“Capitalism 3.0”

Dani Rodrik says capitalism must be reinvented to build “a better balance between markets and their supporting institutions at the global level”:

Coming soon – Capitalism 3.0, by Dani Rodrik, Commentary, Project Syndicate: …[The] most severe crisis in many decades … has deeply unsettled the balance between markets and states. Where the new balance will be struck is anybody’s guess.

Those who predict capitalism’s demise have to contend with one important historical fact: capitalism has an almost unlimited capacity to reinvent itself. Indeed, its malleability is the reason it has overcome periodic crises over the centuries and outlived critics from Karl Marx on. …

Through the early part of the twentieth century, capitalism was governed by a narrow vision of the public institutions needed to uphold it. … This began to change as societies became more democratic and labour unions and other groups mobilized against capitalism’s perceived abuses. Anti-trust policies were spearheaded in the Unites States. The usefulness of activist monetary and fiscal policies became widely accepted in the aftermath of the Great Depression.

The share of public spending in national income rose rapidly in today’s industrialized countries, from below 10 per cent on average at the end of the nineteenth century … to more than 40 per cent … This “mixed-economy” model was the crowning achievement of the twentieth century. The new balance that it established between state and market set the stage for an unprecedented period of social cohesion, stability and prosperity in the advanced economies that lasted until the mid-1970s.

This model became frayed from the 1980s on, and now appears to have broken down. The reason can be expressed in one word: globalization.

The postwar mixed economy was built for and operated at the level of nation-states, and required keeping the international economy at bay. The Bretton Woods-GATT regime entailed a “shallow” form of international economic integration that implied controls on international capital flows … viewed as crucial for domestic economic management. Countries were required to undertake only limited trade liberalization, with plenty of exceptions for socially sensitive sectors (agriculture, textiles, services). This left them free to build their own versions of national capitalism, as long as they obeyed a few simple international rules. …

Financial globalization … played havoc with the old rules. When Chinese-style capitalism met American-style capitalism, with few safety valves in place, it gave rise to an explosive mix. There were no protective mechanisms to prevent a global liquidity glut from developing, and then, in combination with US regulatory failings, from producing a spectacular housing boom and crash. Nor were there any international roadblocks to prevent the crisis from spreading from its epicentre.

The lesson is not that capitalism is dead. It is that we need to reinvent it for a new century in which the forces of economic globalization are much more powerful than before. … This means imagining a better balance between markets and their supporting institutions at the global level. Sometimes, this will require … strengthening global governance. At other times, it will mean preventing markets from expanding beyond the reach of institutions that must remain national. The right approach will differ across country groupings and among issue areas.

Designing the next capitalism will not be easy. But we do have history on our side: capitalism’s saving grace is that it is almost infinitely malleable.


Originally published at the Economist’s View and reproduced here with the author’s permission.