By Charles Seaford

Book Cover: Why Capitalists Need Communists; The Politics of Flourishing (2019)
Editions:ePub: € 20.99 EUR
ISBN: 978-3-319-98755-2
Paperback: € 24.99 EUR
ISBN: 978-3-319-98754-5
Pages: 244

Why Capitalists Need Communists:

  • Links wellbeing and flourishing to a broad political agenda, with relevance to the major problems faced in contemporary society;
  • Uses work from a range of different academic disciplines, including psychology, economics and political sociology, to build the intellectual foundation for a new Politics of Flourishing;
  • Focuses both on what political changes are needed and on how these might come about;
  • Draws on extensive interview material, to reveal how well-placed individuals can contribute to the change;
  • Includes recommendations for action, based upon the book's analysis and interviews;

Britain faces huge challenges: inequality, public services under constant pressure, climate change - and in the long term, the impacts of automation and artificial intelligence. At the same time, the political and economic elite seem to have reached an impasse: there is a sense that things can only get worse. In Why Capitalists Need Communists, Charles Seaford demonstrates that this need not be, that radical, progressive change is perfectly possible and that the polarisation and nostalgia afflicting us is not inevitable. History shows that it is precisely when the ruling elite loses confidence – which it has – that significant change happens and that new alliances are formed to take over. Tackling the challenges will take planning, redistribution, re-fashioned business and finance, and a new ideology – one which confirms that we really can create the conditions for more people to flourish. But this is not a pipe-dream. This book sets out just how this can come about, based on interviews with over 50 business people, politicians, analysts and activists. Everyone with an interest in the future should read it.


Lecture on the Book

About Charles Seaford

Charles SeafordCharles Seaford is Director of An Economy that Works, an alliance of businesses promoting polices to advance sustainability, social justice and wellbeing, and a consultant to the World Future Council. He was formerly Head of the Centre for Wellbeing at NEF where he led projects on wellbeing, indicators, housing and industrial policy. Before that he was an advisor at the Sustainable Development Commission and an organisational change consultant. He co-founded Prospect magazine, has an MBA from London Business School and a BA from Oxford.

Table of Contents of Why Capitalists Need Communists

Chapter abstracts copied from the book's pages on SpringerLink

Part I - Why We Should Change

  1. Introduction - The chapter begins with an account of the current political and economic orthodoxy and its breakdown. It then moves on to the current left alternatives, and then to the new alternative that is the subject of the book: the politics of flourishing. This provides both ideal—a world in which people flourish—and analysis—there is a mass of evidence as to how to bring this world about. The chapter then summarises the account of change that the book contains, which it contrasts with the thin theories of change common on the left.
  2. Dystopia and Utopia - This chapter describes five big problems, the dystopia that results if don’t solve them, and the utopia that results if we do. The five problems are rising inequality, rising house prices, automation, the rising cost of public services and climate change. The dystopia that results if we don’t solve them is a society divided into three classes: the professionals, the servants and the underclass. In Utopia, by contrast, there is a much less sharp class division. Most people work a four-day week and find rewarding, fulfilling activities for the other three days.

Part II - Why We Can Change

  1. Flourishing and Its Role - Flourishing is a version of the good life. It is not simply a matter of happiness, but of having a good and satisfying relationship with the world around you. It should be an explicit objective of policy in times of change, when traditional objectives are being called into question. Should growth, for example, really be as central to policy as it is now? The chapter then contrasts the ‘flourishing’ approach to the big five problems with those of market liberalism, social democracy and localism. The chapter concludes by summarising some of the evidence relevant for those adopting this approach to the problems.
  2. Change in the Past (1) - Normally, when there is no change, elites share norms and expectations of each other, and are unified in a way that their opponents rarely are. This is the source of their power, suggesting that if they become fragmented, and a more unified counter-elite emerges, their grip can be loosened. Historians’ accounts of revolutions or periods of radical change confirm that this is indeed the pattern: the elite fragments and its dissident members join forces with its opponents. The resulting counter-elite forms an alliance with the people, and this alliance is held together by strong belief in ideas and ideals. These contrast the glorious future with the decaying past.
  3. Change in the Past (2) - This chapter describes the emergence of counter-elites in post-war Britain. Something like counter-elites have emerged twice in Britain since the Second World War. The nucleus of the first counter-elite was the Labour leadership that took over in 1945, but it extended to a much wider group of ‘modernisers’ who saw themselves as ‘counter’ to the traditional ‘Establishment’, and who created a whole set of institutions that shaped post-war life and continue to do so. In the 80s, a second group emerged that saw itself as ‘counter’ to what had become a new ‘Establishment’. It focussed on business and money rather than institutions. Now we need a third counter-elite to emerge.
  4. A Stagnant Society - This chapter describes the decline in elite morale: one of the conditions for change described in Chapters  4 and  5. Many prominent figures in business, finance and politics feel that Britain is stuck: capitalists themselves say that capitalism needs reform, is corrupt. Politics too seems stuck: both main parties are paralysed by Brexit, which is symptomatic of a deeper problem, a failure to respond to the challenges of globalisation with economic policies that protect those ‘left behind’. This failure has sharpened the traditional divides between the liberal and authoritarian wings of both parties. Nor can we rely on the civil service or academia to come to the rescue. Despite this gloom, there are some signs of hope, above all a recognition that change is needed and a willingness to forge the kind of new relationships required for any counter-elite.

Part III - How We Can Change

  1. Planning - This chapter describes the planning and partnership between business and government that is needed to address the big five problems. We need to plan as a response to the opportunities and threats of automation, for example so that there is demand for goods and services that cannot be produced by robots and professionals on their own. The market will not deliver this, so we have to plan. We also have to plan the training that will deliver these skills and we have to plan to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing. Finally, we have to plan to ensure that the technology and infrastructure to address climate change is developed in time. Crucially, all this planning will only succeed if government and business work together. The chapter concludes with a discussion of why planning, as opposed to regulation and incentives, is needed and can work.
  2. Redistribution - The causes of inequality that we can actually deal with include: the decline in demand for mid-level skills (discussed in Chapter  7), the increased importance of intellectual property, political decisions, and immorality in the business world. There is a strong case for changing copyright law, given automation, so that funds are diverted to pay a universal basic income. This will encourage people to work for four days rather than five days a week; social institutions can also help people value their leisure time and so choose to work less. Redistribution is also needed to pay for ever more expensive public services and to pay for climate change mitigation, and the chapter includes a discussion of the mechanisms that will make this politically acceptable. It ends with a summary of how the ideas about flourishing set out in Chapter 3 can guide the planning described in Chapter 7 and help provide legitimacy for the redistribution described in this chapter.
  3. The System's Limits - Most people are cynical about business—and with good reason. Will the partnership advocated in Chapter 7 end up being on business’s own terms and make dystopia even more likely? This chapter sets out the structures that convert pressures from ordinary citizens and from the international financial elite into government and business decisions: it is these that need to be changed if the current system makes the right kind of partnership impossible. The chapter then makes the case for this change. It concludes, though, that attitudes in business may be more flexible than some fear, and that therefore structural change may be enough to catalyse a change in attitudes.
  4. Structural Change - The investment system as it is now in the UK drives business leaders to prioritise the interests of shareholders over those of others. However, it would be perfectly feasible to change institutional investors’ obligations so that they had to take into account the interests of the beneficiaries and small shareholders that they represent in the round, that is as citizens and employees as well as investors. This could be combined with equally feasible changes that reduce the priority given to short term returns; currently these exacerbate the conflict between shareholders and others. These changes in the investment system should be complemented by changes to corporate governance. International and domestic institutions also need to be strengthened and democratised. Democracy itself can also be strengthened, perhaps through processes such as deliberative democracy, or a strengthening and opening up of social movements.
  5. Epilogue: Where Now? - This chapter is a summary of the argument of the book and a call to capitalists and communists to work together.