Amos Safo’s thoughts …Capitalism with a conscience?


During the acclamation of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia as the ruling party’s candidates for the election 2020, Ex-President Kufuor’s use of the phrase “capitalism with conscience”, caught my attention.

Ex-President Kufour noted that his party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) is not a socialist party, but it practices “capitalism with conscience.” In his view, “Capitalism with conscience” has a human face, “providing safety nets that ensure that no one falls under.” The ex-president stressed that there cannot be sustainable development without wealth. “How do you get wealth without investment”, he asked; ending that without investment there will not be jobs for the youth.

Capitalism and socialism

How has capitalism faired in Africa? Is this development model suitable for African social and cultural formations? At independence, many African governments were socialism, and communism inclined, claiming the divine right to provide everything for the people; including the right to “think’ in some cases. Those were the eras of state control of the development agenda, excluding the individuals or groups who do not subscribe the political ideology of the ruling party or military junta.

Industrial capitalism

It is has been established that the modern state or government has an important role to play in economic development, rather than acting as a structural obstacle to development. In western context the state has the capacity to enable development through private sector participation in the development process. This is an aspect of ‘capitalism’ that tended to focus on private-selector led development, as against public sector led development. The western concept of private sector includes individuals, as well as foreign investors who are encouraged by the state to enter joint-ventures with both state-led or private enterprises. In fact, many critics of industrial capitalism point at the extreme drive for profits to the exclusion of vulnerable groups, and the failure of the state (government) to provide for their needs.

The rise of industrial capitalism as a global system from the first half of the 19th century provides a real example of a process of social change, which has built on itself and brought with it a new kind of livelihoods and human beings. According to Coven and Shenton, the era of industrial capitalism also brought the period of modern development. They argued that the concept of development was invented to control the social disruptions caused by the unchecked “development of capitalism.”

Compassionate Conservatism

In the ensuing years, even the most extreme capitalist systems such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America have redefined capitalism to give it a new meaning and new face. In this context conservatism represents capitalism and private sector led economics.  In the UK this gained momentum when David Cameron was elected as Conservative Party leader. Cameron and his allies sought to portray the Conservative Party as different from how it had been widely perceived under his immediate predecessors. They suggested that on a variety of topics, in relation to social issues, such as inequality, social mobility and family structure, the Conservative Party would take a different approach. In the mid-2000s, the Conservative party conducted a study to find ways to bridge the gap between the minority and majority. One  key recommendation of the study was that the quota system should be used to admit students from less privileged families to UK’s top universities; such as Oxford and Cambridge. This was based on the fact that an Oxford or Cambridge certificate guarantees the opportunity for a job faster than any other certificate. In order to bridge the social and economic gaps, admission to top universities should be equitable.  Critics, however, describe Compassionate Conservatism as an electoral tool, which was useful in the attempt by Cameron and others to ‘detoxify’ the Conservative Party, while also helping, both in opposition and in government. It has also been suggested that compassionate Conservativism was effectively overwhelmed by the financial crisis, which pushed such ideas off the agenda.

Compassionate Conservatism in USA

In the United States of America, Compassionate Conservatism gained prominence in the era of President George W. Bush. In his first inaugural address, the President called on Americans to become citizens, not spectators. Since that time the President has used compassionate conservatism as his governing philosophy as it moved to tackle some of society’s toughest problem; such as educating our children, fighting poverty at home, and helping poor countries around the globe. “It is compassionate to actively help our citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on accountability and results. This approach of hope and optimism will make a real difference in people’s lives”, President Bush said at launching of the document in California in 2002.

The Bush Administration rejected the old argument of “big government” vs. “indifferent government.” In its new orientation, government should be focused, effective and close to the people — a government that does a few things and does them well. “We are using an active government to promote self-government. The truest kind of compassion doesn’t only come from more government spending, but from helping citizens build lives of their own. The aim of this philosophy is not to spend less money, or to spend more money, but to spend only on what works. We do not believe in a sink-or-swim society. The policies of our government must heed the universal call of all faiths to love our neighbors as we would want to be loved ourselves. We are using an active government to promote self-government. It is compassionate to actively help our citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on accountability and results.”

The Bush Administration held that the truest kind of compassion doesn’t only come from more government spending, but from helping citizens build lives of their own. The measure of compassion is more than good intentions — it is good results. Sympathy is not enough — we need solutions. The President’s vision of compassionate conservatism effectively tackles some of society’s toughest assignments — educating our children, fighting poverty at home and aiding poor countries around the world.



Educating our Children

Strangely, the Bush Administration emphasized that Compassionate conservatism places great hope and confidence in public education. Public schools are America’s great hope and making them work for every child is America’s great duty. The Administration’s new education reform is compassionate because it requires schools to meet new, high standards of performance in reading and math. The new reforms also give local schools and teachers the freedom, resources and training to meet their needs. It is compassionate to make sure that no child is left behind. This new direction came to many people as a surprise, given that America was and is all about the private sector. As part of the Structural Adjustment Programme in Ghana in the 1990s state funding of public education reduced, giving rise to private schools. The current government’s focus on free education can be seen as in tandem with the Bush Administration’s philosophy.

Fighting Poverty at Home

Compassionate conservatism offers a new vision for fighting poverty in America. For many Americans, welfare once was a static and destructive way of life. In 1996 welfare was reformed to include work and time limits and since that time America’s welfare rolls have been cut by more than half. More importantly, many lives have been drastically improved. Millions of Americans once on welfare are finding that a job is more than a source of income — it is also a source of dignity. By encouraging work, we practice compassion. Government should promote the work of charities, community groups and faith-based institutions. Government should view Americans who work in faith-based charities as partners, not as rivals. When it comes to providing resources the government should not discriminate against these groups that often inspire life-changing faith in a way that government never should. If America is rethinking of new ways to fighting poverty and promoting social integration, Ghana needs that philosophy more

Helping Poor Countries

Nearly half of the world’s people live on less than two dollars a day. When we help them, we show our compassion, our values, and our belief in universal human dignity. Yet the old way of pouring vast amounts of money into development aid without any concern for results has failed — often leaving behind more misery, poverty and corruption.

America is offering a new compact for global development. Greater aid contributions from America must be linked to greater responsibility from developing nations. The President has proposed a 50% increase in core development assistance over the next three budget years to be placed in a new Millennium Challenge Account — money that can only be spent on nations that root out corruption, open their markets, respect human rights, and adhere to the rule of law. It is compassionate to increase our international aid. It is conservative to require the hard reforms that lead to prosperity and independence. In fact, the Bush Administration’s introduction of the “Compact” provided  millions of dollars in support for Ghana and other poor countries to retool critical sectors of their economies.  Sadly, the Trump Administration have overturned whatever compassionate conservatism stood for.

One lesson that stands out in the implementation of  “Capitalism with conscience” or “Compassionate Conservatism”  is that no state (government) can cede its core responsibility of promoting the welfare of the people into the domain of the private sector. In Ghana, we must be wary of the rise of the private interest state; where the state focuses all resources and efforts at addressing the needs the few privileged in society.

The NPP’s practice of “capitalism with conscience”, as elucidated by Ex-President Kufuor resonates with the UK and U.S.A  attempts at reordering society through state intervention. From the UK and U.S.A. examples there is arguably no more extreme capitalism anywhere. One question remains, is socialism still relevant?



African Business (2020) “Capitalism with a Conscience.”

Bochel, H. (2016) “Whatever happened to compassionate capitalism. London School of Economics.”

 Coven, M.P & Shenton R. W. (1996) Doctrines of Development, Routledge, London.  

Teles, S.M  (2009) The Eternal Return of Compassionate Conservatism. Johns Hopkins University.

 (***The writer is a Development and Communications Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate.  All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organization(s). (Email: [email protected] Mobile: 0202642504/0243327586

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