LibLink: William Wallace gives the William Beveridge Memorial Lecture

William Wallace – one of our eminent peers – delivered the William Beveridge Memorial Lecture at the Social Liberal Forum Conference a week ago.

Professionally William was a professor in International Relations at the London School of Economics, and he has worked as a visiting professor in Universities around the world. So you would be right in expecting his lecture to be intellectually rigorous and thoroughly relevant to social liberals.

He took as his theme the question: Is a liberal and democratic society compatible with globalisation? You can read the full text of his lecture here, but here is a taster.

He sets the question firmly in an international context:

Dani Rodrik, one of my favourite economists – a Turk teaching at Harvard – wrote some five years ago that we may be discovering that democracy is not compatible with unconditional globalization; and that if we have to choose, we must prefer democracy and open society to globalization.  I take that as my text, and will explore its implications for Liberals, who believe in open societies and international cooperation but also in individual freedom within settled communities.   I have a second text, which is President Macron’s declaration that France must support a market economy, but not a market society’ – which is a good phrase for us to adopt in Britain, when Corbynistas are close to rejecting the market as such and the Conservative right sees the market as governing social provision.

He goes on to analyse the problem thus:

Thomas Piketty and many other economists have shown that globalization has lessened global inequality, but worsened domestic inequality within industrialised countries.  That effect has been sharpest in countries with weak welfare provision, and low public expenditure on education and training – the USA and Britain.  We’re all familiar with the result: insecure employment at low wages for the unskilled, well-paid careers for the highly-educated, locked in to succeeding generations by the differences in support from family and local community, and in motivation and self-confidence, which mould children’s development.  The sharpness of the divide within Britain was increased by three particular factors:

1)    the outdated practices of the British economy at the end of the 1970s, after years of inadequate investment, complacent management and trade union resistance to change;

2)    the speed with which these old – and outdated – industries collapsed under the impact of Thatcherite economics, after 1979;

3)    and the policy choices chosen by Margaret Thatcher to use the revenue stream of North Sea oil to lower taxes, rather than to accumulate a sovereign wealth fund or to reinvest in innovation and education.  Between 1985 and 1995, on OECD figures, tax revenues in the industrial democracies rose on average by 2%; but in the UK they went down by 5%.

So what must we do as liberals?

We have to engage in the intellectual argument about the structure of markets and of trade.  The Leave campaign promised a world in which free trade was the default option, and market regulation through international negotiation unimportant.  Liam Fox clearly still believes this, though most others now understand that it’s fantasy.  We do not live in a free trading world.  Worse, the government that Theresa May’s administration most relies on for a free trade deal – the American – is protectionist, and represents a country that is structurally protectionist.  Unregulated free trade is an ideology, not an achievable policy.  Trade relations have to be negotiated, through hard bargaining and detailed trade-offs.

And specifically …

To pitch ourselves back into the political debate, I suggest that we need to discuss a number of awkward and difficult issues, which are in many ways uncomfortable for liberals to address: tax, responsible capitalism, citizenship, and migration.  And we need to explore further some traditionally liberal themes that will benefit from refreshing: mutual ownership as an element in a regulated market economy, the appropriate role of an active state, local democracy and its reinvigoration, and above all the central Liberal value of education and training.

He spends the rest of the lecture unpacking these themes.

It’s quite a long read but well worth it.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

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  • It appears to call for national service, ID cards and protectionism. Please tell me the party has people who can offer something better than that?

  • I think every reader of LDV should read the full lecture on the Social Liberal Forum. He calls for higher taxes and points out the fallacy that 35% of GDP is the maximum that can be taken in tax while stating we only take 32.5%. He talks of the problems cause by globalisation and foreign ownership which leads to irresponsible capitalism and lack of domestic corporate leadership. He talks of reviving national citizenship and social solidarity though a shared experience and suggests one years “national service” in schools, nurseries, hospitals and care homes. I feel a little uneasy about this, then I remember I would not have minded having to do one year’s work as a “teaching assistant” before going to University or afterwards because much later I did it voluntarily for over a year. He talks of having ID cards. As it is becoming harder to live in the UK without a photo ID and I expect most liberals have a passport maybe it is time we accept having to have a form of ID is OK.

    William Wallace writes that the long-term challenge of migration “poses existential problems to liberal values, given our commitment to individual liberty for all” and “ our parallel commitment to liberty within settled communities … Globalization weakens the nation state, and also shakes the foundations of local communities.” He call for local government to be reinvented with representative government and wards smaller than 10,000. He does not go as far as I do and call for councillor/elector ratios of 1/2000.

    He concludes with “Britain has pursued economic policies more open to the world than almost any other, over several decades. We have attracted imports, foreign investment, and a steady flow of poor – and rich – migrants from across the world. That openness has had costs as well as benefits, to national prosperity, autonomy and solidarity. It may be prudent, in a more troubled world than we anticipated 25 years ago, to retreat a little.”

  • Mark Smulian 25th Jul '17 - 2:46pm

    Much as I respect William, I was startled when I heard his lecture at the SLF conference. Any idea of conscription – even for social service – should be anathema to liberals. Whatever problem William thinks this would solve, it is too high a price to pay, as would be ID cards – one of the Coalition’s most notable achievements having been to axe this pernicious scheme.

  • Mark Smulian 25th Jul ’17 – 2:46pm: …as would be ID cards – one of the Coalition’s most notable achievements having been to axe this pernicious scheme.
    Indeed; which makes it all the more remarkable that the party doesn’t have a policy to oppose (compulsory) eCall.

  • I do not see how coommpulsory social service would work in practice.. It is hard enough keeping volunteers or paid workers motivated and enthusiastic. How would people who do not want to do the work be made to do a safe and efficient job? Do I want care homes and schools staffed by people who don’t care about the job? No thanks.

  • @ Ed Shepherd

    The range of jobs in William Wallace’s “national service” most likely is not wide enough. I would hope people would be able to choose which role they took and not be forced into one. Perhaps the roles should include other public services, working as a Police Community Support Officer, working for the council, working in transport (when it is nationalised) and maybe working for any charity (I think more suggestions are needed). When there was National Service, I expect military discipline forced people to comply but this would not be possible under William’s scheme.

  • Ed Shepherd 26th Jul '17 - 1:11am

    Compulsion to do kind of work always fails. Years of leading volunteers has taught me that let alone the lessons of history. And given ‘choice’ I can guarantee that the children of the privileged would get their ‘choice’ of a nice cushy number but the children of the less privileged will get lumbered with dirty boring dangerous jobs. Compulsory service is a dreadful idea. The correct name for it is slavery.

  • Michael BG – The best approach for Libdem is to ignore ID cards completely. Let the Tories do so if the nation needs it. The reason is that ID card perfectly suits their principles, which is not the case for LD. If The Tories introduce ID cards they’ll be OK, but if we do so, we will be hammered. Just focus on our strengths in economics, healthcare and education, as well as foreign policy, that’s all.

  • jayne Mansfield 26th Jul '17 - 8:29am

    @ Ed Shepherd,
    Isn’t there some way round the problems, Ed?

    IAs a working class girl, I was introduced to voluntary work in my early teens after visiting a childrens’ home to gain my girl guide child care badge. Admittedly, it was my decision to continue working at the home after obtaining the badge, but helping with those less fortunate than oneself is a wonderful way of opening one’s eyes to the fact that no matter how unfortunate one’s own situation, there are others worse off.

    The atomisation of our society needs addressing in some way. If not this way, how?

  • Bill Fowler 26th Jul '17 - 9:03am

    Read the whole thing. Some form of civil national service for youngsters who can’t or won’t get a job would make more sense than forcing everyone to do it. I seem to recall that tax rates were slashed by Thatcher because they were eye-wateringly high and tax revenue actually increased as a result. Now, overall tax percentage is lowish because of the tax take from companies rather than individuals, rather than trying to increase tax on individuals use a turnover tax on companies to generate extra tax (a turnover tax stops clever and obscenely well paid accountants from avoiding tax). This would be a vote-winner rather than frighten people away by increasing personal tax and wholly justifiable because if the government had not saved the banks a lot of these companies would have been toast. Increase taxes on dividends, often used to avoid paying NI as well.

    Europe and the UK have done well economically because they have not been fighting each other so Nationalism is a kinda of frightening idea in its consequences. People are who they are because of what is inside them, helped along by the general ethos of the country they grow up in. For instance, Brit’s would expect fair play in their dealings whilst Asians would be more concerned with saving face but both individuals could have a similar sense of humour. So the whole ethos of article seems moot. And I have absolutely no idea how an intrusive more local council would help things – it is typical of the political classes that their solution is to have more politicians!

    BTW it is not global free trade that is creating the left-behind but technological innovation, the rise of the robots, that is taking out whole swathes of jobs. The UK is doing remarkably well at creating micro companies and this needs to be encouraged by fundamental tax changes that the Lib Dem’s could possibly spearhead (you would expect the Conservatives to do so but they are clueless) and not trying to increase taxes on personal income.

  • One of President J.F.Kennedy’s great and lasting achievements was the Peace Corps. I would support a similar arrangement in which service could be set against student fees.

    President John F. Kennedy Peace Corps Public Service Message …
    Video for kennedy peace corps▶ 1:31
    5 Jun 2009 – Uploaded by Peace Corps
    Message from President John F. Kennedy in the oval office about the recruitment of Peace Corps Volunteers

  • @ Ed Shepherd

    There should not be any boring jobs and there should not be any cherry picking, because everyone should get their first choice of role. I remember how much my uncle hated his National Service, but Jayne Mansfield and myself are evidence that such a scheme wouldn’t be opposed by everyone. When you were 18 why would you have refused to work for one year in the sectors suggested so far? (I would add Housing Associations to my suggestions especially if they had maintenance units.)

    @ Thomas

    My first thought regarding ID cards was no, because I don’t have any form of photo ID, however I expect the majority of the population have photo IDs and therefore the majority of the population would not oppose ID cards.

    @ Bill Fowler

    You are correct the whole lecture should be read. The whole point of the “civil national service” as you call it, is for those who will be business leaders should take part, because it is these people who William Wallace point out are problematic with what he calls “responsible capitalism” and the failure of corporate leadership in the UK. He wrote, “A national community is held together by a social contract, of shared rights and obligations that apply to all citizens. The strongest concept of a social contract emerged when the British state demanded that all of its citizens were mobilised to fight for its survival, in World Wars 1 and 2; (sic)”. The whole point of a new civil national service is that it an obligation on everyone and not just those who experience problems with finding employed. To deal with those who need a job and don’t have one the government should be the employer of last resort so no one has to be unemployed for months.

    Globalisation is not just about automation, it is about international companies moving their production to the cheapest place and this often means where labour is cheap. Of course there are some examples of production returning to the UK because of investment in automation, but this isn’t the major issue with globalisation. It might well become a problem in the future, which might well need addressing by limiting the time a person can work for.

  • Ed Shepherd 26th Jul '17 - 9:20pm

    I have countless hard hours of experience taking part in and managing voluntary projects. I think compulsory national citizen service would be unmanageable. You cannot force someone to work except through threats of impoverishment or force and I would definitely oppose that.

  • @ Ed Shepherd

    You didn’t answer my question. I am not aware of how much force was used to force people to do their National Service. However not doing it was breaking the law and I assume prison was the punishment. I would think that William Wallace would want this new civil national service to be something everyone just expected to do, much like going to school. There might be a problem with wages especially if they were only paid at the £5.60 rate. I suppose that rate might be OK if those doing their service had free board and lodging as part of their service. I think you might be correct there would be a huge management issue. Unlike military service there would not be a management structure in place. I still think it is an idea that should be explored. I wonder what 17 year olds would think of the idea? They might think a year away from home would be fun. It would be a form of work experience and might encourage more UK people to want to work in these areas afterwards and of course put some people off.

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