We need much more than “ethical capitalism”


IS AN “ethical capitalism” desirable or possible? In response to global economic difficulty, particularly the continued emergence of allegations of corruption or failures of regulation, many have posited that an emergence of a new business culture and social mores would prevent a repeat of the recession that has blighted the last five years.

However, such analysis ignores the root causes of corruption and the lack regulatory oversight. The idea that the excesses of capitalism can be curtailed by slightly altering the status quo feeds into the cultural hegemony which benefits those with most to gain from the continuation of a system that concentrates power in the hands of the few.

Capitalism is the constant drive for the creation of excess consumption. Through profit motivations and market “efficiency”, capitalism in all forms seeks to minimise costs and maximise profits, necessarily leading to the alienation of labour as ordinary workers are excluded from the benefits of their own production and crises of capitalism when this push for more production hits a road block. Since the measure of self-worth in capitalism is wealth or conspicuous consumption, during such a crisis this amounts to a dual attack on the individual’s capability to actualise identity.

In order to deflect this assault, attempts must be made to increase self-worth. But self-worth being tied to consumption, this merely creates a vicious cycle of consumption and self-hatred. In order to protect the system that benefits them, the cultural hegemony passes the blame to a scapegoat, creating outsider groups that are necessarily marginalised. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek explains how fascists claim to have a system of state controlled capitalism, one that will protect people’s self-worth in a way that seems attractive. The inevitable failure of this claim is then explained away by elites using the homophobia, anti-Semitism and racism inherent in that ideology.

How do we arrive at a system that vindicates the individual and provides an actual ethical framework by which to judge economic rights? By creating our own hegemony. The success of Occupy Wall Street and such movements is not in actually achieving policy change, but by changing our method of evaluating success. We need to shift from a system that values us as economic factors to one that enables all forms of self-identity. Ethical capitalism is simply another attempt to keep people within a broken system, it is the point at which we break free of the vicious cycle of excess consumption that we can attempt to establish a truly ethical economic system.

David Hartery