The Capitalist System

John Rentoul

capitalismrocks y68oim 300x225 The Capitalist SystemThere is an unusual question in the YouGov opinion poll for today’s Sun*:

In general, do you think the capitalist system…

1. works well despite the bad behaviour of a minority; the government should intervene as little as possible; otherwise jobs and investment would go abroad and Britain would be worse off 10%

2. has some specific problems that need to be addressed by government action, but essentially works well at providing a prosperous economy for all in Britain 33%

3. has serious faults – the government needs to intervene actively to make sure it works well and fairly and should call the bluff of those who say this would be bad for our economy 30%

4. is completely broken and cannot be repaired. It needs to be replaced altogether if Britain is to be a fairer country and workers and consumers are not to be ripped off 11%

So that might be a narrow win for capitalism: 43% works well versus 41% not (or at least, not without active government intervention), although the question wording is rather confusingly elaborate. As a market socialist, I refer comrades to the musings of my excellent colleague, Tom Doran.

*The question wording in the online table has an error in it, duplicating option 3, which I have corrected above.

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  • Tatty_D

    Times really are changing, if the Sun is engaging with such a question. It could herald an epochal change. A cursory look at the world suggests an unitary notion of capitalism is the problem, The Ango-Saxon model is very different to Japan, and German and N Europe. The entry of China has undermined the narrow definition even further. Capitalism is an expression os the social & cultural as much as the other way round, and doesn’t exist in a vacuum or come from no where. Did you call your self a market SOCIALIST?

  • Junius

    The only sensible response to a YouGov pollster approaching one with questions on capitalism would be: How much are you prepared to pay me for participating? You don’t expect me to provide you with material for a poll for which The Sun has been prepared to shell out good money, free, gratis and for nothing, do you?

  • greggf

    Your colleague Tom Doran is confused if he thinks capitalism produced the washing machine. That old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” works in all totalitarian systems just as well as socialist ones and including – dare I mention it – Islamic ones!

    Engineers design and manufacture washing machines. The capitalist system probably makes them more reliable and cheaper but not uniquely so. After all the soviet engineers designed and built many successful pieces of hardware that have outlived their communist origin.
    I’m trying to think what Islamic societies have done in this context – just to balance things out……….!

  • PhilipWalker

    Sure, engineers design them; factory workers make them. But what is the best system for getting a bright idea turned into reality? Market capitalism beats Soviet communism, or State capitalism, hands-down on that one.

    We have lots of bright ideas competing for attention, each getting a little money and the best growing strongly. The other systems, being far more bureaucratic, can’t turn bright ideas into reality so quickly; and they don’t have such a rapid response mechanism which gives economic returns to the best ideas.

  • greggf

    Well Phil, you seem to be making the same case as Tom Doran does, and confusing commerce with capitalism. Commerce has prospered under (western) market capitalism, that’s true. However to claim “market capitalism beats Soviet communism, or State capitalism, hands-down” in fostering bright ideas ignores the many successful inventions in cameras, colour film, motor cars, autobahns and rockets, just to name a few, which led the world from Germany during, what might be described as, State Capitalism up to 1945. And the same sort of list may be composed for the old USSR.
    Certain technologies thrive no matter what the regime except, perhaps theocracies.

    Oh, and talking of bright ideas, whose was it to invent the Voices section? Which I find post-unfriendly – no edit, no memory, no disqus – and no interest!

  • PhilipWalker

    Huh? The Nazis invented Kodachrome? Musta missed that one. True that Germans invented the automobile: but it took a capitalist American to bring the invention to the masses through the Ford Model T. Which is kind of my point.

    I didn’t say (if you think about it for a second) that Soviet communism or State capitalism generated no innovations ever. Rather, I claim that market capitalism generates more innovations, even when you factor in differences in education, wealth and the like. Market capitalism is not uniquely capable of generating innovations, but it is more conducive than the alternatives. It also (though I didn’t explore this in detail) puts innovations to work far more quickly, more widely and more cheaply.

    Obviously empirical evidence is tricky, but Paul Krugman wrote a good article in the mid-90s exploring this kind of theme (search for “Myth of Asia’s Miracle” in your favourite capitalist-running-dog search engine). From the point of view of current affairs, it may be slightly (!) out of date, but the economic theory remains sound.

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