19 May 2018

Remaking the case for the market


We kicked off the week with some eye-opening polling from Matt Singh at Number Cruncher Politics. Singh’s research – conducted exclusively for CapX – reveals a deep dissatisfaction with the economic status quo.

Asked whether ordinary working people get their fair share of the nation’s wealth, 61 per cent disagreed. Just 15 per cent agreed. An astonishing 64 per cent said they thought there was one law for the rich and one for the poor. Just 16 per cent disagreed.

Presented with the statement “private enterprise is the best way to solve Britain’s economic problems”, 27 per cent agreed and 21 per cent disagreed. Even among Conservatives, only half of respondents said they thought private enterprise was the answer.

Singh delivered the results of his polling with a warning: “Capitalism’s advocates need to make the case for their system before someone without dire personal ratings makes the case against it.”

Indeed. Conservatives perhaps do not appreciate quite what an asset Jeremy Corbyn really is – yes, he has done better than they thought he could, but there is still (at least judging by the local election results) a ceiling on Corbyn and Corbynism.

What is also needed is to show why people opposed to socialism should vote for capitalism instead.

This week, Michael Gove spoke at the launch of New Blue, a collection of essays by young Conservatives both in the Commons and elsewhere, published by the Centre for Policy Studies (which, full disclosure, set up CapX).

In his speech, Gove went beyond the usual platitudes you have to endure at Westminster drinks parties.

Of younger voters, Gove said that “what they associate with capitalism – and how can they fail to associate with capitalism after the 2008 crash – is an economic system that seems to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, an economic system which is run in the interests of crony capitalists not the creative and the disruptive, and an economic system which, as far as they are concerned, has been rigged in favour of those with power and influence, rather than serving the needs of those excluded and marginalised.”

The challenge for those sticking up for the market is therefore to distinguish free markets from the status quo – to explain that unbridled free markets not only aren’t the cause of all of our economic woes, but in many cases are the cure.

That is a difficult task. Here are three ways to make it easier.

First, put empowerment at the centre of the case for economic freedom. Liberalising reforms of the past worked politically as well as economically because they didn’t just make Britain better off as a whole, but also gave people greater control of their own lives.

Second, spoil for a fight. If the market really is about tearing down the barriers that protect entrenched interests, then prove it. The occasional falling-out with those entrenched interests is no bad thing. In fact, that kind of row is unavoidable if you genuinely want to use the market to improve the lives of the many, not defend the wealth of the few.

Third, make the case for markets about more than economics. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss is one of the few British politicians who realises this. As she has explained on CapX, sticking up for disruptors like Uber, Airbnb and Spotify isn’t about picking the upstarts over another group of companies. It’s about the freedom of consumers.

Far from being a tool with which old white men wield their power, the market has made the world a freer, more open-minded, inclusive and happier place.

For as long as the word has existed, capitalism has been defined by its opponents. They have sold the lie that the market is on the side of Goliath, when, at its best, it stands behind David. But persuading a sceptical audience of that will ultimately be done with deeds, not words.

This article is taken from CapX’s Weekly Briefing email. Sign up here.

Oliver Wiseman is Editor of CapX.