Tuesday 16 September 2014

Change and stability

One of the things which establishment politicians often tell us is that business demands stability; it’s used as an argument against any change which ‘business’ doesn’t like.  It’s an argument which has been used in, but which is not restricted to, the Scottish referendum.  At first sight, it seems obvious, but is it true?  One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is that not everything which is obvious is true, and not everything which is true is obvious.
I can certainly see why established businesses, particularly the large, slow-moving variety, might prefer things to stay as they are.  Planning with certainty enables them to continue making and banking their profits, and that’s what established capitalists like.
But supporters of capitalism in the more general sense tell us that one of the things at which capitalism is good is innovation.  They go further and talk about creative destruction – that is the idea that older established organisations which aren’t innovating can and should go to the wall to be replaced by newer more innovative enterprises.  But what drives innovation?
There isn’t a single driver, of course, and I don’t want to over-simplify.  But one of the things which drives businesses to innovate and creates the openings for new businesses is change in the operating environment.  When things change, companies either adapt or die; and new companies arise to fill new or changed niches.  So, whilst established capitalists prefer to resist change in order to protect their investment and interests, capitalism in the more general sense allegedly thrives on change.
This is relevant to the referendum; it’s also more generally relevant to other changes, whether they are to do with tax regimes or constitutional arrangements.  The impact of such changes is inherently unpredictable, precisely because we can never know how organisations will change and adapt in response – and all predictions of disaster (or success) should be viewed in that context.
If that’s true, and I believe it to be, then when establishment politicians say that stability is important, whose interests are they really protecting and promoting?  It is, of course, the interests of those who are doing well out of the status quo (and who, purely coincidentally, provide most of the funding for said politicians).  In this sense, despite a few minor differences in presentation, all the establishment politicians from all the parties are supporting the interests of the same, comparatively small, group of people.  Talk of business-friendly policies is often a short-hand way of referring to policies which protect the interests of existing businesses.
That isn’t the same thing at all.  One doesn’t need to be an opponent of capitalism to see that supporting the interests of existing capitalists isn’t the same thing as supporting capitalism.  The point is that we shouldn’t allow people who are simply defending their own interests to dictate to us what we can or can’t do – and we shouldn’t believe the politicians who parrot the same line on their behalf.
That’s true in relation to the referendum on Thursday, but it’s also true in a host of other fields, such as taxation policy, living wage…  If capitalism is really to work for us, it should be able to do so on our terms, and within whatever structures and policies we want to adopt.  But capitalists are powerful people; they and their supporters control the media and therefore much of what we hear and read.  One of the most exciting aspects of what has been going on in Scotland over the past few weeks has been the way in which people have increasingly been able to see through that dominance and control.  Will it be enough?  We'll find out in a few days.

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