Alex Jackman: Week 6

This week, taking a slightly more serious tone, ALEX JACKMAN solves the problems of Capitalism

Alex Jackman capitalism column crisis

I have a scientist friend who does not know what Marxism is. In fairness, I don’t know science. My quest to understand relativity involves waving my hand quickly to make my fingers seem heavier.

Nor is my own knowledge about politics stellar. My supervisor had to explain Marx with the “Marxian Analysis Cake”. Capital is the sponge, class-driven power relations are the icing, and the cherry is the bit you get if you own all the factories.

It’s quite different to Free-Market Cake, which you give one percent to 99 of your friends and put the rest in a bank, only to discover 15 years later that you can’t get compound interest on a Victoria sandwich and they’ve gone and invested all the jam in subprime mortgages.

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They have fun parties at King’s.

Unfortunately, our supervisor said, it’s still the best critique of modern capitalism available. And it’s being forgotten, if we accept that as a Tab columnist I’m allowed to draw grand conclusions from two anecdotes.  I’ll be butchering basic economics, simplifying politics and ripping off other people’s ideas in this column as well.

Oddly, despite all the current job losses, cuts and strangely expensive privatisations, there’s no sense of a genuine, coherent response in the UK. Certainly not a political one, anyway.

Trade union membership has increased for the first time since 2007, but is still as low as it was in 1940. The Labour Party are wandering towards some practically communist ideas about maybe not letting energy companies take all of people’s money.

Maybe we can support Russell Brand. I don’t know if multi-millionaire film stars usually lead the Glorious Revolution, but he rocks a Guy Fawkes mask and dislikes politicians, which is the kind of political vision the modern Briton can really get behind.

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Russell Brand joins the Anonymous protest. Anonymously.

There’s such a lack of critique that, weirdly, the Anglican Church seem to be the ones with the most to say about the moral responsibilities of banking.

At this point, you’re probably wondering why I’ve suddenly decided to go all serious. I’m not sure. I think all the Geography has something to do with it. Geographers aren’t big on neoliberalism. Here are some visual gags to lighten the mood:

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“In Cambridge Geography, map colours you!”

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Pictured: A normal Part II Political Ecology lecture

Back to the action: the dangerous underpinning idea is that markets not only have the right answer but the right approach to problems. It’s less, in the words of Maggie, “There Is No Alternative”, and more “This Is Justified. You Deserve This. Stop Bloody Whining”.

This degrades our ability to make considerate decisions. After all, why would a politician, policy-maker or businessperson prefer to grapple with difficult questions of ethics when they can point at the numbers and make condolences?

“LOL got your house! Soz.”

“LOL got your house! Soz.”

Capitalism, finance and globalisation need to be managed in mature and understanding ways. Negative externalities – the bad thing that happens to someone else because of a decision – are not external. Look at the two biggest bugbears of today, the financial crisis and global warming. Both result from failures to think of wider consequences and to behave accordingly.

My own Dad’s work has been based around trying to develop ethical approaches to business, and he often faces the argument that basically runs: “How the hell can you get individuals, companies and governments to do things that might not bring them immediate profit, or force them to face uncomfortable truths?”

How indeed?

The answer, he says, is not to make more rules and regulations, nor to indoctrinate people into some utopian, happy-clappy cultism, nor to coerce them into doing what is “right”.

It is simpler and riskier: you challenge them to develop their own ethics and apply them.

It’s about creating opportunities for our collective decency without tearing down the entire system, and if committed to, could be transformative. But it’s no Marxism and certainly isn’t a politicised approach.

Ethical capitalism: there’s your alternative. Thanks Dad. And if you’re reading this, please send me more money.