Capitalism has always had an image problem. A public relations make-over had to be done of its rather dark image during the Cold War. The term “free enterprise” was preferred, giving the impression that accumulating capital and chasing it was a matter of initiative and creative impulse. With the end of the Cold War, the chest thumping began. De-regulation became de rigueur. The 1990s was the Greenspan-Clinton era, one where the very idea of institutional control over capitalist excesses was not merely to be frowned upon, but dismissed altogether. Accumulation became synonymous with creativity.
The City of London has been the focal point of such supposed creativity. When the bulging and burgeoning bubble burst towards the end of 2007, the City, with its bankers and traders, became the focal point of ire and consternation. Banks were socialised. Bailouts were arranged. Reforms were suggested and financial regulations imposed. Laws in Britain were passed increasing jail terms for up to seven years.
The industry has been less than enthusiastic. According to Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, “a fierce industry pushback” by the financial sector has retarded the drive to reform. Instability remains. Financial misconduct continues. “Some prominent firms have been mired in scandals that violate the most basic ethical norms.” Listening to Lagarde at the inclusive capitalism conference in London, one might think that even the term “reform” might have been far-fetched, given that the industry had “not changed fundamentally in a number of dimensions since the crisis.”
In a broad sense, Lagarde was meditating on the subject of “inclusive capitalism” as problematic. When the chief of the IMF, an organisation often brutal in its account keeping, ponders such terms, something is moving about in the waters. “So is ‘inclusive capitalism’ an oxymoron? Or is it the response to Marx’s dire prediction that will lead to capitalism’s survival and regeneration – to make it truly the engine for shared prosperity?”