Alex Michie (UK, AC 06-08)
Alex Michie, a very recent Atlantic College graduate, is currently working for Muto think tank (http://www.mutuo.co.uk/think_tank.php) and has written the following article on the British political and economic situation from his work experience.
Capitalism is bankrupt.
In both moral and financial terms capitalism is, quite literally, bankrupt. Previous worshipers and priests of this onetime supposed flawless system are now queuing up to criticise and berate it. The unthinkable has happened. The conservative party, the heirs of Margaret Thatcher’s neo-liberal throne, are attacking bankers, calling for salary caps, and most radically of all, endorsing public ownership. But Britain is not alone in this bloodless revolution. Reagan’s heirs are doing the same thing on the other side of the Atlantic. One leading American economist said the only chance the USA had left was something that “looks, smells, tastes likes, but will never be called, socialism.” Europe, their onetime schadenfeude now in tatters, is hailing Gordon Brown a superman for his nationalisation bail out. Regardless of whether Thatcher is to be buried in Windsor or a in a coal mine, she is soon to be spinning.
For years, as we watched millions made unemployed whilst the rich got unimaginably richer, we were told “There is no alternative”. Thatcher said it, Major repeated it, Blair span it, and Brown mumbled it. They all used their time in power to peel back regulation and public ownership, and only now are we reaping the consequences. But no matter who said There Is No Alternative, they were wrong.
Were they ignoring or simply unaware of the economic miracle that socialist China was creating through an alternative to Anglo-American capitalism? Surely they knew of the alternative posed by Cuba, the country that manages to rank forty-three places higher in the HDI index than in GDP rankings. In fact, despite being blocked by the world’s largest economy, and having just one thirtieth of their GDP, Cuba enjoys more leisure time and the same life expectancy as the USA. Like or loathe these examples, they are unquestionably alternatives.
But all this while, a much more viable, practical alternative was staring us in the face. One that operates within the boundaries of laissez faire Britain and USA, and that dates back to before the Industrial Revolution or Adam Smith and his invisible hand.
The current collapse of the financial sector has gone hand in hand with the implosion of our biggest banks. It seems that nobody in the financial sector, however aggressive or cautious their policies, was left unscathed. This is untrue. There have been a minority of financial institutions which managed to weather the storm, and did not resort to using public money to pay their executive bonuses: The Cooperative Bank, Nationwide Building Society, Britannia Building Society and the rest. These banks and building societies have a common theme: mutuality.
Instead of being owned by remote (normally hugely wealthy) shareholders, these companies are owned by their members, or to put it another way, their customers. So instead of practicing aggressive, short-sighted and unethical policies in order to make short-term profits to pay large dividends to their shareholders and, in doing so, receive ridiculous bonuses as a result, these institutions protected their members interests, and their members did not want short term payouts but their money to be held in a safe place and invested wisely and ethically. Consequently, these banks survived.
Mutuality, however, is not only alive in the financial sector, but operates throughout the UK’s economy. From the Cooperative supermarkets, to travel agents, to pharmacies, to leisure centres, and even schools and Doctor Clinics, mutuality is alive and kicking. Let’s keep it that way.
- United World College Student Magazine -