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Capitalism is not dead

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If capitalism is to blame for everything and the COVID-19 pandemic caused a wave of what Schumpeter prophesied as ‘creative destruction’ then the world must be on a path to utopia.

Yet the empty retail spaces left as evidence for what used to be and used by homeless people for shelter, and high-rise developments are continually being built despite empty offices and unused second homes tell a different story.

Less green spaces and public amenities, car-clogged towns and AI run shops are certainly not everyone’s idea of utopia.

Is this the ‘great reset’?

This reimagining is taking a meandering path, and while capitalism needs resetting, we need more than a few economists saying it for it to become a reality. Our surroundings impact our well-being and help define who we are individually and collectively. Conflating unhappiness, deprivation and health inequality with a lack of green and shared public space ignores the capitalist root cause.

While it may not seem relevant, Liverpool being stripped of its UNESCO World Heritage status has wider implications.

Buckingham Palace, with its uninspired architecture, is nestled in one of the most polluted areas of London, yet its symbolism and history is its popularity. Beauty is not just found in the visual, it’s also found in what places represent.

Liverpool, while not traditionally synonymous with beauty, has held the status for its cultural and historical heritage.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter’s glass half full predictions for when capitalism destroys not only itself, but everything it leaves in its wake, is apt. Despite the threat of delisting, the city continued to overdevelop, which has altered its unique landscape.

Maybe the vast new Everton stadium or expensive apartments will help the city, but overdevelopment rarely enhances lives, culture or wildlife.

With London, aka the city of cranes, architectural delights have been replaced by more hotels no one needs and overpriced flats too ugly for the soul. Maybe London still has time to use Liverpool as a warning.

Having worked at the crumbling Palace of Westminster, while historic and symbolically important, it needs extensive love and care to ensure it too does not get stripped of its status. ‘We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us’, said Churchill, and one wonders what this says about Britain’s parliamentary system.

Capitalism erodes culture, heritage and beauty so we must mitigate the damage. As humans, our natural lust for more tramples over that which does not bring excessive profit. Until a mind shift has occurred in people and policymakers, the big business holds the reins of power. We don’t need buzzwords like ‘reset’ or ‘wake up call’, we need political advocacy.

As economist Philippe Aghion revisits in The Power of Creative Destruction: Economic Upheaval and the Wealth of Nations, a vision is needed for a system enabling new markets and growth by destroying an outdated version of capitalism.

Brighton is a lesson inhomogeneity with its managed gentrification excluding locals, car-clogged roads and mass homelessness. This is nothing new, global chains have long been the bête noire of anti-capitalism protestors.

In neighbouring ‘high rise Hove’, the mindless demolition in favour of building hundreds of overpriced flats serves very few, as community and amenities are compromised. The local library is permanently under threat of closure and survives only because it sells off space to cafés, crèches and colleges which exclude locals the right to a rare free, quiet communal space.

If this is sounding like a pessimistic leftist diatribe, then question your lifestyle and surroundings. This problem is universal and few haven’t felt the impact of it. Yes, we need housing, but with empty offices and closed shops, we can sympathetically restore and use what we have. 

There is scope for positive evolution. It can be done.

Venice, also on the UNESCO danger list, took action and banned cruise ships from its lagoon to protect its status and precarious environment. Vienna, which is also under threat, must reassess its love affair with high rise developments which could compromise all that defines it. 

COVID-19 can be a catalyst for progress, as Professor Ian Goldin discusses in his book, From Global Crisis to a Better World. Capitalism brings innovation, but the innovators have become policymakers, and while our elected policymakers hand power over (even the holy cow of the NHS will one day be carved up), capitalism cannot be reimagined.  

The policy must be shaped by those with long-term vision representing the interests of more than the 1% who own half the world’s wealth.

Most of us across the political spectrum endorse the idea for capitalism to be regulated and adjusted for the modern world. It cannot have free rein at the cost of all else.

Throughout the pandemic lockdowns, more people have learnt how important green or pleasant spaces are, yet this space is now a luxury.

Many urban dwellers are trapped in a poverty cycle surrounded by soul-destroying ugliness. Where are the water fountains, new statues, attractive new builds respecting the skyline and wildlife? The buildings of tomorrow need to be innovative and aesthetically pleasing, not just there for profit.

In a rural context we need to nurture wildlife not destroy it, because when we protect what we already have and appreciate it, we can create better. The conflict between those wanting to save the planet and those wanting to take from it is not as polarised as the media portrays.

Just as climate crises will not be solved by a bag for life or driving an electric car, it is the things we don’t do or buy that shape a new world.

Politics has too long relied on perceived extremes of Left and Right and lacked nuanced discussion to evolve compassionately.

A free market with innovators and entrepreneurs has been hijacked and was never meant to be about stifling competition or monopoly domination setting the narrative. The endless pursuit for sustained growth is unattainable. Growth is not dependent on building more but nurturing what we already have.

The reset has begun.

Cover image: Phil Fiddyment via Flickr. Image was cropped. Licence here.

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