An ideas man before his time
Published: 14th October
NOTHING beats the power of an idea on the march. One such idea marched
in on a fighter pilot when he read Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom,
between sorties. He survived to become a chicken farmer and, when
his hens laid golden eggs, could afford to promote the heretical notion
that people, left to themselves, might know better than governments.
He hired a scholarship boy from the East End who had survived the
London School of Economics and was earning his keep by advising brewers.
This was Arthur Seldon, who died this week. The chicken farmer was
Antony Fisher. They started the Institute of Economic Affairs, with
Seldon as its editorial director. His very first pamphlet, on pensions,
argued that we could and should be trusted to make our own decisions.
In those post-war days, such thinking was regarded as eccentric or
Victorian. Planning had won the war and would win the peace. Governments
needed to camp out on the commanding heights of the economy. The gentleman
in Whitehall knew best, and therefore knew all the right levers to
pull. In the end, they jammed.
Seldon lived to see his heresy become the new orthodoxy. A New Labour
Chancellor professes his belief in market economics. Privatisation
becomes a successful British export. Governments climb down from those
heights. All the same, their own sector of the economy is growing,
and competition and choice are held at arm's length. We shall soon
see whether Adair Turner, invited to square the circle on pensions,
agrees with Arthur Seldon. It may be that another orthodoxy is creeping
up on us, or even marching.
(c)2005. Associated Newspapers Ltd..