The Occupy Wall Street movement is a symptom of a growing public disquiet about the workings of market capitalism. As such, Monday night’s decision to close down the camp in New York City is unlikely to check the protests: if anything, the reverse may be true. The two assumptions that public support for free markets is based on – that they deliver more efficient outcomes than the alternatives and that over time they create increased prosperity for society at large – have taken a severe jolt in the past few years.
Capitalism is now approaching a kind of tipping point, away from the winner takes all culture of the past three decades. If left unchecked, public disquiet will sooner or later bring a political response, maybe in the form of much more aggressive regulations and progressive tax systems. These could be at least as damaging as the free market fundamentalism that they would seek to replace.
Much better for business itself to recognise that it has a real economic interest in the well-being of the societies in which it operates; that success or failure is not just determined by earnings per share or profits per partner; and that a successful market economy has to be built on a degree of trust and mutual respect. Capitalism has adapted to changing political and social pressures in the past, and now is time for it to do again.