The Royal Economic Society - January 2006
Arthur Seldon died on October 11th 2005 at the age of 89.
Together with Sir Anthony Fisher and Ralph Harris he was the co-founder
of the Institute of Economic Affairs in 1957. Born to Jewish parents
in London's East End in May 1916, he was orphaned and adopted at
the age of three. (His parents were victims of the post-war influenza
epidemic). After elementary school he attended Raine's Foundation
School and from there, with the aid of scholarship, he progressed
to the LSE where he graduated in 1937 with fist class honours.
After a spell in the army he returned to LSE as a part-time teacher
and from 1945 to 1949 he combined this with editorial work and some
involvement with the Liberal Party. For the next ten years, he worked
as an economist in industry and it was towards the end of this period
that he became involved with Fisher and Harris in establishing the
IEA where he took the post of (at first part-time) Editorial Director.
It was in this role, which he took on full-time in 1960, that he
was able to influence the climate of public opinion away from the
dominant Keynesian consensus and towards the market optimism of
Hayek and Friedman, both of whom wrote for the IEA. In addition
to his work of commissioning and editing, he made a substantial
contribution of his own through a steady stream of books and articles.
In fact Seldon wrote the first IEA pamphlet in 1957. Interestingly,
in the light of recent events it was titled, Pensions in a Free
Society and argued for personal pnvate pensions.
The IEA, and therefore inevitably Seldon's own work, is often seen
as laying the intellectual foundations for the Thatcher government
that was elected in 1979. And it is true that many IEA publications
provided a rationale for the political shift towards market solutions,
the combating of inflation at whatever short-term cost and the (brief)
preoccupation with the importance of money that characterised Thatcher
administrations. But there were frustrations too, in particular
with Sir Keith Joseph's experiences at the Departments of Trade
and Industry and Education, where Seldon was particularly hopeful
that his enthusiasm for vouchers might at last bear fruit.
Friends (though not Seldon himself) also expressed some dismay when
his work was acknowledged by the award of the CBE in 1983, following
Harris's earlier appointment to a peerage. Although his name will
always be associated with the IEA, Arthur Seldon did much of his
best work after leaving his full-time appointment in 1981. He continued
to write (Capitalism, 1990; The State is Rolling Back, 1994: The
Dilemma of Democracy, 1998; and The Making of the IEA, 2002) and
took on numerous consultancy roles.
Looking back, his achievement (and that of the IEA) may be seen
in the limited hostility toward Thatcherite reforms shown by the
incoming and Labour governments from 1997-on. The presumption that
markets provide the best solution, except in a few well-defined
circumstances, is an established part of the political (and economic)
He leaves a wife, Maijorie Willett (whom he married in 1948) and