In Praise of Renegades

The economic mainstream has flowed on its capital oriented way with relatively little deviation despite its manifest limitations, errors, omissions and downright falsehoods. And despite the occasional disasters to which it gives rise.

In the middle of last century, J M Keynes corrected some of the more apparent errors of the classical model, but his aim was improvement rather than revolution. He did argue powerfully that ‘the madmen in authority’ should accept the maintenance of full employment as their moral responsibility, but renegade he was not.

Marx was the first true renegade, offering a wholly different model. He accepted that privately owned industry had provided man with wealth beyond the wildest dreams of previous generations, but he also recognised the gross injustice and inequality that flowed from the classic capitalist model. But the various practical implementations of his theory have all failed, as they seem bound to do, because of the unforeseen difficulties of centrally planning an economy, and the fact that socialist collectives are just as corruptible as are capitalist individuals.

Other renegades have been relative lightweights, sniping from the side-lines, making telling points here and there, but not producing a comprehensive alternative perspective. They are nevertheless to be lauded for their refusal to conform to the institutional lies of the dysfunctional orthodoxy.

Thorstein Veblen was a real renegade who poured scorn and ridicule on the wealthy who made extrovert displays of their conspicuous consumption and waste. Also J K Galbraith picked his targets well, pointing out the classical approach had been developed in, and for, a world of poverty but was being applied in an affluent society, where needs and wants were having to be created artificially. He highlighted the unacceptable disparity between private wealth and public squalor, arguing the case for a more enlightened social balance. Many others have raised similarly profound issues, subversive to the mainstream orthodoxy.

Sumantra Ghoshal blamed business school teaching for the perpetuation of classical theory dominance in both the business and political worlds. He blamed the orthodoxy, in its more recent fundamentalist manifestation, for ‘the ruthlessly hard driving, strictly top down, command and control focused, shareholder value obsessed, win at any cost business leader’, who has done so much damage to Anglo-American industry.

But hope springs eternal in the human breast. It is fantastic to have deviant views expressed from the industrial heights, as by Unilever CEO, Paul Polman. He was quoted in a recent posting on this site, proclaiming Unilever’s dedication to the long term, to fairness and sustainability, suggesting to potential investors that if they want a quick buck, they should go elsewhere.

Maybe the renegades will have greater influence in future.

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