The Campaign for Social Science and SAGE Publishing’s jointly sponsored annual lecture for 2021 featured political economist, author and columnist Will Hutton, president of the Academy of Social Sciences. Baroness Minouche Shafik, director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, offered a response.
Hutton’s talk, “It’s institutions stupid: The moralisation of capitalism,” is based on the idea that there is widespread agreement that contemporary capitalism needs a reset. Capitalism is not delivering balanced sustainable growth, the source of its legitimacy, while rewards at the top and bottom are wildly out of kilter; dynastic fortunes are being created ossifying our society while monopoly power, extracting ever more economic rent, is growing more prevalent and drains away economic dynamism. This lecture brought together theory, evidence and practice to point the way to a new capitalism.
“What has been elusive is how to turn these insights into policy,” Hutton explained in a preview. “I argue that our economic and social institutions, including the capitalist firm, should be the focus for action. They need to be constitutionally organized so that ethics of fairness, reciprocity and purpose are embedded in their very warp and weft. Stakeholder firms pursuing purpose, scale-up eco-systems, institutional shareholders that support purposeful companies, organizations diffusing technology, social contracts, social housing and partnership trade unions do not emerge spontaneously from markets: they have to be self-consciously created and designed into our economic and social institutions. Equally unearned good and bad luck that so disfigure life chances need to be designed out as far as possible of tax, welfare and societal structures.”
While he’s best known as a columnist for The Observer (where he had been editor-in-chief for four years) and as one of Britain’s leading economics commentators, Hutton retired last year after nine years as principal of Oxford University’s Hertford College. He has written widely and among his many books are The Revolution That Never Was (1986), The State We’re In (1995), The World We’re In (2000), Them and Us (2011), and How Good We Can Be (2015). Hutton’s most recent book, written with Andrew Adonis, is 2018’s Saving Britain: How We Can Prosper in a New European Future.
Hutton served as a rapporteur for the European Union’s Kok Commission, which looked at growth and employment, in 2004. He has chaired four think tanks: the Employment Policy Institute, the Work Foundation, the Big Innovation Centre and the Purposeful Company. He succeeded Roger Goodman as president of the Academy of Social Sciences in June.