Parting thoughts

Today is my last day as Executive Director of the Adam Smith Institute. I joined back in 2010 at a junior level, helping out with the research. Over the years was able to rise up the ranks and help to shape the Institute’s research and overall mission.

It’s a bittersweet day for me. I’m enormously proud of the things I’ve helped to achieve here, and especially of the teams I’ve been able to build. I hope you won’t mind indulging me in some memories of my time here.

When I started, the team of Tom Clougherty, Sally Yarrow and Philip Salter mentored and encouraged me, giving me chances to go on media and write for national newspapers that few other 22 year olds will get. Those early days especially were a time when my confidence grew and grew. The fact that people as smart and capable of that, who I liked and respected so much, saw something of value in me gave me encouragement and a feeling that I could make something valuable of myself.

After they left, and the period of interregnum that followed (made manageable thanks to the enormous talent and hard work of JP Floru and Peter Spence, who went on to a successful career in journalism), we had to rebuild. Our first hire, from City AM, was Ben Southwood. Ben is the reason that the modern ASI is what it is – anti-dogmatic, curious, and iconoclastic. You simply cannot be an ideologue around Ben. He is too smart and too intolerant of bullshit to let it happen. I try to be as open-minded, flexible and reasonable as possible – to the extent that I am, it is largely thanks to Ben. His influence on the Institute is less visible than mine, but it is absolutely equal to mine. He deserves to be known as the person responsible more than anyone else for bringing rigour and intellectual curiosity back to the British free market movement.

With our first generation team under my leadership, made up of Ben, Charlotte Bowyer, Kate Andrews, Nick Partington and Sophie Sandor, we helped to rebuild the Institute and restore the ASI’s place in the political landscape. Those were scrappy days of long internal debates and risk-taking, as we tried to re-direct the Institute to be something relevant and exciting again, and show our own personalities in its work. Kate’s star continues to shine, as befits one of the best communicators of ideas in the British liberal movement. Charlotte’s talents, more than anyone else I’ve worked with, reflect what I like to see as my own – an enthusiasm for every challenge, and an ability to cut to the facts and through the rhetoric in political debate.

Some of the best memories I have of those days are our trip to Hong Kong, our shared love of PC Music and Carly Rae Jepsen, and the evenings we spent trying out new restaurants together. I’m amazingly proud of that team and how much we were able to achieve. It was because we were some of each other’s closest friends that we managed to do so much with so little.

As some of those staffers left, new ones joined. Sam Dumitriu, Flora Laven-Morris, Holly McKay and Hunter Georgeson helped to turn a think tank that was back on its feet into one that was running at full pace. I remain in awe of Flora’s ability to turn PR lead into gold, and Sam’s ability to master subjects just before they exploded, like electricity regulation and the gig economy. Sam, who will be taking over as Head of Research, is one of the most impressive policy wonks I’ve met at any think tank, and I believe the ASI’s output will reflect his serious, scholarly approach to empirical research.

As the political landscape shifted, we were joined by Daniel Pryor, Matthew Kilcoyne, Amelia Stewart, Oliver Riley and, most recently, Jonas Christiansen. I have known Daniel since he was seventeen and, of all the future stars I’ve come across in the liberal movement, he is one of the brightest. Matthew’s understanding of the political tectonics is unparallelled, and combined with his flair for PR, I believe the ASI’s work will be more influential and more politically relevant than it has been for decades. I am proud to have had a hand in the founding of the Entrepreneurs’ Network, founded by Philip Salter who, along with Sophie Jarvis, has created an important, powerful voice for entrepreneurs that does not just revert to corporatist talking points.

The ASI we’ve tried to build has been one that is self-aware, pragmatic, humane and, above all, interesting. We’ve tried not to just bang the same drum all the time, unless we think it’s a particularly important drum that nobody else is banging. We’ve tried to put new, unusual ideas like NGDP targeting, full expensing, YIMBY housing policies, Japanese-inspired transport policies, and globalist migration policies onto the agenda. In embracing the word ‘neoliberal’, we’ve tried to build a new identity for like-minded people who are sickened by the libertarian flirtation with the alt-right and want to be able to identify themselves as open-minded, liberal believers in the power of markets to improve the human condition. None of these jobs are finished yet, but we’re getting there. I’m proud to have had a hand in that.

Finally, the two people who made all of this, the best years of my life to date, possible – Madsen and Eamonn. Eamonn was, I once realised, the fourth person I ever followed on Twitter, back when I was a student in Ireland and years before I had set foot inside the Adam Smith Institute. The enormous respect that Eamonn commands across the world is well-deserved, not just because of his huge contributions to the political and intellectual landscape but because of his generosity of time and spirit. Eamonn will speak to anyone, and give time to everyone, as an equal. To be treated in such a way by such a giant is an awesome experience. All who have met him will know what I mean. 

And Madsen. Madsen defines the ASI and changes the lives of so many of those who come to know him. His sense of mischief and his brilliant mind together make him a force of nature. Throughout the last seven years he has mentored and challenged me. I have “downloaded his software” on so many fronts that I find myself approaching my days with the same determination to change the world and confidence in my own ability to do so that I feel that nearly anything is possible. As I take the next steps in my life, his motto will always stay in my mind: quod tango muto – that which I touch, I change.