Statistics have a habit of sharpening the mind. While there has been much discussion in recent years on the crisis in capitalism, the frustration with the status quo and fear of an ever-more divided society, it can be hard to find the cold, hard data to point to.
One statistic has really leaped from the page of the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer – a staggering 53% of the British public now believe that capitalism does more harm than good. Not just that the system is broken, failing or somehow unfair – but that the profit motive is an actively-malevolent force.
How can our institutions, and in particular, business respond to this? How can a chief executive begin to reconcile this notion, when it’s the fundamental principle that our business system has been built on since the 20th century? And if people don’t want capitalism, what is it that they want instead?
From the perspective of the typical CEO, it is clear that communism was tried and failed. It is capitalism that has raised the most people out of poverty, whether you look to the progress that has taken place in China, sub-Saharan Africa or, indeed, the UK.
Yet, much like common sense, accepted wisdom is an increasingly scarce commodity. Extreme opinions are the route to popularity in the age of social media - rather than right answers.
In this context, business is caught by competing forces of the modern age – between the rock of a relentless need to grow economies in order to create the returns needed to support an ageing, growing population; and the hard place of a society that increasingly wants to feel connected to the companies with whom they deal.
We all fear what we do not understand. When our economy was driven by shipyards and coal mines, it was easy to picture the drivers of growth on the 6 o’clock news. As every pointless outside broadcast shot in front of the London Stock Exchange can testify, our services-led, technology-driven economy is a harder concept to grasp.
Technology is a big component. Some 60% of those surveyed worry that the pace of technological change is too fast and 72% think government will be too slow off the mark in understanding the change so as to do anything about it.
Three-quarters of Britons are worried about losing their job thanks to forces such as the gig economy, a looming recession, outdated skills, cheaper immigrant labour – or automation.
Most of us work in the private sector. Most of us are incentivised by profit, which is why capitalism has been such a successful project.
This is where it gets interesting – whilst the British public distrust business as an institution, they trust the business they work for.
Some 77% of our respondents say they trust their employer – more than they trust government, NGOs, the media or anyone else.
In an uncertain world, an employer that pays wages on time, offers a pension, sick pay, holidays and all the other basic necessities is a source of security.
Asked what they look for in an ideal employer, 62% say they want the opportunity to shape the future of the company in a meaningful way, with 64% saying, specifically, that they wish to influence strategy. And 62% say they want to work for an organisation with a greater sense of purpose.
In other words, people want to feel connected. They want to see business move away from focusing on shareholders, and place greater importance on employees, customers and the community in which it operates. And they want to know the organisation they work for; what it stands for, what it believes in and the people who run it.