In preparation for a Cambridge PhD seminar later this week, organised by the splendid Elsa Lee, I've been asked to prepare a ...
"5 minute introduction that gives a flavour of your worldview (broadly conceived to include your axiological, ontological and epistemological, social, cultural and political approaches)."
I'll be starting with the heroic John Lilburne, a 17th century English puritan and Leveler who was about 250 years ahead of his time.
In all my academic life, I've never had to say anything in public about my "political approaches", although I think a read of my 1300 or so posts on this blog might make these reasonably clear. Thinking about what to say has, however, been most instructive as I've had to be reasonably clear to myself about what I think.
I am a social liberal, and have much in common in that regard with a whole slew of academics. I want freedom of thought and conscience, and a for everyone to be free to live a life, as Amartya Sen put it, that they have reason to value – providing it does not prevent others living their own valued life. This implies an intolerance of intolerance, which can get troublesome rather quickly in a university.
But most social liberals tend to be social democrats who believe in the perfectibility of humanity whether through reason, taxation or behavior change strategies – or all three. But it seems to me that there’s nothing particularly moral about bossing people about and telling them how to live their lives. As such, I’m a political and economic liberal as well. This might be summed up as a wish for free markets and a limited state – because, on balance, these are good for society and humanity.
Of course, the word 'liberty' doesn't travel well, meaning different things in different cultures. The English liberty is quite different from the French liberté, for example, and many political parties with the name liberal, are actually what others sees as conservative. The Economist's Johnson column has helpfully summarised all this.
None of the above, I think, makes me neoliberal. But what do I know?
However, perhaps the following does. I agree – more or less, as befits a liberal – that what is known as the Washington Consensus is a good thing. This summary is from Wikipedia ...
- Fiscal policy discipline, with avoidance of large fiscal deficits relative to GDP;
- Redirection of public spending from subsidies ("especially indiscriminate subsidies") toward broad-based provision of key pro-growth, pro-poor services like primary education, primary health care and infrastructure investment;
- Tax reform, broadening the tax base and adopting moderate marginal tax rates;
- Interest rates that are market determined and positive (but moderate) in real terms;
- Competitive exchange rates;
- Trade liberalization: liberalization of imports, with particular emphasis on elimination of quantitative restrictions (licensing, etc.); any trade protection to be provided by low and relatively uniform tariffs;
- Liberalization of inward foreign direct investment;
- Privatization of state enterprises;
- Deregulation: abolition of regulations that impede market entry or restrict competition, except for those justified on safety, environmental and consumer protection grounds, and prudential oversight of financial institutions;
- Legal security for property rights.
Now, does this really make me neoliberal – more or less? I'm sure someone will tell me.