Will Hutton rounded off an open lecture last night with a prediction that pleased most of the room. Some old white men, mainly from the sponsoring organisation, were not so amused or heartened by the prediction.
Following more disappointing lectures by Brendan Barber and John Birt, Will Hutton really lived up to the promise of the ‘Burning Issues’ lecture series. For a start, it was clear that he actually cared about the subject of his talk – ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ capitalism. Once warned up, he got into his stride, launching into a sweeping dismissal of recent and current economic policies. While much of what he had to say was doom and gloom (debt, stagnation, managed inflation as the only way out), he did also point to a future. He presented the outline of a case for an innovation eco-system (encourage ideas and research, back the best, scale up and socialise elements of the risk) embedded in a European-wide market, looking to the next generation of ‘general purpose technologies’ and supproted by a reformed welfare system (he pointed to Denmark for ideas). Perhaps this is where his background in economics raises some questions. He was clearly of the view that zero growth solutions are out of the question. We will always strive to innovate and develop, he suggested. So, deep down, while aspects of technology and innovation have got us into this unsustainable mess, they will also get us out, much as ‘good’ capitalism can rescue us too.
Right or wrong, at least it was coherent and he sounded like he believed it.