Taming capitalism

Winston Churchill famously said that «democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.» Paraphrasing that quote, one could say that free market capitalism is the most socially unjust system, a system mired in scandal and thievery, hunger and war. However, for over half a millennium (which also saw the rise and fall of centralized, socialist economies), the world has not witnessed any other viable economic model. It seems we are all doomed to strive within the contours of this unfair system, searching for policies and programs that can mitigate the failings and highlight the social dimension of the market economy. Like the clouds that bring rain, capitalism draws its strength from competition but also gives birth to cartels, alliances among a small number of businesses that fix prices in the market. These cartels have for decades accumulated vast amounts of wealth by squandering the money of states and consumers. Capitalism, however, is not a monolithic system. It carries a wide range of forces that reflect majority will within a parliamentary democracy system. As a result, capitalist states like the USA – the bastion of capitalism – have introduced draconian laws against cartel tactics and many CEOs have ended up in jail. On Wednesday, the EU fined Siemens AG and another nine multinationals a total of 750 million euros for running a cartel to fix prices for over 16 years. The record EU fine exposed the downside of capitalism but also the democratic forces struggling to tame it. In Greece, cartels tend to be the rule. Few politicians appear fit to take on the oil cartel, for example. Kathimerini’s campaign on milk prices has already yielded some results. Vivartia President Dimitris Daskalopoulos, who is also chief of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), has so far shunned protests at milk prices. But that arrogance may well invite an EU fine soon.

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