Global economic woes prompt soul-searching on capitalism

From The Guardian UK:

While policymakers insist vigorous recovery will arrive, there is concern that deep structural problems are stalling a revival

Posted by , economics editor
Sunday 25 November 2012

Hope springs eternal: China’s manufacturing sector has perked up a bit; there are encouraging noises coming out of Washington about avoiding the fiscal cliff; the euro is still in one piece – could it be that recovery is coming at last?

After all the false dawns, this could be the point at which capitalism shows its resilience and regenerative powers. Since the birth of the modern industrial age more than 250 years ago, there have been only brief deviations in the upward trend of production. The Great Depression looks like a mere blip on the upward sloping graph of UK or US GDP.

Even so, the depth and length of the crisis has led to a degree of soul searching. While policymakers insist publicly that vigorous recovery will eventually arrive, there is private concern that deep structural problems are blunting the effectiveness of a stimulus unprecedented in its scale, scope and duration. These concerns are well founded.

To understand why, it is necessary to look at the basic ingredients that historically have made capitalism tick in all its many guises, be it America’s free-market approach, Sweden’s welfarist model, or China’s state-run variant.

The first requirement is stability, without which entrepreneurs will not take risks. In the early stages of development, this means adherence to the rule of law and a system of property rights that guard against expropriation. As economies grow more sophisticated, it comes to mean additionally a degree of economic and financial stability. Those taking long-term investment decisions need to feel confident that there will be a steady stream of returns and that the banking system is robust and well-managed.

The second prerequisite is legitimacy, which is not the same as fairness or equality. Capitalism is neither fair nor equal, and never will be, but large quantities of fairness have been injected to ensure it has retained political legitimacy.

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