Even though you weren’t invited, how could you have missed it? The Inclusive Capitalism Conference in London, on May 27, gathered some of the wealthiest folks on the planet. The 250 who were present reportedly hold one-third of controlled assets worldwide – over $30 trillion – almost on par with the richest eighty-five folks in the world who hold the equivalent wealth and capital of the poorest half of the world’s population, some 3.5 billion people. At the London conference, the keynote speaker list included Britain’s Prince Charles, Bill Clinton, Mark Carney (the Canadian-born governor of the Bank of England), and IMF chief Christine Lagarde. The conference was convened in part by financier Lynn Forester de Rothschild, the American-born wife of British subject Evelyn de Rothschild. London’s historic Guildhall served as the venue; porcini risotto graced the plates of the invitees for dinner. “Inclusive Capitalism”? The description “Exclusive Capitalism” might have been just as apropos.
Even so, the conference did propagate some nuggets of wisdom usually not parroted by the ultra-rich whose wealth tends to skew their viewpoints toward realms unrealistic. (Mitt “my wife drives two Cadillacs” Romney, for example, was not on the invite list.) Rising economic inequality was recognized as a destructive reality; Karl Marx’s injunction that capitalism “carries the seeds of its own destruction” was acknowledged as possibly truthful; and, Pope Francis was revered as prophetic in his economic prognostications and not pooh-poohed as an agent of socialism. (Rush Limbaugh, the bard of inequality and a frequent name-caller of Francis, was neither on the invite or extensive speaker list.)
As I document in my book Just a Little Bit More, the current era of excess (beginning in 1980) has brought forth increasing wealth inequality and negative social consequences. This same type of episodic excess was showcased during the Gilded Age and the 1920s. The outcomes weren’t good then and they’re not good today. Is there anyone left today who doesn’t understand that the current era of excess has made the rich richer while keeping the rest of us treading water; and, that too much economic inequality is not good for society? Is this the way things simply are – and there’s nothing we can do about it – in our modern and advanced civilization?
How interesting that the plutocrats – the ruling wealthy, a number of them present at Guildhall – now admit that grand inequalities are destroying a good thing and that certain outcomes of capitalism are dysfunctional. The consensus opinion – that capitalism is at risk – was on full display at the London conference. Wow – it’s been a long time coming, but it looks like a little change is taking hold. For years the one-two punch from the monied interests was 1) blatant denial that the rich were getting richer, and (when challenged on the denial’s claim) 2) the economic system rewards “winners” justly. The status quo is always defended by those who benefit most from it . . . but look, a change is gonna come.
Capitalism’s tendency to siphon wealth upward to an exclusive elite is not a new phenomenon; it’s been a reality since the Gilded Age. When it is kept in check (progressive tax rates, as an example), freedom is maintained for humble and ordinary citizens. Henry Demarest Lloyd was a rich man (by marriage), but progressive in his outlook. More than 100 years ago he proclaimed “liberty produces wealth and wealth destroys liberty.” It’s a statement that still packs a punch today, and it helps keep capitalism inclusive for the majority.
These and similar views are representative of what you’ll find in my book. Go to the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website to purchase a copy of Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good.