Looking at the world around us this morning and the events from Catalonia to Riyadh, from Brexit to quantitative easing, from blockchain to the Paradise Papers many of the issues which are at the centre of the respective debates and actions can and should be held up, looked at and then filtered through the Berlin’s weighing up of positive and negative liberty. In his paper Berlin distilled the essence of socio-political dialectic around the thesis and antithesis of freedom to and freedom from.
It might be ironical that I am chewing over Berlin’s seminal paper on the somewhat forgotten, especially in Moscow, 100th anniversary of the October Revolution. I was born less than 40 years after the Bolshevik take-over of Russia and the creation of the Soviet Union and I grew up very much in the shadow of the daily threat of nuclear conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, themselves some form of incarnation of freedom to and freedom from. I mentioned in a recent column a comment which had come out of Poland which, with the UK leaving the EU, becomes the next truculent child. The line had been that Warsaw had not fought to free itself from the diktat of Moscow only to find itself subject to equally stringent controls out of Brussels.
On September 11th 1990 – eleven years to the day before the attack on the Twin Towers, now known simply as 9/11 – President George Bush Sr gave a speech titled “Towards the new World Order” in which he embraced the polices of Mikhail Gorbachev and the dismantling of the Soviet empire. The dreams of democracy and self-determination for which NATO had stood and which were being pursued by way of the opening of borders across Europe though the structures of the EEC were in the ascendant. Twenty seven years later with the EEC having been replaced by the EU, with membership of 12 having been expanded to 28 and with the first ever member in the process of leaving again, the union looks ossified and in many respects now looks and behaves more like Soviet Moscow than it does like the old EEC.
Here is a link to the full note.
When I talk to people I meet in London and around the UK they seem to have a clear vision for what they want for the country. Self-determination, respect for property rights, acceptance that the nation was built on global trade and a desire for a more equitable society all feature highly. So, does the concern that the financial sector accounts for a substantial proportion of the economy and needs to be protected.
A problem politicians have is they are so accustomed to swaying with the vicissitudes of polls. The result is they appear to lack conviction. Two resignations in a week, trench warfare in the halls of Westminster about the direction of Brexit negotiations and a prime minister who appears to have got the job because no one else was willing to take the risk of accepting the role, suggests it is reasonable to conclude there is a dearth of politicians who align with the clear vision of the population.
Freedom from overbearing regulation allows us the freedom to explore our creativity. However, that also means accepting the possibility we could fail. When government coddles us to such an extent that there is no incentive to explore creativity we are ill prepared to deal with problems as they arise. How else can we learn to deal with failure than to fail?
The strictures of regulation mean that a financial advisor can avoid sanctions if they follow a prescribed path regardless of whether they believe the course of action is best for their clients. In an environment where regulation is skewed towards protecting against career risk rather than market malfeasance the customer is likely to be the one who eventually loses out,
Here is a link to Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty paper.