It’s good to see the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party featuring prominently in The Economist magazine’s annual stock-take publication. Ruth Davidson appears alongside Russia’s Alexei Navalny, Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu, Disney’s Bob Iger and many other leaders in their disciplines. She makes the argument that, while free market forces have largely driven the reductions in global poverty that characterise the historic decades we are living through, there is need for state intervention to ensure, for example, everyone has the skills they need to participate in the economy or for enough affordable housing to be provided. I’ve always found it enormously frustrating that while every Conservative government does preside over redistribution from the wealthy to the needy, funds essential health and welfare services and puts limit on concentrations of corporate power – too many Conservatives give the impression that they resent doing so. Ruth Davidson is not one of them and, in The World in 2018, she writes:
“We should acknowledge that the market can fail, seek out those areas where it is not working, and use government to shift the balance back in favour of the marginalised.”
For Economist readers who want a bit more on the areas where Ruth thinks stronger government is needed I can only recommend the essay she wrote for UnHerd, during our launch week:
“Too much profit comes from tax avoidance, land speculation, financialisation and other unproductive economic activity, rather than through innovation and high performance. Closing loopholes, increasing enforcement and overhauling regulatory frameworks can go some way to addressing the creeping cronyism that is making free market capitalism an unfree and anti-competitive capitalism.”
And might I also recommend something I wrote on this subject? In 2017 we lost the man who, in our times, most understood capitalism as Adam Smith also understood it. The Catholic economic writer Michael Novak died at the start of the year and unlike so many of the narrow-minded ideologues promoted on TV and radio – who only see good in markets and danger in the state (or vice versa) – he believed the economic system required economic, political, judicial and civil society to all have adequate power but not too much. Attempting, inadequately, to summarise his great collection of writings, I wrote: “If the economic sphere became too dominant, we risked inequality and the crushing of competition by the rich and powerful. If the state became too big, we risked economic stagnation and a loss of freedom. And if agents of the third moral, cultural and social sphere gathered too much power, we ended up with a theocracy or a land run by unions or by whatever social organisation had attained inflated prominence.” The full piece is here.