Long ago in 1992, we had the privilege of sitting with one of the country’s leading News Journalists and one of the country’s leading Economics Journalists. The Berlin Wall had not long fallen. In the UK, the Tories were about to win their fourth successive general election. The Triumph of Capitalism seemed complete. The News Journalist opined that there were only two ways to run an economy-Capitalist and Socialist. Self evidently, the Capitalist way had triumphed. Capitalism provided freedom, and private property. It was more fun. Above all, it was innovative, dynamic and would leave sclerotic Socialism far behind. The Economics Journalist demurred. There were, he felt, different ways to run Capitalism, and different countries might have different experiences of the heady brew.
In Rentier Capitalism, Brett Christopher thinks that the predictions of the Economics Journalist have come true, at least in the UK. * He sees an economy riven by massive inequalities on a scale unknown since before the Second World War. There is a massive disparity between the owners of assets and those who have nothing but debts, starkly highlighted by the dysfunctional housing market. With wealth, and hence information, concentrated in few hands, decision outcomes, both economic and political, are poor. Christopher devotes a whole chapter to the hot topic of contracts for all kinds of public service provision from test and trace to railways as evidence of this.
For Christopher Rentier Capitalism is defined as “…income derived from ownership or control of scarce assets under conditions of low or no competition” By definition it will produce a sluggish, low innovation economy of proles and toffs, where the latter have no incentive to invest overmuch, and the former exist as a precariat living from paycheck to loan to rent day. Hence Britain’s appalling record on productivity. Christopher is in the tradition of reformist economists such as Thomas Piketty and Will Hutton, as well as various studies of Britain’s peculiar decline from about 1850 onwards.
Is the system self corrective? So far the British Ruling class has been adept at self preservation by throwing crumbs like right to buy and a wholesale blaming of foreigners for the country’s afflictions. Will it always work? The rise of a propertyless educated stratum, and angry and enabled to allege deep seam of injustice has always been the storm signal of violent revolution to come. The owners of the media, the essential guardians of the system, are becoming older and showing signs of losing their power. In which case, batten your hatches.
Brett Christopher Rentier Capitalism Verso 2020
for an intelligent discussion of this book, and possible responses, see Christine Berry in Open Democracy
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