The Future of Capitalism

Some weekend reading:

Amartya Sen, that other voice of sanity among recent Nobel laureates in economics, draws lines between the current economic crisis and the history of economic thought (with an emphasis on Smith, Keynes and Pigou), and what that all means for a “new capitalism”.

Then, over at the Financial Times, a whole series looks at the future of capitalism. It is not exactly calling for revolution, but fascinating that this conversation is taking place at all. This article follows on the theme of what the dominant thinkers in economics would say, with a look back at Smith, Marx, Keynes and Schumpeter.


  • Amartya Sen is one of my favourite economists.

  • Perhaps Karl Polanyi should be in this mix as well.

  • These are historic times and such questions on the future are thankfully relevant.

    I still am feeling quite shell shocked, and i am sure many on this blog are as well.

    After taking 20 years as a practitioner in a variety of capacities in the field, coming form the left and constantly fending off the Neo-con behemoth and always feeling not much more than a residual.

    Imagine a field such as this, to have the leading thinkers, thinking with such detachment from reality and filled with such bunk. And then in one passing autumn, to have such a meltdown and transition and paradigm shift, I am now quite embarrassed to even call myself an economist. I actually have made a point of qualifying my profession at parties and such, things like labour economist or progressive economist roll a lot better off the tongue. And the return glares looks are a lot less evil looking, although a bit more confused, when you preface it.

    I know many in the left, including myself have been shaking our heads, and saying for quite some time that you cannot have such imbalances in society without paying a social and economic adjustment cost to such sheer market forces.

    (yes bring Polanyi, I love the fact that anthropologists love this guy, as economic history has such a gigantic truce with such untouchables that were so willingly disregarded in this latest capitalist crash.)

    So what as I saying again. Oh yes- just plain old wonder struck, gazing into the navel of change and the depth of its destruction. Such a waste for the many for such great gains for the few.

    rant rating 6/10 pts

  • We have seen the “piles of money” a financial priesthood gained by betting on their esoteric mathematical prophecies about the market. However, it is strange that there is a fundamental disconnect between wealth earned through working smart & hard and wealth won in the Wall Street Casino.

    Whatever the new paradigm we shift in, it is fundamental to re-establish the merit of working hard and smart over the malevolent opportunism that has characterized global finance since the 1980s. Keeping finance simple to capitalize more strategic industries and the innovative capacities of firms I believe would benefit us more than innovating financial systems that make “money on money.” Finance gurus will argue that brainstorming financial derivatives is hard work, and it is a valid argument. However, it becomes problematic if the intent is to improve the odds of winning and spreading the risk to investors even in Pluto and Mars.

    The merit of working hard and smart is common to all. It is a gentile phenomenon. And it will be more inspiring to see my wage increase according to the amount of hard work I put in vis-à-vis non-banking financial institutions habitually winning the jackpot at the end of trading day. I would be less cynical about the economy if I knew that my hard work would be rewarded well.

    We have always heard that the problem with today’s global economy is a crisis of confidence. Perhaps we should start splitting for “confidence in the economy” is too general. I have confidence in strategic industries and labor that work hard to earn a living and innovate new technologies to improve our quality of life. I also have confidence in the state and banks that capitalize these ventures. However I do not have confidence on that aspect of the economy that counts cards and improves the odds of winning the pot of the world’s riches.

  • I don’t know, I thought Amaryta Sen’s article sounded like a labour-left policy milk run; there wasn’t anything there that we haven’t heard before. I’m still holding out for someone to apply some Thomas Kuhn to the sudden change in our views of economic theory. As in, liking our talk about a paradigm shift to the original source.

    Also, there are a whole bunch of pseudo-left ideas that need to be cleaned up and moved to the front of the bus, like Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Economic Development, co-operative housing, the expanded non-profit sector, voluntary simplicity, environmentalism, and a handful of internet innovations.

    If we respond to the collapse of libertarian finance with solutions like statism, re-regulation, and expanded social services, then the proliferating pseudo-left movements are going to ignore the mainstream left and go play ball with the bankers who have table manners.

  • The FT says:

    “Marx would still be badly bruised by learning of Lenin and Stalin’s perversion of his communistic theories”

    Y’know, for all that it’s vaguely interesting that Marx is mentioned there, they just can’t resist slander and bullshit. I guess they just want to mention That Name and show how they’re the “tough guys” who’ll print something about capitalism’s enemy.

  • And oddly, neoconservatives are never on the hook for Hitler, Moussolini, or Pinochet.

  • I kind of agreed with Stuart Murray. Sen’s piece started out looking impressive–he’s a good writer–but as I read it, it seemed more and more like there wasn’t much there.
    I mean, it’s nice to point out that Adam Smith wasn’t a neoliberal. But surely that’s old news by now, and beyond that I’m not sure why I should care what he thought. Just because he wasn’t a neoliberal doesn’t mean he was right about everything. Smith is famous largely because he had a nice turn of phrase and some of his bon mots turned out to be very convenient to the wealthy.
    As well, it seems to me that Sen is sticking to a pretty superficial look at the problem as being just the meltdown in speculative finance plus effects of reduced consumption. He mentions inequality, but never as an economic problem, only as a moral one. There are a number of problems which go a lot deeper than all the Wall Street funny money, and he doesn’t touch them.

  • I found the choice of the 50 people who will frame the debate very interesting. It’s an interactive feature, so you can scroll over the pictures of the chosen 50 and read their bios. You can also sort them by various characteristics. For example, sorting by gender shows us that exactly 5 of those influential 50 are female. Similarly, exactly 5 are under 50 years of age.

    A tab sorting by country of origin or residence would have been quite informative too, as there do not seem to be many people from outside the G-8 countries. Obviously, this list of movers and shakers is highly unrepresentative of large groups of the world’s population.

    Perhaps the list was drawn to be representative of those who got us into this mess to begin with – I can’t help but notice that 5 of those 50 leaders have worked for Goldman Sachs.

  • The author is not comprehending the basic nature of capitalism and its deficiencies – the greatest is the inability of capitalistic systems to comprehend or express human and social morality.
    Moral is when you know what it is and you do it.
    Immoral is when you know what it is and you don’t do it.
    Amoral is when you never consider morality in the first place.
    As there is not a single human or social value which can be expressed in terms of dollars, capitalistic systems are in fact amoral.
    This means that a “capitalist” system in which dollars are the only value considered is unalterably unable to consider or respond to a single human or social value. In order for capitalism to consider and express human and social values it must have functions which allow human and social values to mitigate and over rule dollars as a value in determining decisions and actions.
    There is no re-arrangement of capitalism which will overcome it’s complete social and human values deficiency unless and until capitalist business includes human and social values in a way which allows or even mandates that unlimited capital acquisition must moderate itself in deference to human and social values and conditions.
    Second, the author does not understand how the Canadian health system works.
    Canadians can pay for any diagnostic test at any time and can pay for many health related procedures at any time. However, necessary medical procedures are only available for free when consumed at community run government owned hospitals. Waiting times when compared with the USA have also been mis-represented. While some Canadian medical procedures do have a “waiting time” there are at least 40 million Americans whose “waiting time” is the duration of their lives and whose wait is never included in the calculations when comparing America’s highly hyped capitalistic for profit health system to Canada’s health system. Also not included in the “wait times” calculation for Americans are the number of necessary medical procedures which are denied by America’s capitalistic “for profit” health system. If the uninsured and denied healthcare individuals were considered in the comparison, the American “for profit” system of delivering health services would be shown to be completely uncompetitive with much longer aggregate wait times than Canada’s government paid for health system which covers everyone.
    It is very easy to appear competent and superior when you failures are never considered.

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