Dr Rosalind Beck is a doctor of Criminology and a Conservative Party member in South Wales.
Traditionally, the Conservative Party has stood for personal responsibility, limited government, free markets and low taxation. Instead of sticking to these values which have served it well, it is now – in its desperate scramble for votes – alienating individuals and businesses with each new knee-jerk populist measure it introduces.
I believe that the best thing the Conservative Government can do in this context is to get back to basics and a good place to start would be for the party to ask all its MPs to read the book just published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, ‘An Introduction to Capitalism,’ by Eamonn Butler.
This provides an excellent summary of how capitalism and a free economy are the way to improved prosperity for all. It challenges the way the term ‘capitalism’ is often disparaged and outlines the need to get the message across that capitalism is an immensely positive development which has enhanced the lives of billions of people over the last two centuries and also holds the key to further improve the lot of humankind across the globe.
Some key messages I took from this book are:
1. Capitalism is the most successful system in history for improving the wealth of nations, including the lives of the poorest.
‘In 1800, as the American economic historian Deirdre McCloskey (1942−) calculates, the average world citizen’s income was between $1 and $5 a day. Now it averages nearly $50 a day. And even that average masks the huge prosperity that the more capitalist countries have achieved. While some of today’s most anti-capitalist countries remain mired in $1−5 a day poverty, average daily earnings in capitalist Switzerland, Australia, Canada and the UK now exceed $90 a day. US earnings average over $100 a day, making modern Americans 20−100 times richer than their ancestors in 1800. Nor has this huge rise in prosperity been confined to a rich few. In the capitalist countries, things that were once luxuries − decent housing, sanitation, lighting and heating, spare clothes, travel, leisure, entertainment, fresh meat − have become accessible to all. Machines now take the hard work out of industrial production and home chores. Health, child survival, longevity and education have all improved markedly.’
This achievement of capitalism should be celebrated and not condemned as though it were something dreadful.
2. The Left should not be allowed, as part of its assault on capitalism, to get away with comparing the reality of capitalism – which has its faults – with some ideal of what a ‘true’ socialist society could theoretically look like in the future.
The message must be clear: there has never been a socialist incarnation that comes close to capitalism for its capacity to do good, despite numerous and invariably disastrous attempts.
3. Capitalism works best if capital goods are privately owned and controlled, whether by individuals or close-knit groups. The Conservatives would do well to remember this and not go down the nationalisation route.
4. Since the risks of failure in business are already high, entrepreneurs will only be further discouraged and deterred by high taxes and onerous regulations which increase their risks and costs even further. When the Conservative Government increases the burden on business and therefore strays into quasi-socialist territory, what does it think this will do to the economy and to its core base?
5. The state must stop favouring large corporations over smaller ones. Competition and new entrants to markets must be encouraged and not thwarted by tax or regulatory favours to large companies from the state. This is not capitalism, but cronyism and in fact, brings capitalism into disrepute. Such corrupt practices may be common in other countries; there is no place for them in the United Kingdom.
6. Constant interference by the Government is highly destructive; as are policies dreamt up by people who have been in their role for a very short time and wrongly think they have more expertise than successful business people and other professionals who have worked in their chosen fields for years.
There are many more fascinating insights which I do not have the space here to outline, but in sum, this book is essential reading for Tory MPs and centre-left Labour MPs for that matter. We need to get away from focusing on who appears more ‘caring’ or who is deemed ‘nastier.’ Outcomes, not motives, are what matter and capitalism is clearly better at creating positive outcomes than socialism is. This message must be proclaimed loudly and widely. Instead, even Conservatives seem to be scared of the word.
If, on the other hand, Conservative MPs and Ministers do not believe in the core conservative values outlined above, then they need to question why they are even in the party. Without core values, and with its current trajectory of lurching from one ill-thought out, populist and contradictory measure to another, the party may soon be headed for the wilderness.