Can capitalism save the world?

3 11 2010

Recently  David Cameron spoke to the CBI and urged the private sector to step into the void which will be created by the government’s devastating cuts to public services.  Leaving aside the fact that the private sector, in the form of the global banking system, caused the financial crisis that necessitated a government bail out and caused the huge hole in the public finances, is there any possibility that capitalism can save us all?

Two things this month.  The Chilean miners, when rescued, were wearing Oakley sunglasses – Oakley Radar to be exact.  The sunglasses that were deemed to be essential to protect the eyes of the men who had spent the previous two months in the dark, were provided by a commercial organisation, free of charge.  This is clearly an act of altruism on the part of the company – one which has garnered them millions of pounds of free publicity as the image of weary miners and that of the President who insisted on wearing the sunglasses as an act of solidarity with the men, was beamed around the world’s news networks,  filled the front page of every newspaper and dominated the internet for days.

What should we make of this?

Product placement has been an integral part of film and TV for decades.  Should we really be surprised that the practice is now filtering into our news networks?  And is it actually something to be encouraged, as it did result in the miners getting the protection they required at zero cost to everyone but Oakley – whose donation of sunglasses cost the company less than £10,000.

And if you have had cause to spend any time on any British High Street this past month you cannot have failed to notice the profusion of pink.  October was breast cancer awareness month with every company, or so it seems, producing pink versions of their products in support of the campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer.

On the face of it, this is a good thing, surely?

I am becoming less convinced.  I am finding myself questioning the nature of this campaign.

The profusion of pink and the proliferation of fun ways to raise money trivialises what is a devastating, nasty illness by showing the smiling faces of fundraisers and their sponsors and further belittles women by presenting images of boobs and bras that  continue to titillate.

All of this pink fundraising also risks taking our attention away from the failure of the state to dedicate sufficient funding to research into cancer prevention and to support women and their families in the treatment and recovery process.

Is it reasonable that companies are able to sell more of their iffy merchandise on the basis that a small portion of the product price will be given to a charity?

Is this David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’?  One where commercial companies boost their sales and support areas of the public service that should really be provided by the state?

I haven’t reached a conclusion with which I am happy but I do believe that it is a debate worth having as our public services face cuts and possible collapse.

Do we really want private companies to step into the gap and if we do,  shouldn’t we first establish guidelines lest we drift towards disneyfication of our public services?