Will Hutton and Britishness

Will has a stab at defining his own version of Britishness today.

It\’s something along the lines of we should have foreign investment in British companies, yes, but not too much. The "too" presumably being defined by Will himself.

He actually misses one rather important point.

I think this matters. I am not a little Englander protectionist who wants to prevent the country from being \’open for business\’. I believe in free trade in goods and services along with economic openness. Foreign investment and competition are part of the genius of markets. It\’s just that I want some of the companies in these markets to be British rather than part of an other country\’s companies and dreams.

If this were the result of some competitive weakness, it would be understandable, if worrying. But it is not. It is happening because we organise our ownership system so that companies are permanently up for sale.

Those companies do not belong to "Britain" or to "us" or "our nation". They belong to whoever actually owns them, the shareholders. The argument that you cannot sell what you own to Johnny Foreigner is quite simply a restatement of the one that you do not in fact own your own property. That what is yours no longer is, rather, it belongs to "the nation" and should be disposed of as Will Hutton (for of course Kip\’s Law states that all those advocating planning see themselves as the planner) thinks best.

You can indeed construct arguments that show (with varying degrees of success) that foreign ownership of the means of production is in some manner detrimental to the overall performance of the economy, just as you can construct (rather more robustly) arguments to show that the influx of foreign capital is beneficial to that performance.

But picking over that point is an irrelevance. A free society demands that you may dispose of your property as you wish. If you are not allowed to do so then we\’re no longer in a free society. Stating that I may sell my Centrica shares (not that I own any you understand) to Will Hutton\’s pension fund but not to Ivan Ivanovitch\’s is a confiscation of my property.

And such economic nationalists can fuck off quite frankly.

5 thoughts on “Will Hutton and Britishness”

  1. That’s all fine until you put essential public infrastructure (or defence) into private companies, so that you no longer have any control over economic levers. Theoretically EDF could decide to close down a big chunk of the UK power industry, just as Ford can close down a car plant. It’s no use saying “that’s unthinkable”, as it is simply a logical and legally valid extension of the ownership of a UK essential service being in the hands of a private French company. So where do you stop ? How badly do you allow private industry to behave?

  2. The foreign companies who have invested in Britain need a return – therefore they have a vested interest in ensuring that their British-based operations are a success. They are not “stealing” our assets, anymore than BP, Shell or any number of British companies with overseas interests are stealing other countries assets. Why would EDF close down their operations in the UK? To do so would be a criminal waste of their own resources. If overseas expertise and investment is needed to prevent the lights going out in Britain, then so be it.

  3. …and if EDF did decide to close down the UK generating system (say, if we went to war with France) then the state would simply occupy its power stations.

  4. “That’s all fine until you put essential public infrastructure (or defence) into private companies, so that you no longer have any control over economic levers”

    Statist nonsense. That comment begs the question of what these “economic levers” are in the first place.

    As for defence, the primary focus of government is to ensure that a state can defend itself. If necessary, such a state may have to have contracts with manufacturers of guns, ships or aircraft, both here and abroad; the exact pattern does not really matter.

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