Richard Abernethy writes: In a programme recently broadcast on BBC Radio 4, "Britain's Business Problems", Robert Peston, the BBC's business editor, puzzled over the question why public opinion tends to be unsympathetic to capitalist private enterprise.
The programme explored a number of possible reasons for this strange, negative attitude so many of us have. It suggested that business people don't project a positive image of themselves. Sir Alan Sugar snapping "You're fired!" is not very appealing. It argued that there is no-one to promote the image of business as a whole, as individual companies only promote themselves. There is some truth in this: advertising for the banks often plays on the stereotype of bankers as crass and self-serving, only claiming that their particular bank is different. The unpopularity of "fat cat" executives receiving astronomical salaries was also noted.
Margaret Thatcher's government set out to build "popular capitalism" by selling privatisation shares at discount prices. ("If you see Sid, tell him!") Interestingly, the programme argued that this made little difference to public attitudes in the long run.
The broadcast did not even touch upon the basic objections to capitalist business that so many people feel, at least to some degree: the exploitation of those who actually work to produce goods or provide services (no workers were interviewed); saturation by advertising; damage to the environment; complicity with repressive regimes.
Many people dislike capitalism, and I find this encouraging. The great problem is that few can see a positive alternative as a real, practical possibility rather than a distant aspiration. Creating that alternative is a work in progress but at least we have an outline: freely associated individuals working together directly to satisfy human needs. #