I'm not a great fan of Labour's current 'responsible capitalism' trope. That's not because I favour an irresponsible capitalism but because what really lies behind much of the Party's thinking is a belief that inequality and high risk practices can be resolved by state intervention and greater regulation. I am extremely sceptical about this not least because, despite its best intentions, state activism can exacerbate these problems as much as solve them. Our economy and society is also far too complex and fast moving these days to be easily shaped by the clunky habits of government.
So while much of Ed Miliband's speech at Google today left me cold, it was refreshing to see him picking up on the theme of micro-business and entrepreneurialism which we have been working on here at the RSA extensively. Here's what he said in a section nicely entitled "An economy made by the many"
The second part of our task is to harness the ability of the internet to transform our economy. In particular making sure that power isn’t concentrated in a few hands, but we allow the smallest firms to flourish. Enabling individual creators to work hand-in-hand both with the public sector and with global companies as they design the next generation of technology. That will only happen if the big firms don’t squeeze out their smaller rivals.
Sometimes markets themselves see off this danger. Like Google did when it gave Android to the world, open source. It prevented the smartphone market being monopolised.
But we can’t rely on the private sector alone. In the public sector the principle should be create more open access. Think of our great public institutions, like the BBC and the British Library, there is more we can do to open them up, through digital public space. Think of the old world where you had to go to the British Library, where you had to go and have a membership card to get in. Then imagine a world where you don’t need to go to the British Library with an exclusive membership card to access to the amazing archives they have.
Helping a whole new generation of small businesses in this country.
As I've suggested elsewhere making that link between the rise of micro-business and the challenge to concentrated economic power is very important and powerful. Forging an understanding of how that link might also address inequality and deprivation seems to me to offer a far better potential route to 'responsible capitalism' than talk of tinkering with tax and heavy handed regulation.
It would be good to see Ed M and other politicians developing these thoughts beyond the over-hyped tech sector into areas such as banking and energy where the state plays a role rather less than friendly to micro-business.