Banks' defenders win Enterprise Award

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Two influential policy thinkers who defended free-market capitalism in the teeth of the financial crisis will be presented with the National Free Enterprise Award today. Dr Madsen Pirie and Dr Eamonn Butler are President and Director of the Adam Smith Institute, the prominent think-tank which provided much of the intellectual support for the Thatcher government's privatisation and tax-reduction programmes.

The Award, a large trophy in hand-crafted silver, will be handed over at the Institute of Economic Affairs annual conference on the state of the economy, held in the Institute of Directors near Westminster. It will be presented by Professor Stephen Littlechild, the former electricity regulator,who devised the RPI-X formula for regulating rises in regulated utility prices.

The National Free Enterprise Award has a 30-year history. Its lustrous past winners include the airline entrepreneurs Sir Freddie Laker and Sir Richard Branson, hotelier Lord Forte, Nobel economist Friedrich Hayek, politicians Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher, Buckingham University Vice-Chancellor Dr Terence Kealey, and financial journalist Neil Collins.

The panel of judges included prominent supporters of free enterprise from various walks of life, and most made Pirie and Butler their first choice for the award. The pair have been much in the news recently for defending bankers during the recent crisis, and pinning the blame on what they see as inept central banks, spendthrift politicians, and incompetent regulators. As Eamonn Butler put it: "The cause of this crisis was the tsunami of paper money that the US and UK kept printing over fifteen years. At first, all of us who surfed on it enjoyed the ride. But inevitably, it crashed into reality and destroyed everything before it."

Pirie and Butler are also critical of the US and UK governments' responses to the crunch, saying that it just conceals the scale of the crisis underneath another wave of borrowing. "But you cannot borrow your way out of debt," they say.

It is a busy week for Eamonn Butler in particular. Total Politics magazine has just voted him one of the 30 Top Political Influencers in Britain, and his new book The Alternative Manifesto – "a twelve-step plan to cure government of its financial alcoholism" – is published on Thursday.

The pair are known for humour as dry as their politics. Butler described his three-decade professional partnership with Pirie as "one of the great double-acts, like Jekyll and Hyde", while Pirie assured journalists that "absolutely no bullying was used on the judges."

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