- Philip Stephens, an associate editor and chief political commentator of the Financial Times
Regular readers will know that I am a big fan (as well as friend) of Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang (right), whose most recentbook, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism should be at the top of any policy wonk’s reading list. Last Saturday, he gave a brilliant keynote at the annual conference of the UK Development Studies Association. Its title, ‘Bringing Production Back into Development’, was a deliberate challenge to those in the room, as he argued that the discussion on development has become like Hamlet without the Prince.
The Prince, according to Ha-Joon is ‘productive capabilities’ – the steady upgrading in skills and industry that has characterized virtually every successful experience of national development, including of course his native Korea. From Adam Smith to the 1980s, the consensus was that such upgrading was the core business of development. No longer.
Every fall at Social Capital Markets (SOCAP), the who’s who of impact investing and social enterprise convene in San Francisco to network and share stories about topics like market-based solutions to poverty, social stock exchanges, and just how much capital is waiting to be deployed to solve the world’s toughest problems. It’s inspiring to be sure, especially the growth in the number and diversity of participation. It’s no longer the sole domain of Ashoka, Skoll, and Schwab who have paved the way for so many others. Today, mainstream Banks from Europe to Asia, fund managers, and wealth advisors are sending a signal that doing good and doing well is a more enlightened form of capitalism.
But behind all the feel-good energy and promises that impact investing will be a $50 billion industry by 2020, there are gaps in the story line and challenges that we must confront as a community. First, there is no clear definition of an impact investor. The industry brings together those who are primarily driven by a financial bottom line (finance first) with those who are seeking to optimize a social return without making a loss (impact first), and finally grant makers who are aiming to improve the efficiency of philanthropic capital (largely foundations). Their world views are different, their expected returns are different, and how they use the same vocabulary (e.g. impact, viability, and sustainability) varies widely.
The source of the current global economic crisis lies deeply in U.S.-style neoliberal capitalism, or contemporary laissez faire. It could not have been triggered in countries with a social market economy, but only in the conditions of the neoliberal Anglo-American model. The intense shock the world experienced could take place only as a result of the coincidence of numerous political, social and economic circumstances (as well as technological ones, since it would not have been possible without the Internet). The overlapping of these conditions in a specific way, which accumulated the crisis-related phenomena and processes, was possible only under a special combination of values, institutions and policies — are typical of U.S.-style neoliberalism.