Capitalism against freedom
This marvellous piece by Nick Cohen should provide a culture shock for those of us whose political sensibilities were formed in the 1970s. He says:
The managers of private and public bureaucracies justify their elevated status and salaries not only by attempting to run efficient organisations (a task that is often beyond the poor dears) but by monitoring and intimidating those beneath them.
And You Can’t Read This Book attacks “the power of the wealthy to silence their critics.”
His point is capitalists are often the enemies of freedom. We see this in the bovine corporate rules that led to the imprisoning and sacking of Paul Chambers; the use of libel law (or the threat thereof) to silence critics of Russian oligarchs; the suppression of whistle-blowers such as Paul Moore; or the demand for draconian anti-piracy laws.
And this is where the culture shock comes in. During the Cold War, opponents of communism routinely, and not entirely wrongly, claimed to be champions of liberty. Freedom for capitalists and freedom of speech and thought go together, it was claimed. “Freedom is indivisible” wrote Bruce Winton Knight in 1952. “Economic freedom is…an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom“ wrote Milton Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom. And back in 1944 Friedrich Hayek complained that “We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past.”
Today, though, this seems wrong. Many threats to freedom come from capitalists. The story is no longer capitalism and freedom, but capitalism against freedom. Two of the world’s largest economies - China and Russia - show that capitalism can exist quite happily without political freedom.
We see this tension in the coalition. Although it has a capitalist mindset when it thinks of how the NHS should be run, or how fiscal policy should be run according to the whims of an incompetent cartel, it has little appetite for freedom. Of the 3000+ new criminal offences created by New Labour, how many have been repealed? Thatcher would often speak of freedom - even if it is questionable if she actually expanded it - but Cameron rarely does.
Speaking as one who values freedom, all this raises an important issue. In politics, interests and power often matter more than values. The question then is: given that capitalists are often opposed to freedom, where is the powerful interest group that might act as a force for freedom?