The Commonwealth can save not only Britain, but humanity itself...

Raleigh Addington
Raleigh Addington
editor at Chartwell Speakers

Not long ago in these pages we discussed how Whitehall sees the Commonwealth as key if Britain is to withstand the challenges of a globalising world.

For Chandran Nair, the Commonwealth also has a crucial significance, not only for Britain, but for the very sustainability of capitalism and humanity itself. After seeing our original post, he very kindly sent through an article he had written to this effect in August 2011. His main arguments are as follows:

  • Western consumption-led capitalist development is fundamentally flawed. It emphasises the importance of industry and manufacturing, and relies on under-pricing the resources that are required to support the rapid growth of these sectors.
  • As a result, resources are not managed sustainably, leading to a resource shortage even as consumption increases.
  • If the planet’s burgeoning population consumes at the same level as America, the planets natural resources will simply run out. India and China alone have a combined population of 3.5 billion. Therefore, if we are to avoid extreme poverty on a mass-scale, things have to change.
  • We need to let go of the comforting yet false belief that technological development and free markets will be able to solve the problem of resource shortage.
  • Instead, we need to create a radical new form of capitalism, where:
  1. All economic activity is made subservient to the sustainable use of resources
  2. Resources are no longer under-priced. The externalities created by the use of resources must be factored into their market cost
  3. The welfare of the collective group, not the right of individual to consume and do as s/he pleases, must be paramount. This would involve a cap, or even outright ban, on the use of certain resources
  • The state must be at the centre of implementing these policies.
  • This will be very difficult politically, especially in the rich, mature democracies.
  • However, the Commonwealth countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, are well-placed to lead this reform. They have experienced the damage done to their environments by consumption-led capitalism, which has left others rich and themselves poor. Moreover, their political systems are still relatively young, and can still be oriented around the new capitalist model.

So, highly controversial, but nonetheless gripping, stuff. The completely opposite view, in fact, of Chartwell exclusive speaker Matt Ridley. It would be great to put the two of them in a room together…!

Chandran Nair is the founder and CEO of the Global Institute For Tomorrow (GIFT). He speaks regularly at forums all around the world.