“For to everyone who has will more be given and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
This conclusion of the biblical Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30) neatly summarises the results of unrestrained and unregulated neoliberal free market capitalism, as propounded by Milton Friedman (Chicago School of Economics), the model by which business and economies have been run since the 1980s.
But even before the global financial crisis of 2008 (and more so since) economists and academics like Paul Krugman (End this Depression Now), Jo Stiglitz (The Price of Inequality) and Will Hutton (Them and Us) were questioning the model and the latest to wade in has been Thomas Piketty with his dubiously-praised book Capital in the 21st Century.
Piketty’s book claims to provide evidence over two centuries of the ebb and flow of extreme inequality of wealth, leading to his thesis that wealth grows faster than economic output. His conclusion is to heavily tax the wealth creators which proposals have been embraced by those politicians looking to justify tax increases.
Capitalism itself has come under fire since 2008 largely because it has proved such a ruthless and unforgiving system for so many people. But, it is also argued, like democracy that it is the least worst system for providing the economic growth needed to afford acceptable living standards for the most people.
But is the problem the system itself or its unregulated consequences? And how does any of this matter to the myriad small businesses that are the backbone of the UK economy and its hope for the future?
We would argue that the essential ingredients of a healthy capitalist economy are demand, ideas, investment, resources and leadership – all essentials for running a successful business.
What is a problem, is the outcome that has so badly affected so many people and businesses. In particular the notion of ‘too big to fail’ where the capitalist model of accepting failure was undermined by the political consequences.
This was addressed at a recent conference in London called Inclusive Capitalism, where among others Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, argued for a return to high ethical standards in banking and for recreating fair and effective markets.
Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, too, defended capitalism as a force for good and for social mobility, but proposed that it required rethinking business conduct and education, encouraging wider ownership among employees and investing in employee training and development, all of which imply a shift from short term profit-taking or rent seeking to longer term thinking and investment.
All of which, too, is something any small business owner could have told them.
As for Piketty’s claims, at least they are now being challenged by the Financial Times. Increasing taxes on the wealth creators have not increased revenue collection, nor have such policies promoted wealth creation.
Was St Matthew the first capitalist?