We’ve heard the speech about predators and producers, and we know the problems of executive pay – but for all the talk of responsible capitalism there isn’t a clear idea about what a future economy might look like, and whether or not it’s really achievable.
We are all familiar with the problems in the banking industry, but there are other issues too. Familiar companies that were considered national institutions have disappeared, taken over by private equity and larger corporations, without account being taken for their importance as national symbols of success. Creating value by building a business or a service is not considered as interesting or important as the quick win of trading and takeovers. And trust in our key institutions has plummeted.
There is light at the end of the tunnel however, and a radical shift in our moral compass isn’t even needed; it’s happening already. The time has surely come for a ‘less degenerate capitalism.’ I call it collaborative capitalism
Collaborative capitalism means a long-term approach to business and the economy. It means productive investment: in skills for workers, in creating products that last, and buildings that are efficient. It means working to the triple bottom line, where sustainability (in the Brundltand sense of the word) means considering the social, the environmental as well as the financial consequences of what you do. It means support for SMEs and businesses that are embedded, and invest, in their communities. Collaborative capitalism is innovative, because it pays attention to the viewpoints of many, not just the people with the largest share. It is open-source, crowd-sourced and crowd-financed. It is networked.
It’s happening with companies like RiverSimple and their open-source car designs, with crowd-financed films like the Age of Stupid, with 38 Degrees’ campaigns and in workspaces like The Hub. These examples of collaborative capitalism have happened in spite of, not because of, government. But there is a case for the state to play a role, and it is one we should be arguing.
When entrepreneurs remortgage their homes, or invest their savings for the project they believe in, then there is an argument that this level of risk deserves a different level of reward. Taxes can be used to incentivise the long term holding of investments over the short-term trading for quick profit. If we care about the environment, we need to have the conversation about whether ultimately resources should be taxed, rather than labour.
Collaborative capitalism is based on the principle of working together. It has a long history in the co-operative movement and the Quaker-founded businesses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; in the paternalistic industries at the turn of last century and the social enterprises of the last 50 years. It comes from our past, but can be part of our future.
Philippa Roberts runs Low and Behold , a small green tech business and environmental consultancy.