Arthur Seldon - Firm belief in self-reliance
"An immense contribution to human enlightenment".
Published: 3rd November 2005
TRIBUTES to a Sevenoaks liberal economist and writer who helped
to shape British politics have been expressed to the Chronicle and
publications around the world.
Arthur Seldon died at his home of 40 years, Thatched Cottage in
Godden Green, on October 11th. He was 89. Arthur was born in 1916
in humble circumstances in the east end of London. His parents were
Russian-Jewish immigrants who died within a week of each other in
the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. When he was two, he was adopted by
a neighbouring childless cobbler and his wife, who had also immigrated
When Arthur was 10, his adoptive father died but his widow continued
to dote on him until she
passed away in 1960. His background helped cultivate his belief
in self-reliance and was to shape his influential free-market attitudes,
which later led him to co-found the Institute of Economic Affairs.
In 1934, he won a scholarship to the London School of Economics,
where he studied classical
liberal economics and graduated with a First in 1937 before working
in a government survey re-
In 1940, he joined the Army, serving in Africa and Italy. Arthur
tutored part-time students in the commerce degree bureau and was
appointed a staff examiner in 1945. From 1946 to 1949 he edited
a retail trade journal, Store, where he met and married the love
of his life, Marjorie, whose uncle invented Daylight Saving Time.
Marjorie was a war widow with a son, Michael, who Arthur adopted
and they had two more sons, Anthony and Peter.
For the next decade, Arthur worked as economic adviser to the brewing
industry and in 1957, he was
introduced to Ralph Harris (now Lord Harris of High Cross), who
was general director of the
newly-formed independent Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), of
which Arthur soon became editorial director.
In a single weekend, he drafted a paper, published a few months'
later as Pensions in a Free Society. It
unfashionably declared: 'The philosophy underlying this paper is
that most of us are now adult enough to be left, or to be helped,
to live our lives according to our own lights... The transition
from independence must be gradual; that is all the more reason for
There followed a remarkable 30-year partnership between Arthur and
Ralph Harris and the pair wrote more than 300 scholarly books and
papers which contributed to the shift away from the economics of
John Maynard Keynes towards the market-centred ideas which were
the basis for Thatcherism.
Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon said this week:
"He was a visionary economist; one of the unsungheroes of
British economic reform. Arthur influenced a whole generation of
politicians. He was a great man."
On his 80th birthday, Lady Thatcher wrote to offer her congratulations,
declaring that Arthur had made an invaluable contribution to the
political and economic map of Britain.
"You always refused to accept Britain's decline and through
your visionary work and rigorous preparation, you inspired much
of our success during the 1980s".
The Australian Government turned to Arthur when it reformed the
country's state and private pensions and Singapore's first Prime
Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, regularly consulted him. Many of his students
went on to become very influential within their own countries.
After Arthur's retirement from directorship of the IEA, he was a
consultant and in 1990 became a founder-president. In 2002 he published
The Making of the lEA and in 2004 to 2005 a collection of his work
and other sources has been published in seven volumes by the Liberty
Arthur's hobbies were cricket and opera along with his popular 'parties
for non-conformists' at his home.
His funeral took place at Tunbridge Wells Crematorium on October
19, where he was remembered for his humour, kindness, intellect
and modesty and making 'an immense contribution to human enlightenment'.
Tributes to Arthur have already been published in several national
broadsheet newspapers and the
New York Times. Arthur leaves behind his wife, three sons and seven
grandchildren. His son, Peter, said:
"He was a classical liberal economist and believed the Conservative
Government of 1992 to 1997 continued to take too large a proportion
of the nation's wealth for itself.
Coming from the east end, he saw the free market as the best way
of maximising choice, and conferring
on people the dignity which goes with being customers not merely
recipients of a state machine distrib-
uting services labelled 'take it or leave it'.
"Despite his worldwide renown, he was always totally modest
and really did treat everybody equally. I am most proud of him for
this very humanity"
A memorial service will take place in London on January 11th and
details can be found on a website
established in his memory at www.arthurseldon.org.