The Labour and Conservative leaders seem to be vying with each other to see which can offer the most trenchant critique of the style of modern-day capitalism. It will never lead to any real action, though. Once they’ve milked this one for all the sound bites they can get, they’ll just move on to something else.
And, for all his bluster, Cameron seems either unwilling or unable even to intervene in remuneration decisions at RBS, despite the Government owning 83% of the company. How serious can he really be about empowering shareholders?
More significantly, an argument about the style of capitalism avoids any discussion about the substance. With capitalism suffering an enormous crisis, and the dependence on borrowing and growth shown to be unsustainable, it’s not an alternative style that we need, but an alternative model.
Sure, as its supporters regularly trumpet, capitalism has been a huge driver of affluence from which we have all benefited. Even Marx recognised that. But the idea that it can or will continue indefinitely owes more to faith than fact. And to point to the benefits without discussing the disbenefits is to arrive at a very unbalanced conclusion.
Capitalism may well have driven growth and affluence, but it has also driven rising levels of inequality, and by externalising costs in pursuit of private profit has left human society as a whole with the costs of the environmental damage caused by rampant growth and exploitation of natural resources.
Criticising fat cats and boardroom pay may attract media attention, but it’s a diversion form the real issue, which is about how we move from a global competitive economic model to a local co-operative one. It’s about fairness in allocation of finite resources rather than power and strength. And it means the sort of changes which Tory-Labour politicians will never propose.