One of the phrases most guaranteed to start a healthy discussion is Economic Liberalism. This is, I feel, due to differing perceptions of what the phrase means.
One that has considerable traction is one that conflates Economic Liberalism with the Economic Liberalisation of Thatcherism and Blairism, which were in turn often driven by neo-liberal ideas. Given the damage many feel neo-liberalism has done economically and socially, I can understand why there is such a visceral reaction to neo-liberalism and thus Economic Liberalism.
To me however Economic Liberalism is very far removed from neo-liberalism. Economic Liberalism means freedom, responsibility, innovation.
- Anyone (individual, business, charity or trust, even government organisations) should be free to trade what they want by way of goods or services, unless national or international law forbids it. The flip side, of course, is that activism against them should be equally free to happen.
- Laws and regulations are as essential in the economic sphere as in any other. They keep people and the environment safe, prevent or regulate monopolies, and keep business practices ethical. But they should be limited, fair to everyone, proportionate and enforced without bias.
- Anyone should be free to trade anywhere across the world, with a minimum of tariff and non-tariff barriers (which is why I’m both pro-EU and pro-TTIP), unless the UN votes for sanctions. Free trade, as long as it isn’t exploitative, can benefit everyone involved and should be encouraged.
- Everyone benefits from society. Taxes aren’t a cost to be minimised, and laws aren’t something to be weaseled round. They are your way of paying back and continuing to get society’s benefits.
- Employee compliance at the end of a truncheon or P45 and employee closed shops stifling organisations are all relics of the past. No organisation should be trying to economically recreate them. Instead employees and businesses should be working cooperatively for their, and their community’s, benefit.
- The science is in, and has been for a long time. Climate change is happening and is being caused by human interactions with our natural world. If we want the Earth to remain capable of supporting an incredibly large number of humans then we need to act to maintain that. Which means our economy needs to be restructured to deliver the same, or better, results in a less damaging way.
- Anyone should be encouraged to try new things, to celebrate success, and to be supported in failure. With the freedom to sell anything comes the freedom to identify a missing product or service, to create it and then try to sell it.
- Technology is advancing all over the world and new scientific discoveries are being made. Our universities (and university towns) should be both a hotbed for new companies at the cutting edge and for new ideas.
- The first generation of robotics in industry is now mature technology and the second generation of robotics and computer programs in the service industry is about to happen. We should accept that change is coming and help everyone to successfully innovate their way through it.
* Peter Scott Brooks is a Liberal green feminist, geek, and party member since 1997. A PhD chemist now studying accountancy whilst working in local government.