialist society dreamed up in a haze of weed at some Anonymous protest? Maybe, I’m not too sure. It’s hard to know what the future holds and I don’t want to try and predict it. Neoliberals like Francis Fukuyama have already tried that — claiming during the 1990s that humankind had reached the ‘end of history’ as Western capitalism triumphed over Soviet Communism like the Power Rangers vanquishing the evil Lord Z and his minions. The end of history is certainly interesting.
No, my message is actually for those on the Right — and I assume the majority of CapX’s readers. Listen to what Selina Kyle told Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises: ‘There’s a storm coming, Mr Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us’.
I suspect that proverbial storm is about to hit all of us.
By Patrick Ireland
Patrick Ireland is a filmmaker, journalist and the Creative Director at Shout Out UK. This article does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Shout Out UK who remain firmly committed to political neutrality.