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ECONOMY/ What do we want capitalism to do for us?

Occupy St. Paul's in London Occupy St. Paul's in London

It thus follows that a capitalism for communities would value economic benefits beyond monetary gain, accounting also for the everyday experiences of individuals in their localities, and the power of the markets to contribute to and enrich these. Whilst of course growth and jobs are imperative to everyday individual circumstances, for many individuals and communities who make up the wider population outside the financial and professional markets, the ‘real’ economy is the direct effect on their everyday social lives and wellbeing in the context of their immediate space and social relations.

Ethical practice in the City is important, but over and above these ‘practical’ concerns what is needed is a cultural change, shifting attitudes and addressing a question not just around the distribution of profit, but how individuals, their peers, and wider communities may benefit on a wider basis. As Jesse Norman remarked at the ResPublica discussion, what do we want capitalism to do for us?

The degree of cross-party consensus is exemplified beyond the convergence of our own panel of speakers. Today, Deputy PM Nick Clegg announced plans to increase employee share ownership in British businesses, to give individual employees a stake in their firms and benefit productivity and workplace culture and wellbeing. A concept that ResPublica recommended in 2009, the idea was also recognised in the 2010 election manifestos from the Conservative and Labour parties. Rather than fuelling the divisive executive pay debate, this is the sort of policy which recognises all the members of a community and drives their associative benefits forward.

In his recent article on the resurgence of the social, Adrian Pabst attributes the disconnect between markets and society to the subordination of social to commercial purpose. This approach gives rise to a new vision beyond consumerist culture whereby the commercial – applicable to employers, retailers or service providers - should move towards a values-based understanding of people’s priorities.

Clegg’s announcement today is a welcome one, but there is a long way to go to achieve a seismic shift in the meaning and understanding of the ‘economic good’ across all sectors.

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