January 10, 2006


The man who took on socialism - and won (Simon Heffer, 11/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)

[Arthur] Seldon died last autumn, 48 years after he, Ralph Harris and Antony Fisher founded the Institute of Economic Affairs as a reaction against the socialist, welfarist climate prevailing across British politics. Seldon and Lord Harris, as the theoretical economists, then did more to ensure that Britain could be rescued from its post-war economic decline than almost anyone else. [...]

In 1957 Britain was sunk in the Keynesian post-war consensus, with a deal permanently being brokered between interfering and careless government, weak and craven management and aggressive and manipulative trade unions. As a national economy, we were being left far behind by nations we had defeated in the war, and far behind America.

Seldon, Harris and Fisher put their heads above the corporatist parapet. They argued, for the first time since the liberal heyday of the world before 1914, that the state's role in the lives of individuals should be limited to what was strictly necessary. Growth would best be achieved by encouraging investment in the productive sectors of the economy, which is what individuals when allowed to exercise their free will in the matter tended to do, rather than in the unproductive sectors favoured by the state when it used, or misused, public money.

Furthermore, the productive sectors should be as unregulated as possible, to help maximise profits and aid competition. Essential to this was a regime of low taxes and, therefore, low state spending.

The creed was capitalism, a concept about which Seldon wrote his most distinguished book in 1990, and which had been under sustained assault for much of the 20th century. Seldon's work begins with this typically unapologetic statement: "Capitalism requires not defence but celebration. Its achievement in creating high and rising living standards for the masses without sacrificing personal liberty speaks for itself. Only the deaf will not hear and the blind will not see."

If anything, Seldon understated his point. Not only did capitalism raise living standards without sacrifice of personal liberty: it also guaranteed it. Capitalism has nothing to do with its caricature of oppressed workers enslaved to big bosses and exploited by them. Markets, which are the metaphysical temples in which the creed is practised, bring together buyers and sellers of goods and labour, and allow them the freedom to exercise their will about what, or what not, to buy and sell.

One must hold a special place in memory for the guys who kept the light burning in darkest days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 10, 2006 10:57 PM

The way I read it, Hari predicted Arthur. What is your beef with the Foundation Series?

Posted by: Bruno at January 11, 2006 2:27 AM