In defence of neoliberalism

The term “neoliberalism” has for too long been used by opponents of freedom as a term on which to blame all the ills of the world. Angry about poverty? Blame neoliberalism. Angry about rising rents and the broken property market? Blame neoliberalism. Angry about climate change? Blame neoliberalism.

Practically anything in the world that’s perceived as remotely negative is blamed on neoliberalism. Often these strawman tactics are used by the very people who created said problems in the first place: those who see an ever-more active state as the solution – despite that being the fundamental issue.

1828 and the Adam Smith Institute have decided to wipe the slate clean, cut through the noise, and set out what neoliberalism actually means. We wanted to condense it into a few simple values.

At our core, neoliberals are champions of freedom.

We believe that the role of government is to protect and facilitate the individual’s liberty to live their life as they choose, as long as they do not interfere with others doing the same.

We believe that society is built from the individual up, not from the state down.

We are consequentialists. We ask: does this policy increase an individual’s ability to flourish without imposing an unacceptable infringement on their liberty? If so, it is an idea we can support.

Neoliberals support free markets, which have proven the most effective method to deliver prosperity and safeguard individual liberty.

Replacing socialist dogma with free markets and free enterprise has allowed the world to make rapid progress with lifting millions out of a life of misery. The World Bank estimates that the number of people in extreme poverty has fallen from nearly 1.9 billion in 1990 to about 650 million in 2018. Data collected by the World Health Organization indicates that mortality rates for children under the age of five declined by 49 per cent from 1990 to 2013.

While neoliberals support limited, effective redistribution to improve the life chances of the poorest, we are wary that even the best-intentioned safety nets can entangle individuals.

We support other necessary market intervention to address externalities, but we reject the arrogant creed of paternalism.

Neoliberals are optimists. We accept the overwhelming evidence that the world is getting better. There’s never been a better time to be alive, and we fully expect things to get better in the future.

We’re globalists. We believe that the nation-state serves a useful purpose, but we also care about the welfare of all individuals regardless of nationality. As such, we embrace immigration and the benefits it brings.

1828 and the ASI expanded on these values and translated them into policy proposals in our recently released Neoliberal Manifesto.

We want the government to make the most of the enormous benefits that free trade offers the UK once we’re outside of the EU’s customs union, an agenda set out by the secretary of state for international trade, Liz Truss, on this site.

Our approach means making the tax system fairer and more efficient, scrapping restrictive measures like stamp duty. It means embracing opportunities like CANZUK free movement and dropping the obsession with immigration numbers.

It means a progressive, evidence-based approach to drugs and harm reduction; ending and reversing the infringement of lifestyle freedom in recent years; embracing choice in education; championing the noble principle of universal healthcare but at the same time having brave conversations about the failures of the NHS; facilitating the exciting technology and transport of the future; making the case for free-market environmentalism; building the houses we need.

ASI research shows that if we freed up just 3.7 per cent of London’s green belt, we could build a million homes within walking distance to railway stations.

These are all examples of neoliberal values and policies that could be put into practice today. There’s a big market out there for it, and it will only grow in the future.

Too often, however, we are let down by our politicians, who cop out and choose the easy way.

It’s all very well for Boris Johnson, for example, to stand up at Conservative party conference and declare himself a fan of free-market capitalism, but it’s not good enough when that’s contradicted by a policy agenda packed with huge increases in spending, national living wage hikes, and a failure to introduce the radical supply-side reforms that we desperately need.

Nor will we achieve progress by electing politicians who are almost afraid of ideas, choosing instead to promote themselves simply as pragmatists.

If Britain is to thrive in the future, we need our politicians to embrace economic freedom not just in rhetoric but policy too. That’s what we’ve aimed to do with the Neoliberal Manifesto. It doesn’t hold back on hard truths – it sets out our values and then backs them up with serious policy proposals.

The Conservative party needs to start from scratch and carve out its role, ideology and purpose in the 21st century. As neoliberals, we will be at the forefront of that debate arguing for freedom and progress.

Written by Jack Powell

Jack Powell is founder and editor of 1828.
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