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Are we now inherently suspicious of capitalism?

As so often, I’m caught in two minds this week.

After a great session at our responsible business summit on Monday, with Jeff Swartz of Timberland in inspiring form, I was feeling quite chipper.

If more companies had leaders like him, I felt, we could go further, quicker, towards sustainable capitalism.

Then I read the Financial Times supplement on the future of capitalism, in the FT this week. It’s full of luminaries railing against a system many of them promoted relentlessly (Alan Greenspan and Jack Welch, for example).

And now, without so much as a nod towards their previous cheerleading, many such ‘experts’ are now railing against the poor regulation and institutions which led to the excess of greed which pushed the system over the edge.

It’s depressing when you read people who have failed to take responsibility, failing to acknowledge their roles in the crisis.

Particularly true in the cases of Welch and Greenspan. If they can’t even admit they played a role in the crisis of short-termism, is there any hope for others, I wondered?

After our conference on Monday and Tuesday, I headed over to Bratislava to speak at the Pontis foundation’s CSR conference in this fine, pretty little city, close to Vienna.

Over dinner last night a Polish CSR executive, a thoughtful chap, was telling me that in Poland capitalism has always been regarded with suspicion.

Following, then so are philanthropists, who, he said, are regarded with the attitude that “they must have done something crooked to get that much money”.

Quite how much this says about European attitudes to capitalism I am not sure.

But the two year old crisis we find ourselves in now, where 12 million poor factory workers have lost their jobs (at least), due to ethics failings in business, makes one wonder if everyone, everywhere, has lost faith in the market. I hope not.

With proper regulation, enforcement, and crucially, better and more effective institutions, more can be done to show the benefits of responsible capitalism.

Jeff Swartz is living proof that ethics and responsible business can go hand in hand.

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