Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Ultra-capitalism at the Guardian

I had my first peek at The Guardian's new building last night, when I went along to one of the paper's "Capitalism in Crisis" debates.

It was difficult not to gasp at the riches of the building - providing a level of grandeur beyond any investment bank - and not wonder at the ironies on offer ... but I tried my best to get over myself.

On the panel, John Gray offered up his best grumpy old man impression. Why had we not listened to the mavericks he wondered, an idiotic statement if I had ever heard one. Admittedly, I am no fan of Gray. He wrote a book a few years back that I truly loathe and I have never read a word of his since. Here's why.

Then came Jayati Ghosh, a professor of economics in India. She trotted out the line that exploitation of the developing world has not ended, and that it would difficult for the capitalism to recover.

She claimed that jobs had not gone to India and China, in defiance of our own experiences, and the evidence. When challenged, she uttered the phrase: "There are many countries in India and China," meaning - I presume - that the jobs have gone to the wrong bits of these countries, and which sounded to me like she was cherry-picking evidence to suit her thesis.

Elsewhere, the two generally pro-capitalist speakers, financier Terry Smith and David Goodhart, editor of Prospect, were more interesting.

Smith makes for a fine after-dinner speaker, having a good sense of wit and an impressive collection of stories. He was also the most succinct. When defining what had gone wrong, he said that people simply borrowed too much because debt was too cheap. It is an argument hard to disagree with.

Goodhart was sometimes contrarian and often interesting, but by the end he tired as the audience's (rather predictable) anti-capitalist leanings seemed to get to him. And it is desperately hard to talk positively about private enterprise at a time when the government has had to bail out some of the country's largest companies.

This is almost as hard as swallowing an anti-capitalist line from a newspaper that during the boom years did all the things that its comment pages frequently castigate. Like Michel's Iron Law of Oligarchy repeated, even those most resistant to capitalism bought into its excesses. (And yes, the editor of the Guardian earns more than double that of the Prime Minister.)

So now that the bankers are apologising, and the politicians are U-turning, wouldn't it be delightfully ironic if the Guardian becomes the last institution to continue boom era hyper capitalist behaviour?

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