herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Everyone knows capitalists are predators Joan, but you're the park ranger

Joan Burton has accused the new owners of Clerys of "predator capitalism". The Tanaiste said, in essence, that the store was closed in a manner that gave no thought or consideration to the lives and welfare of the workers.

It's hard to argue with her. But the phase 'predator capitalism' shows an odd attitude to the economic system which dominates our lives. Capitalism is intrinsically predatory. That's how it works.

It is, by definition, survival of the fittest in an environment of eternal competition. Like an economic Serengeti, companies fight for food, attack each other for territory and put their own survival ahead of everyone else.

compete

Sure, you get the occasional exception - a hyena raising a leopard cub, or a company displaying empathy. But those instances are notable for their rarity. The law requires public corporations to compete and to put profit above all else. Boards of directors are legally bound to seek the highest return possible for their shareholders.

The good thing about all this (possibly the only good thing) is how predictable it is. The lions will eat the gazelles, the big companies will chew people up and spit them out.

The responsibility for protecting the little guy falls not on the predators but on the rangers, the likes of Joan Burton and her Government colleagues. It is they who make the laws to control the worst excesses of capitalism.

The State has already been punished badly for forgetting this lesson with the banks in the Boom, when it stood by as they gorged on all they could find. They shouldn't make the same mistake twice.

So yes Joan, you're right. Now go make sure Clerys can't happen again.

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