The financial crisis has mutated into a wider debate about the very nature of capitalism. I thought it would happen sooner than it did. But politics steadfastly remains a 'knife and fork' question.
Only when real middle incomes started to be severely squeezed in 2010 and 2011 did this debate start to gain political traction - and it is not going to melt away.
Capitalism is under attack from the left as a failed system - of course. But the Tea Party in the US and many British Conservatives also attack the 'corporatism' of big, private institutions.
There has been something of a common currency between both ends of the political spectrum around the Wall Street and St Paul protests - but the solutions remain vague and dissipated. Simply put, small and local is good. Big and global equates to bad. This is the new mantra of politicians everywhere across the developed world.
The right sees this moment as an opportunity to re-invent or re-invigorate capitalism - while the left wants a totally new outcome. Both sides have yet to articulate just what this will mean in practice for voters or institutions. Let me be clear: I am in the camp that favours a re-invigoration of capitalism. There is no better system to create economic wellbeing for the many. But markets and policymakers need to work on solutions to re-wire capitalism for new generations. And that means working together - not shouting at each other for airtime.
The financial crisis continues. It will for the medium term. The sticking plaster solutions we saw in 2008 have come home to roost allied with continued low growth and developing public anger. It is the same everywhere. I have spent a week almost every month in the past year in the United States as we build our business there. America remains a great place to do business but policymakers there have not found any solutions to reconnecting capitalism with the mainstream.
So where should we start? Policymakers have rightly been focused on ensuring we maintain liquidity and rebuild the solvency of financial institutions. It is important stuff. But there seems to me to be a better way of rewiring capitalism - and that is to create new mechanisms for private markets to allow voters to see the positive effects on their daily lives. New incentives to allow 'big' to connect to 'small'.
The current debate has never been a better time to make this happen. We could start with savings. For years, policymakers have fiddled around with long term savings incentives. In the US, the 401k plan has long been regarded as one of the most effective ways to encourage workplace savings for retirement income. But even the 401k has been having a tough time of it recently as markets have not provided the returns investors would want.
In the UK, we are about to embark on a major savings experiment - NEST - the low-cost workplace savings scheme which was the ultimate end point of the Turner Pension Commission.
From 2012 and beyond we are all hoping to see millions of new savers. But, as well as getting a good return for their investment, I think those savers would like to be able to understand just how their savings connect with their day to day lives. And here is where the link to the current raging public debate comes in. Let's look to link initiatives such as NEST closely with the national infrastructure needs of the UK.
What better way to reconnect capitalism than for individual small investors to see the link between their small pots and the improvement to daily lives in localities. This will mean a radical overhaul of the investment structure of NEST. It would mean the mutual fund sector creating funds which link the wall of money which NEST will deliver for capital markets - which currently is set to remain extremely distant from end investors - perhaps to localities or major finance projects which the nation needs to deliver economic growth.
To my mind, the National Lottery remains a powerful example of how this can work in practice. Millions of people now understand the direct link that lottery funding can have to improve lives and experiences. It has helped to deliver the Olympics for London. And the Olympics are a good place to finish. I have no truck with the doomsayers. I am really excited about the London games. The UK will be able to shine for a fortnight on the world stage. What London 2012 is also a great example of is private markets stepping up to the plate to help deliver public and wider economic good.
Too often, I hear from charities and others that financial markets are not too keen to shout about their support for great endeavours. I understand the reticence but, with a continuing crisis of confidence around markets, there has never been a better time shout and connect the public imagination with private sector ingenuity. If public policymakers and private sector investors can get the incentives right for both sides - only then will we reconnect capitalism. The wakeup call has come but at the moment the alarm clock appears to be on snooze.
Cicero's Iain Anderson wrote this piece in a series of essays for Reform, a leading independent think tank. The book of essays was launched this week.
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