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The polling for Tim Montgomerie’s Prosperity for All: Restoring Faith in Capitalism project for Legatum, about which Peter Hoskin wrote on this site yesterday morning, was always bound to beg as many questions as were asked.  Because there are so many capitalist countries and so few socialist ones (indeed, are there really any at all? Discuss), the people in the seven countries that YouGov polled for the project have no systematic alternative to compare it to.  Chinese state capitalism, say, is very different from German model capitalism which is itself different from Anglo-American capitalism, but all are capitalist systems in some form.  Or, rather, they are manifestations of what is – that’s to say, of economic and political arrangements in different places.  Capitalism is not a system at all, in the sense of one that is deliberately designed and built, as one might plan and build a house.

And so it is that the survey finds that majorities in all the countries polled believe that the biggest businesses have cheated and polluted their way to success, and that the poor get poorer in capitalist economies.  But they seem to have no faith in any alternative.  Those polled simultaneously believe that the free enterprise system is better at lifting people out of poverty than government, and there is a widespread recognition that entrepreneurs and business leaders are just as important to society.

At any rate, Tim’s preference appears to be for a kind of Anglo-American capitalism with German characteristics, to adapt an phrase sometimes applies to China.  His manifesto is still rolling out, but -

“It demands that boardroom CEOs don’t routinely pay themselves telephone number salary increases. That they maximise the long-term purpose of their firms – rather than their short-term profits. That they accept that the free trade deals of tomorrow will have to include a greater measure of environmental and social responsibility. That they accept that people with economic power cannot buy a similar level of power within the political sphere through donations and lobbying power.”

Perhaps German characteristics isn’t quite right, but the mix of market economics, “strong community and family life” and social responsibility has a distinctly Christian Democratic flavour.

It may not be apparent now – and there is little British interest anyway – but Christian Democracy, in nineteenth century origin and post-war practice, really was shaped by Christian, or specifically Catholic, social teaching, from Rerum Novarum on.  During the late 1940s and 1950s, German and Italian centre-right politicians especially were searching for an ethical basis for political practice in the aftermath of fascism and naziism.

Tim’s policy programme is consistent with state action to encourage or perhaps even enforce it, at least in some cases. But he would agree that it is society, and not the state, which ultimately sustains ethical frameworks – to use an ugly phrase for a beautiful thing.  Ethics overlaps with Christianity, but it is not to be confused with it.  There are Muslim ethical systems and atheist ethical systems.  On paper, one might be no better or worse than another.  In practice, ours has been Christian, and for many years Anglican-flavoured, until fairly recently.  It might be in firms’ self-interest to cut back CEO salary increases or to “maximise the long-term purpose of their firms”.  But Tim is right to say that self-interest is neither a full explanation of why people act nor a satisfying one.  A question that follows is what ethical basis can sustain the capitalism he favours if not one based on Christian Democracy.

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