This is the transcript of a speech delivered by Douglas Carswell. It took place at the UK edition of the Free Market Road Show 2019 hosted by 1828 and the Austrian Economics Center.
I think that 1828 is an absolutely superb initiative, and I have to say it’s probably far more important than anyone or anything happening in the House of Commons right now.
Making sure that we make the arguments for free trade afresh to a new generation is going to have an enormous influence, whether we succeed or fail, and will have a far greater bearing on the future direction and happiness of this country than anything that our MPs might come up with this week or the next.
Because Europe is at a crossroads. But before we decide which way we’re going to head as a continent, as a people, and as a culture, we need to step back and ask ourselves a couple of questions as to how we got here. And I don’t mean stepping back a few decades. We need to step a few centuries and ask ourselves a fundamental question: beyond Brexit and beyond banking crises, why was it that Europe, basically just an obscure extension of the Eurasian landmass, dominated world affairs for the best part of the last 500 years?
Why was Europe the home of the Renaissance, why was it that the Dutch in the 16th century had the first industrial revolution, followed a century or two later by the English? Why was Europe the home of the scientific revolution? Why was it that the first societies in the world that managed to achieve a sustained increase in per capita income were European? Why was it that the first sustained fall in infant mortality was achieved by European societies? Why was it that the great artistic and cultural achievements of the world (I would say the pinnacle achievements of humankind) were largely European?
Now, if you believe a lot of popular history, with books written by people like Jared Diamond, you believe that the elevation of European societies was due to external factors like the environment, or the exploitation of other peoples. I don’t think this is true. The reason that Europe has dominated human affairs is that, unlike China, India, or the Ottomans, Europe had no central authority capable of stifling innovation.
It was, to put it philosophically, Hayekian. It was in Europe that spontaneous order was able to emerge: there was no top-down design. Now there were plenty of Europeans who tried to create a top-down or Cartesian design. The papacy or post-Jacobean France are good examples.
But Europe remained essentially Hayekian until the EU arrived. And I would argue that the EU replaces the Hayekian nature of European order and is a betrayal of Europe’s exceptionalism. It shoots Europe in the foot. Look at the EU’s attempts to order Europe by design.
It’s got a currency, created by experts, that has led to nothing but poverty and debt. It has attempted to organise trade by design, creating a common market which is a permission-based system. Since 1992, Europe’s trade has grown much more slowly than the rest of the world.
It creates uniform rules: a 35-hour working week, data rules, rules on GDPR. The belief that someone in Brussels knows what data can and cannot do in the future has created rules that have stifled innovation and experimentation. It’s killing Europe and its innovation. It’s a disaster.
The irony is that the very moment that the European continent is becoming more Cartesian, the rest of the world is going Hayekian. Those of you who are American know that you went Hayekian in 1776. China started in the 1980s and is now largely an economically free state. India has gone Hayekian since the 1990s. The world is embracing spontaneous order.
For generations, the mantra of our ruling elites in every European country was that European integration was key to the strength and success and prosperity of the continent. Absolute twaddle. In fact, integration is the cause of Eurosclerosis.
Since 2009, the output of China has grown by 139 per cent, of India by 96 per cent, even the US by a respectful 34 per cent. The output of the Eurozone since 2009? Down by two per cent. Not a single eurozone university is now in the top 20. This is a continent that virtually invented the concept of the university.
Where are Europe’s Googles? Where are their Apples or Amazons? The idea that somehow Euro regulations are going to set the initiative for the digital world economy is absurd.
What should Europe do about this? They need to overthrow their Cartesian elites and their deference to groups of experts who supposedly know how to organise their affairs.
They need a system of free trade which gives Europeans the right to buy and sell what they like. They need a system of basic freedoms. You should have an absolute freedom on the European continent to work where you like: not freedom of movement, but the freedom to work.
As for the rest of the European architecture and grand construction, I don’t think we need it.