Saturday, October 01, 2005

A Name Not an Icon

More on Gordon Brown at Adam Smith College, Fife in The Guardian written by Donald Macleod (30 September) from Brown’s speech as the new Chancellor of the College:

"You can see the frightening range of competition facing our industries and services in every part of the country and every part of continental Europe.

"We are, I know, witnessing the biggest and most dramatic industrial and economic reconstruction that has taken place in our time since the industrial revolution," he said.

Mr Brown added: "Half the world's manufacturing is going to be done in developing countries in a few years' time whereas a few years ago 90% of manufacturing was in Europe and America. The question is how will we, Britain, succeed in this new economy?

"It is an economy where for Britain to succeed we will have to upgrade our skills, we will have to raise our game, and the key to our future will be competing not on low pay but on high skills, indeed one of the creative talents of all our people."

That sums up what’s at stake for the currently industrialised economies – they will have to become pots-post-industrialised and had better start preparing for it now, not with ‘plans’ and ‘strategies, not with state or quango-state sponsored ‘picking winners’ and all the usual failed nonsense of yesteryear, but by taking off the burdens of bureaucracy and corporate taxation of enterprise – if there are viable business alternatives in the offing, leave it to businesses, existing and so-far unthought-of opportunities, to find them.

I fear it will be more of the same old menu – worthy committees set up to do expensively what people can do themselves when they are motivated to do so. This means dismantling parts of the state financed interventionist structure (abolish the department of industry – as relevant as a department of Heraldry was to counter the decline of feudalist agriculture as the new commercial society emerged in the 17th and 18th century) and also reviewing the size of the State at all levels of society – an especially big task for the continental capitalist economies who have gone furthest in spending the fruits of earlier decade on job-eating intervention, instead leaving the wealth creators to invest in future success.

The last paragraph of Macleod’s piece is the usual sting in the tail from The Guardian:

“Kirkcaldy-born 18th century economist Adam Smith is best known for his book The Wealth of Nations, and was adopted as a Thatcherite icon by Conservatives in the 1980s - not a view shared by Mr Brown.”

It’s not a view shared by Lost Legacy either. Sure the Tories made a fuss about Smith in name; one Cabinet Minister, Sir Keith Joseph, described as the party’s ‘intellectual’, going so far as to issue copies of “Wealth of Nations” to his senior civil servants. Their reactions are not recorded.

But the senselessness of this act is that the Conservative Cabinet, including Sir Keith, then studiously ignored Smith’s ideas in the production of the many Acts of Parliament they passed through the House of Commons. (Not even School vouchers!) Smith certainly was not a conservative icon in the Thatcherite mould, and neither, I suspect, will he become one in the Brownite (or even Blairite) mould.


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