Let me deal with the last first. One of the things I talked about – indeed it was a major theme of what I said – was that economics abounds with faith systems, and neoliberalism represents this more than most economic theory. As I said:
There are those who do have complete faith in markets as if they are revealed truth. They do believe that the government plays the role of the devil.
The former is, of course, a salvation belief and the latter a damnation belief represented by the view, as I put it, that any form of regulation by government, and anything other than that minimal taxation required to enforce the laws of private property would so impede the markets that the salvation they might offer could not be delivered here on earth.
Now the question is not whether this is right or wrong – my position on that is, I am sure, clear – but how this belief system which dominates almost all political discourse in the UK can be challenged.
And to do that it has to be understood that this belief system is not based on fact – it is based on dogma and quite remarkable claims that are unconnected to the human condition and our innate sense of community. We are not maximisers. We do not put self interest first on all occasions, although clearly we must on some. We do share. We are compassionate. We quite clearly need not just the neighbour we know and who we recognise as our peer, but also all those who make up the community in which we live. The rich can only be rich because there are others who are not, to out it bluntly.
And that belief system, false as it is, was propagated. It started with the Mont Pelerin Society and has been spread through all the think tanks it has spawned (call them churches if you like), the most notable of which in the UK is the Institute of Economic Affairs.
Now as you know I work sometimes for the Adam Smith Institute, am a Senior Fellow there. And one of the head honchos there is Eamonn Butler who is a fully paid up and card carrying member of the Mont Pelerin society.
And what The Murphmeister is saying are our views is not what our views actually are. Indeed, I’ve had extensive discussion with Eamonn concerning climate change. Our discussion centered around what actions government should take, not whether there needed to be action or not.
For we are absolutely certain that there are certain things that need to be done, certain things that have to be done that only government can do. Government is therefore more than just a necessary evil, it’s a highly desirable component of anything even remotely resembling a functioning or desirable society.
Or perhaps to give a less controversial example. That of copyrights and patents. We both (all of the ASI does in fact, I’m sure the IEA does and so on as well) agree that these are necessary and desirable. No, not because we are rabid free marketeers, insisting that government is the work of the very devil. But because we agree that pure free markets, markets all the time and nothing but markets will not deal well with the positive externalities of the public goods of invention and innovation. Therefore there has to be a governmental oar stuck into that free market in order to improve it.
As we also agree that the negative externalities of things like pollution need to be dealt with. We are, after all, the people who championed the London Congestion Charge for a couple of decades.
We support both, the patents and the congestion charge, precisely because we agree that markets are not perfect and that at times they require the firm hand of government in order to be improved.
The only disagreement we actually have with those further to the left of us on this point is over what are those things that must be done and what are those things that must be done that can only be done with the firm hand of government? We tend to believe that there are fewer of such than many other people. And that comes not from some religious devotion to voluntary cooperation but rather from a clear and rational appreciation of when that isn’t enough. Unlike those a great deal further to the left of us who would, in a very Catholic fashion, gladly just hand everything up to the priestly caste who are the State.
And if you want to cast us as a religious sect then the closest approximation to us would be a disputatious a low church protestant one. Insistent that cooperation and community on the small scale will see us through most of the time, unlike the High Anglicans to our left who insist that there must be one national church, or ultramontaines insisting one international.
Or to leave such tortured religious analogies to one side: our disagreement isn’t about whether the State it’s about what the State.