The champagne was replaced by sparkling water at a high-level conference held in central London’s swanky Mansion House and Guildhall last week (June 26). That doesn’t mean that there was any lack of fizz over the meeting’s hot topic – ‘Inclusive Capitalism’ (IC) – but, does the expression leave you shifting uneasily in your seat?
For some, the idea of increasing inclusivity in capital markets – with the implication of significantly reducing levels of local and global inequalities – is a principle whose time has come. Others consider the phrase to be an oxymoron. Notice my inclusive style on both sides!
The problem is that many see Capitalism (Big ‘C’) as the antithesis of inclusivity and co-operation. Isn’t it about avaricious competition, exclusion and the zero-sum game of “I win, you lose”? The fact that ‘they’ choose to drink fizzy water one day and champagne the next is only open to those who have the economic, social, political and technical power to make such choices. For, at least, a global One Billion, the choice is more likely to be one of dirty water (and the risk of ill-health and possible death) or thirst (and certain death). Whither ‘inclusive Capitalism’?
The graphic jaws
Imagine some giant rapacious creature lying beneath the first of Max Roser’s graph’s, showing how much of total income goes to the top 1% (pictured above), in these English-speaking society’s. Its jaws are gaping. Levels of unequal income distribution are similar in 2015 to those at the start of the Second World War in the UK and during the First World War in the US. The mid-20th century, culminating in the 1970s, now looks like a halcyon era of social inclusion and mobility.
At last year’s very first IC conference, the Bank of England’s Governor Mark Carney, defined IC as “…fundamentally about delivering a basic social contract comprised of relative equality of outcomes, equality of opportunity, and fairness across generations”. But, for many, this goes too far. Equality of opportunity is fine – in a broad brush way, according access to some basic provision of education, labour market or health care; but equality of (final) outcomes is anti-capitalist. If society – via the state – is to engage in redistributive policies to equalise final outcomes, where is the incentive to do better, work harder, get higher-up the ladder than you?
Yet, most of us want to live in a city, town, village or world where we occupy some kind of shared identity. I guess, the reason you’re reading Ethos is because you have some interest in how business connects to identity, values, distributions and social inclusion. Across the months we’ll be examining a wide range of companies and models, talking to leaders and opinion formers, who consider shared identity worth doing business over. So, let’s break out the fizzy water and drink to an inclusive world, where clean water – and clean business – is available to all. Cheers!
Tony Bradley is an associate director at the SEED Centre, Liverpool Hope University