MORE than 75 people turned out to hear Lord Sainsbury’s talk yesterday at the lunchtime event on Day 11 of the Swindon Festival of Literature.
Lord Sainsbury’s new book, Progressive Capitalism, offers a new way to approach economics than the one that led to the financial crisis in 2008.
The financial crisis led 99 per cent of economists to find the current popular political philosophy – neoliberalism – wanting, but the big question remains as to what it should be replaced with.
Lord Sainsbury’s suggestion is progressive capitalism – the emergence of an ‘enabling state’ that can uphold the public interest and encourage sustainable wealth to accumulate.
This is a very different sort of capitalism to the ‘laissez-faire’ free from interference approach the neoliberal policies of the past few Governments have been following. Rather, says the Labour Party life peer, “The state must be involved.”
One way the state ought to be more involved, according to Lord Sainsbury, is by strengthening the career advice services in schools. For the former chairman of supermarket giant Sainbury’s, it is an “absolute scandal” that youth unemployment rates remain so high and yet huge numbers of technical positions remain unoccupied.
The second part of the talk was a question-and-answer session from the audience. One question asked about progressive capitalism and the environment. Another question asked how Lord Sainsbury personally came to be involved in business and develop his customer-focused values.
“The cause of course is that I joined my family business,” said the peer, who was made a life peer as David John Sainsbury, Baron Sainsbury of Turville, in 1997. “There had been three previous generations who had been clear about what they wanted to do.”
He went on to explain how the business started with his great-grandparents John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury, and how his great-grandmother had been a formidable woman.
“Her aim was to have the best butter in London and be able to sell it at a price everybody could pay,” he said. Her success contributed to the decision to use the Sainsbury’s marketing slogan: ‘Good food costs less at Sainsbury’s’.
He ended his talk by referring to a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, which he had seen printed at the front of a book on the financial crisis: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together; and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
Whether we are now entering an age of progressive capitalism remains to be seen.