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Story | Research
24 October 2019

Capitalism is broken and only people power can fix it, Doha Debates audience told


An international panel of experts exchanged views with a student audience at the latest live event by the QF production

A panel of experts have sparred with a lively student crowd about the future of capitalism at the latest Doha Debates live event, which unfolded in a packed auditorium at Northwestern University in Qatar.

The heated discussion at Education City, led by moderator Ghida Fakhry, saw the Qatar Foundation production bring together an international panel of experts including the author, journalist, and political commentator Anand Giridharadas; the former president of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim; and Jason Hickel, an author and anthropologist at the London School of Economics.

In the court of public opinion, capitalism is on the ropes. But I have seen the transformation my country has experienced.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

Hickel, a committed environmentalist, offered the most radical solution to what he considers to be the unrestrained growth brought about by capitalism. His proposed solution to what he considers to be the crisis of capitalism is to reduce growth to zero in the industrialized world, even going so far as to suggest that public spaces be advertising free in order to discourage consumerism. 

“Economic growth is the single biggest driver to ecological collapse,” said Hickel. “Growth requires increasing levels of extraction of our natural resources. We need to achieve zero carbon emissions in the rich countries by 2030.”

Maybe capitalism is something we should try. What we’ve come to know as capitalism isn’t really capitalism.

Anand Giridharadas

“In the court of public opinion, capitalism is on the ropes,” acknowledged Gurib-Fakim. “But I have seen the transformation my country has experienced.  

“Is it perfect? Hardly. But Africa has created the largest free trade zone since the World Trade Organization was founded in 1995. Now six of the ten fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa.” 

“Maybe capitalism is something we should try,” argued Giridharadas. “What we’ve come to know as capitalism isn’t really capitalism. The plutocrats who control the economy in the US are terrified of competing in a free and fair market. The monopolists in Silicon Valley aren’t confident they could succeed in a free market. The capitalism they practice isn’t capitalism, it’s capture. 

Giridharadas is the author of Winners Take All, which was released in August and sees him argue that the philanthropy of the billionaire elite of the world is simply whitewashing a lack of economic governance. Echoing the populist economic populism of US Democratic presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, he feels that wealth should be redistributed and that ‘people power’ should change the economic ground rules of the world. 

An international panel of experts tackled the topic of capitalism at the latest live event by Doha Debates.

The debate at Qatar Foundation was followed by a vote on the solutions proposed by the panelists.

In the first wave of audience voting, his argument won over the audience, with 54 percent agreeing with his view, while close to 25 percent agreed with Hickel’s argument and the rest siding with Ameenah Gurib-Fakim. In the second round of arguments, the tide changed significantly. 

Hickel spoke further about how rich countries should abandon their models of economic growth but allow poorer countries the ability to catch up. Giridharadas pointed out that, during his travels, he had seen numerous economic models of capitalism and argued that greed could be channeled in the right way, a view the audience differed with sharply. 

One student took Ameenah Gurib-Fakim to task for her country’s off-shore tax haven status, questioning her if it was morally justified for her country to be a pass-through point for non-resident Indians seeking to avoid taxes. The former president countered the question by saying her country had internationally recognized tax treaties with numerous countries. 

In the second round of audience voting, Hickel’s more radical solution to the problems created by capitalism won the day, with close to 45 percent agreeing with him, while 40 percent supported Giridharadas’s argument in favor of wealth redistribution.  

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