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Taming the Beast: Is It Time for the Left to Engage With Capitalism?

13/07/2015 11:46 BST | Updated 12/07/2016 10:59 BST

"And listen, while we're at it, there are systems for a reason in this world, economic stability, interest rates, growth. It's not all a conspiracy to keep you in little boxes, alright? It's only the miracle of consumer capitalism that means you're not lying in your own shit, dying at 43 with rotten teeth and a little pill with a chicken on it is not going to change that. Now come on, fuck off." - Mark Corrigan, Peep Show

Capitalism is neither a philosophy nor an evil being with huge tentacles ruining the world from its giant control room in the depths of hell. It's simply a way of trying to generate profit by serving the needs of its customers in the most efficient way possible. Whilst the greatest social change has classically been brought about by protest movements of 'liberals' or the 'left', this sort of activism has been accused of making little difference when it comes to the global economy. Whether we like it or not, large influence often requires a large bank account.

But it doesn't just come down to having money. It requires engagement with those who want to make it, and a brilliant example for public and private sector cooperation can be found in GM farming. Due to lack of public acceptance, this technology has been developed in a 'vacuum' by big GM corporations, and they were allowed to only target the most financially lucrative markets, regardless of the needs of independent farmers. However, due public sector engagement in Bangledesh, the government, along with the University of Agricultural studies, has been able to distribute a crop that serves independent farmers and customers directly. Simultaneously, this has provided both profit and improved public image for Mahyco, the GM tech company that helped to develop the crop.

Corporations also have a lot to gain in terms of public image when it comes to charity. ColaLife, a charity that works with Coca Cola in Africa, has used Coca Cola's distribution routes to improve distribution of life saving drugs for children with diarrhoea, a disease that kills over 2000 children under 5 every day. This programme has allowed them to sell 26'000 portions of the drugs to community retailers, increasing treatment rates in the area from 1% to 45%, and reducing mean distance from access from 7.3km to 2.4km. This sort of private sector efficiency has huge potential in Africa, a continent with notoriously corrupt and slow moving governments.

Some people make the point that while they are doing this, Coca Cola are also causing many cases of obesity in developed countries. While this may be true, if it wasn't Coca Cola it would probably be someone else. People are always going to want to drink fizzy drinks, it's not their responsibility to stop selling them, it's down to the government to stop people drinking them. If people stopped drinking fizzy drinks they'd make their money elsewhere, simple as that.

You may not feel like it, but by being a free-thinking customer you have a tremendous amount of power. By withholding as much money as possible for business you know to be ethically sound, you have the power to change the atmosphere surrounding the capitalist marketplace. It may not seem like a big difference, but that's how all revolutions start: one person at a time. It doesn't mean you're expected to know where all of your money is going, that's essentially impossible, but try to research it as much as you can. Put your money in banks like the Cooperative, for example, who divest from fossil fuels and are committed to ethical investment.

Whilst you have a responsibility, so does the government; investing university pensions in arms dealing is a classic example of a disregard for this responsibility. You have a voice when it comes to who runs our country, and make sure you tell the government you want a country that engages with sustainable capitalism.

Although I share many of the same values of those who identify with the leftist movement, I seem to differ in how I believe we can change the world. Disengagement with capitalism allows it to develop in a vacuum, only growing to serve itself, and we all know the destruction it can leave in its path. We must utilise the efficiency that capitalism has the potential to offer, and force multi-national companies to have a sense of responsibility. After all, we're the customers - and the customer is always right.