Economy

Tears of a free market optimist

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I don’t believe that governments can successfully replace or provide more positive economic outcomes and freedoms than private enterprise. In short, I’m an advocate of free market economic policies.

I’m aware some examples can counter this view, but broadly I believe that the public sector cannot be relied upon to create and sustain economic growth and prosperity.

Given this personal preference towards free markets, you can imagine my alarm at how the UK Government has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.

An alarm that has slowly turned into disbelief as I have witnessed the financial repercussions of the ever extended lockdown policy.

Somewhat naively, I had presumed that a conservative majority parliament would manage to resist the idea of government being the solution to every problem. Sadly, this has not been the case. Instead, this nominally conservative government has followed a policy strategy that would make Ed Milliband and Ed Balls blush.

Given the circumstances and what we knew at the time, I believed the lockdown to be a reasonable temporary measure. Sadly, as Milton Friedman said: “there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program”. Months have now passed, and while personal freedoms remain curtailed, the UK sovereign debt has now surpassed 100% of GDP for the first time in 50 years.

Given the supposed free market beliefs at the core of the Conservative Party, one may have expected the government to react to this situation with a slew of exciting pro-business, pro-employment, free market plans that would help lead the nation into an economic recovery.

Alarmingly, this has not been the case. Far from following free market policies, the Treasury has hinted that future plans to increase tax to solve this problem cannot be ruled out. Hardly an “on-brand” Tory response, but one that is consistent with this government.

A cursory glance back to the policies that they have followed to date would suggest that they seem more determined to follow the Labour manifesto, that was rejected by the majority of voters at the end of last year, than their own.

Perhaps the best example of this government’s peculiar adherence to Labour economic policies was their decision to reject the support of business to create a “Track and Trace” technology; choosing instead to invent the technology themselves from scratch.

Predictably this technology has not yet been launched and is running over budget. An outcome that should hardly come as a surprise to a political party that has spent the past 40 years pointing out the inefficiencies of the public sector as compared to the private sector.

I am half expecting Scooby-Doo to turn up at 10 Downing Street and remove the face mask of the man we believe to be Boris Johnson and reveal that he is instead Jeremy Corbyn.

And yet despite this peculiar reality, Labour and the other opposition parties will continue to portray the government as rabidly capitalist and succeed in their primary goal of pushing the Overton window further left. A sorry state of affairs, but one that is enough to bring a tear to the eye of this free market optimist.

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