Moral capitalism


Gordon Brown and David Cameron are riding the same hobby-horse right now – how we need to make capitalism 'more moral'.

Well, let me tell you: even without their kind intervention, capitalism is very much more moral than most of the snotrags in Parliament, who seem to spend most of the time working out how to fiddle their expenses. I don't think politicians have much to teach businesspeople about being moral, quite frankly.

People say that capitalism is based on greed, which must be restrained. No it isn't. It's built on self-interest – which is perfectly natural to us all, and beneficial to our community. Markets are about free people, voluntarily exchanging cash for goods or services. You can only prosper in the market if you give your customers what they want. In every transaction, both sides benefit – they wouldn't do if they didn't – and with millions of sales and purchases going on every day, that spreads benefit through the whole society.

Capitalism is a vast, worldwide collaborative system. It doesn't need political arguments to decide what should be done. It doesn't need force to make people produce things. It produces enormous variety and plenty without any conflict or coercion at all. It's deeply democratic - with people making millions of choices in shops and markets every day, rather than having just one choice at the ballot box every five years. And capitalist societies are more equal. Everyone can aspire to self-improvement – it doesn't depend on you being a member of the right party, or clan, or caste.

And capitalism can only survive within a framework of moral rules. Rules like the respect for property, for example. People won't build up productive businesses if politicians, robbers, or soldiers can simply march in and take everything from them. Capitalism needs a rule of law to survive. And it needs honesty too. Customers aren't going to go back to a supplier who swindles them, or treats them unfairly, or does not honour promises, or even offers poor value. If you want to survive in business, you need to serve your customers, treat them honestly, and win their trust.

Rather different from our monopoly public services, where people get paid whether they do a good job or not. No, capitalism doesn't need politicians to teach it about morality, thank you.

Dr Eamonn Butler's new book, The Rotten State of Britain, is now available to buy now. Click here to find out how.