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Freedom and the Free Market - Rowan Wise


John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated the thirty fifth President of the United States of America on the 20th of January 1961. Kennedy came to the Presidency at a moment when the spectre of Communism posed a credible threat to the freedoms enshrined in democracies everywhere and when all free people the world over waited for news of the next Socialist uprising, Soviet success or Communist aggression. In his inaugural address Kennedy famously referenced these concerns in a masterfully delivered speech on freedom by pledging America to the defence of not just liberty but also the foundations which underpin it in the modern world: the free market.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

On all meaningful definitions of liberty, freedom is constrained within the limits of the law. To ensure this is democratic, laws should be open to change via the election of governments with a popular majority. Therefore, in democracies such as the United Kingdom or the United States of America, no free person will experience infringement of their liberty. People who break the law in a democracy forfeit their right to certain freedoms, as the democratic majority of the people see fit. This is a form of social contract that all sides of the political debate should accept as the basis for a free society. I wish to illustrate that freedom is ensured not just by this social contract but also by the existence of the free market.

In the past century we witnessed two very different ideas of freedom in conflict. The Cold War introduced the world to the rapacious desire of socialism to dominate people’s lives completely. It threw a light on the lie behind socialism: that people are better off when they are owned by the state. In the tyranny that is socialism the individual is not trusted to accrue his or her own stake in society but becomes a small widget in a politburo paper lost amid a five year plan. This horrifying reality blighted and continues to blight the lives of billions who lived in the Soviet Union and live today in China, Vietnam and North Korea. It is telling that China and Vietnam, in order to improve their economies and therefore the lives of their citizens, have had to incorporate some aspects of free market capitalism. 

That socialism is the twin of communism is beyond doubt, the latter is only the unrealisable logical outworking of the former. The danger of the socialist ideology has become more remote today owing to the victory of the capitalist west over communism that concluded the Cold War. In the era of John F Kennedy, fifty eight years ago, international socialism appealed to the genuinely desperate, consider the communist missions to the third world countries of Africa, such as Angola, and the equally impoverished countries of Asia, such as China and Vietnam. The empty promise of a socialist utopia spread like wildfire amongst the globally disenfranchised following the deprivations of the Second World War. Nowadays, socialism is experiencing a regrettable new lease of life in the affluent west as we are currently experiencing here in the UK with socialists on the front benches of Her Majesty’s Opposition. The false appeal of socialism today has taken root amongst the naïve dreamers in society, only this time they are not the same global destitute of over half a century ago. Rather they are the children of affluent westerners who cannot remember either the Cold War or the deprivations visited on the people trapped behind the iron curtain. Today the socialist reincarnation has arrived as the nouveau riche children are lulled, iPhones in hand, by the less than dulcet tones of Labour’s misguided policies.

The defenders of the free market would do well to wake up to today’s reality and make a concerted effort to continue to stand up for freedom. It must be shouted from the rooftops that freedom is inseparable from the free market. The myriad benefits of the free market, which allows each and every individual the right to their own lot in society, must be sustained. This unique characteristic of the free market system to allow for and foster the competitiveness inherent in us all for the benefit and advancement of society as a whole is what ensures freedom at the individual level.  Conversely socialism begins with the empty promises of economic freedom and then rolls out its oppressive political agenda. Recently John McDonnell told the news that if Labour wins a general election they will “prosecute Tory’s” for “crimes against society”: simply totalitarianism. This has of course been passed off as electoral bravado and that may well be halfway true. What is undeniable, as the take home message from this statement, is the very real desire of socialists to take total control, erode democracy and the independence of the judiciary. Let us Conservatives be inspired by the appalling behaviour of the socialists, not by fear, but rather by renewed vindication of the justice of our own cause to redouble our efforts to extol the virtues of the free market and what is dependent on it: freedom. 

It should be remembered that the capitalist free market has enabled the UK’s strong social welfare system. The National Health Service is not socialism (any more than medi-care is in our sister democracy the United States) but rather social welfare. Social welfare is distinct from socialism in that it does not provide the sole means of healthcare. The NHS works like a business with private companies bidding to provide services, instrumentation and infrastructure at the most competitive rate. We Conservatives have consistently been able to better fund the NHS than Labour because our governments work to grow the economy which adds to the taxes brought in and therefore the money available to spend. Labour’s overtaxation would hamstring our economy and put it into decline therefore making collecting the same quantity in taxes impossible. This leads to borrowing and a decline in growth. Every time Labour is elected to government the same pattern occurs. The Conservative Party has the best consistent record thanks to the free market.

My advice to my contemporaries, either in further education or in employment who share an appreciation of the freedom provided by the free market and who are fed up with the tribal provincialism of local politics not delivering, would be to join the Conservative Party. As the true national party dedicated to the United Kingdom’s success we have the most experience in government and have the best record of achievement which far surpasses the incessant squabbling of the local parties in Northern Ireland. 


Rowan is the Chairman of the Conservative and Unionist Society QUB. He is a Royal Air Force and aircraft enthusiast, a beekeeper and dabbler in astronomy.


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