Those of a leftist, statist disposition are frequently critical of the so-called “neo-liberal consensus”, which seems, in their minds, to be the root cause of virtually every human and societal ill. This has always puzzled me. Not because statists are violently opposed to neo-liberalism, but because they seem able to say, with a straight face, that neo-liberalism is the consensus.
As a convinced neo-liberal myself, who naturally favours a dramatic transfer of power and money away from politicians, bureaucrats and taxpayer-funded experts and to individual private citizens, I have searched for such a consensus and can’t find it anywhere.
In the UK, the state now accounts for close to 50% of all spending. The last Labour administration probably managed to introduce, in thirteen years, more regulations than all the governments since the early1800s combined.
The present coalition government’s rather minimalist efforts in trimming our colossal budget deficit are criticised as “savage cuts”. In a world governed by a temperate, rational approach to public finances, reductions in spending of about 1% a year would be opposed by virtually no one, other than for amounting to too feeble an effort to reign in the obese state. George Osborne will actually add about £600bn to the national debt over the course of this Parliament, making him the most Keynesian chancellor in Britain’s peacetime history. If this is a policy of austerity, one dreads to think what largesse would look like.
Most astonishingly of all, the catastrophic banking crash of 2008 is now widely seen as a failure of unregulated, rampant, Wild West capitalism. In fact, of course, Britain’s financial services are amongst the most regulated sectors of our economy and were given an enormous taxpayer-funded bailout. That is a 1970s socialist model of economic organisation, not an example of unbridled, free market capitalism.
If you are a lover of liberty and want to start building a consensus for greater individual freedom, rather than continually hearing the failures of social democracy blamed on a free market consensus that doesn’t (yet) exist, you need to make your way to Bournemouth next month to take part in the inaugural Freedom Festival.
Organised by the Freedom Association and supported by a wide range of like-minded organisations, including my own, the IEA, this gathering promises to help build a movement to spread the case for free markets and free people and to fightback against the “statist consensus” which has caused such damage to our economy and extends into virtually every area of our lives.
Already, there are encouraging signs that the younger generation are keener on a limited, scaled down state than their parents. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given that young people in today’s Britain will foot the bill for the egregious overspending of their parents. The UK’s national debt – which, in truth, runs to about £5trn or £6trn – is not just economically dangerous, it is morally unacceptable. Tellingly, those who express severe concern about the environmental legacy we might leave our children and grandchildren often seem indifferent or oblivious to the legacy of debt we will pass down the generations.
The moral and practical case for capitalism needs honing, reiterating and reframing. If you want to contribute to that vital challenge, I look forward to seeing you in Bournemouth in March.