There is no doubt that Newt Gingrinch, John Huntsman and Rick Perry, who have led the attacks on Romney, are not arguing in favour of a positive capitalism. Their intention is simply to knock Romney hard enough to try and win their party’s nomination. Yet, coupled with the Occupy movement, there is an opportunity for a broader and deeper discussion about capitalism and how it is used to positive effect in future years.
During the Occupy protests in the last half of 2011, it was baffling how the sense of wrong felt by so many was so easily swept aside by both policymakers and the media. Perhaps the Occupiers could have done a better job at articulating their aims and aspirations, but the easy dismissal of their argument was amazing.
Seeking to reorient how we practice capitalism so that it is more mindful of societal concerns is a growing sentiment. Millenials are increasingly focussed on how positive capitalism can achieve private benefits through collective action. Look to the rapid rise in co-working and collaboration spaces, the collective reimagining of how our urban places work and look, the rise of localism, increasing support for independent retailers and the realisation that our purchasing behaviour has consequences and the subsequent efforts by some companies to offset their negative impacts through positive capitalism.
Gingrich, Huntsman and Perry doubtless did not have this in mind when they attacked Mitt Romney for being a “vulture capitalist” in Perry’s words. Nor is it a comfortable argument for the Republican party to have, but, as people like Umair Haque have written, there needs to be a reflection about how we conduct business in the 21st century. Romney’s tendency to miss-speak often gives the impression of a man more comfortable with the corporate mindset than the human mindset. In his opinion “corporations are people” and he likes “being able to fire people”. But in a time when people are feeling real pain, when unemployment is still high and when people look to the excesses of pre-2008 and blame the banks and big business for much of their pain, perhaps the Republican party could do no wrong in questioning whether the best person to lead the party is a person who can be directly attributed with the pain of so many American through his business practices.
Perhaps the Republican party (and the media) would do better than dismiss the Occupiers or to jump to the defence of capitalism, and join the debate about what the fundamentals of business are in the 21st Century. Is it about continuing to practice destructive capitalism and the consequent effect it will have on inequality, or is it about moving towards a positive capitalism that minimises its harmful impacts, that seeks to capture society’s collective creativity and that understands more than just the bottom line?