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Use capitalism for good of society

Your recent editorial (Irish Examiner, February 8) calls for a remodelling of capitalism to fight inequality, but without offering a solution.

Capitalism has undergone major personality changes. It began as a ruthless pursuer of profit at the expense of a large underclass, in the early part of the 20th century. It became a provider, by social contract, after the Great Depression and the Second World War. This arose through the activism of ordinary people and the response of more socially sensitive governments.

The period immediately after the Second World War was one of real social partnership: western economies delivered sustainable growth and brought vast swathes of society out of poverty.

However, towards the end of the 20th century, economist Milton Friedman and his disciples, allied with global financial interests, began unravelling the safeguards brought in after the Great Depression. They found willing participants in Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The repeal of the Glass Steagall Act, in 1999, was the final piece in the jigsaw that allowed the speculative financial markets to become the main drivers of the global economy.

This has produced a credit-fuelled, consumer-based Western economy fed by an underpaid and exploited developing world. It has returned us to the days of a ruthless system, with a profit-growth obsession, and the return of a rising underclass.

So, there are lessons in history. To make any inroads in global inequality, we, as an electorate, must insist that our elected representatives put society’s interests first and properly regulate financial capitalism. They must stand against the scare-mongering, and remodel capitalism to provide a shared social dividend.

Barry Walsh


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