Wednesday was an interesting day in Westminster, because just down the road from the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review delivery, 200 sixth-form students attended a day of lectures entitled “An Agenda for Reform: Politics, Economics and Society” as part of the ASI’s Independent Seminar on the Open Society (ISOS) programme.
The day began with a speech from the MP for Wycombe Steve Baker, whose speech was entitled “The Ethics of Welfare”. Baker argued that current welfare benefits are highly damaging to the country, regardless of the monetary cost. He pointed out that since 1997 British poverty levels had increased and many millions remain living off of the state, despite (or because of) increases in state handouts. This was coupled with the problem that individuals will always spend their own money more effectively than central governments. Baker praised the Universal Working Credit as a step in the right direction to fixing these problems.
Next was philosopher Jamie Whyte, who discussed the concept of fairness and its application in the public sphere. Students were asked whether a race between Gordon Brown and Usain Bolt was “fair”, and used this thought experiment to show the different impacts that equality of outcomes and equality of rules. Whyte argued that using the government to create equality of outcomes was counterproductive, as it would concern itself with finding the “good life” – an impossible task given that we all have our own disparate desires.
Caroline Boin, from the International Policy Network, spoke about the impact that wealth creation has in protecting the environment. She showed that rich nations had clean rivers and air precisely because they had the wealth and efficient industries to provide this cleanliness. She said that poorer countries would experience the same environmental improvements as they developed – implying that economic growth in the developing world should be the critical issue for environmentalists.
James Tyler finished the lectures with a damning view of the current banking system, showing that regulation and government intervention make banking one of the most governmentally-influenced sectors of the economy, and explaining the importance of money in economics. Tyler gave an Austrian economics-based perspective on the financial crisis, which was particularly valuable for sixth-formers, most of whom had not heard Austrian ideas before.
The day ended with a debate on the topic of trade vs. aid in promoting the interests of the developing world. The students voted overwhelmingly that aid was detrimental to lifting nations out of poverty, with free trade essential to future prosperity.
The day was a success, not simply because it was so interesting, but because it gave a new perspective to students who may not have had a strong exposure to free market ideas before.