As I meander along in my eighth decade my thoughts occasionally drift away from important things like how the Special One will heal the rift with Dele Alli to things like political philosophy. The latter is full of “isms” like Socialism and Capitalism. And, in general, these isms are unhelpful.
The problem is that usage has been so unavoidably imprecise over the years as to render the words meaningless. Maybe I’ll cover Socialism another time but for now let me have a go at Capitalism. We’ve never actually not had in modern times in Britain the system under which the use of Land, Labour, Capital and Enterprise in combination produces goods and services. Even before the Industrial Revolution, and certainly during and after it, this free enterprise system has been how we do things – call it “Capitalism” if you like.
But in the late nineteenth century it became clear that unfettered free enterprise was not only damaging to those at the bottom of the pile but sub optimal as well. Unit production in the dark satanic mills was lower than in manufactories with better conditions. So a combination of social awareness and pragmatism forced change and a plethora of regulations came in. Children stopped going up chimneys.
In the twentieth century change accelerated and in the immediate post war period we actually expanded government control of vital services – nationalisation. The mixed economy was born. In truth it had been around for a while but 1945-51 was its flowering. It’s still with us – even Capitalism’s heroine Margaret Thatcher only shifted it a bit.
So any debate about the principle of Capitalism is doomed to be impotently irrelevant. There is no alternative that makes an iota of sense. Where there is room for debate is about who does what and where in the mixed economy. Such debate must not be ideological. The public/private mix in our healthcare system does not need ideologues from either side of the debate. The only criteria are patient care and efficiency. If that means more (or less) contracting out so be it.
Capitalism with a mixed economy is what we do. Fine tune it of course but it’s not not going away.