I mention all of this now because it strikes me that, once again, capitalism is malfunctioning. And unless we do something about it, another crisis will ensue.
The history of the past two centuries teaches us that from time to time capitalism goes awry – and concerted intervention is needed to build a framework in which it can function. During the Industrial Revolution, waves of bank failures culminated in the UK Banking Charter Act of 1844, establishing the Bank of England’s regulatory mandate to tame a chaotic banking system.
Victorian England’s inhuman working conditions were also countered by successive factory laws, triggering a long process of improving worker safety. Half a century on and the Great Depression, which followed the Wall Street crash, ushered in modern competition laws, to protect customers from exploitation by overpowering corporations.
These changes did not take place because governments wanted to replace capitalism with socialism or even communism. These were attempts to change a system that had come to be seen as immoral, removing the rougher edges of capitalism to regain the broad public consent on which it is built, to ensure its survival.
Every now and then, society demands new rules to shape and frame free markets so that while driving growth and prosperity, they aren’t overly exploitative and chaotic. Today, here in the UK, is such a time. British capitalism needs to be updated, modernized and restarted – to make sure the system is fit for our post-Brexit, post-Covid, 21st century world.