We must fight to defend the power of free markets, says Ross Clark | Express Comment | Comment

But then we remember a time when the northern hemisphere was like a split-screen experiment devised so as to prove the point. In the western half there were free market economies where people worked hard, earned money and chose how to spend it, whether it be on cars, fashionable clothes, the latest rock album or whatever. 

On the eastern side were societies where people didn’t work so hard because they had little incentive to do so. The state decided for them how they would live, what they could own, every aspect of how they lived their lives. 

Back in the 1950s it might have been possible to argue that socialism was a valid rival for capitalism. But by the 1980s the gulf between them was so vast as to be almost comic. 

While the free market economies of the West grew, the socialist economies of the East stagnated. Technologically their people were caught in a timewarp, driving juddering old cars – if they could get one at all – and having to do without the consumer goods that we took for granted. They suffered food and fuel shortages, and lived beneath thick clouds of pollution created by industrial plants that obeyed no environmental rules. 


Theresa May during her speech yesterday

Jeremy Corbyn clings to socialist dogma

And if they complained they knew the consequences. Dissent was not tolerated. Prison beckoned for anyone who challenged the political system. 

The ultimate test in the battle between free markets and socialism came in 1989 when the Iron Curtain across Europe was finally pulled aside. I don’t remember many people rushing from west to east in search of a better life. I remember an awful lot of people making the journey in the other direction. 

I am not sure how the subject of post-war Europe is covered in the school curriculum but I would guess not very well to judge by the number of young people who have been won over by Jeremy Corbyn in the past year, who cheered as he described the free market economy as facing a “crisis of legitimacy”. 

Or maybe I do history teachers an injustice. I can see that even if you have studied communism, if you are 25 and are struggling to afford a decent home, then Jeremy Corbyn’s speeches must come across as superficially appealing. 

Jeremy CorbynGETTY

Jeremy Corbyn clings to the socialist dogma

For one thing he has become a good public speaker. He is good, too, at identifying some of the things which have gone wrong in our free market society. The housing market in London is in crisis thanks to too little building and to international investors being allowed to use the housing stock as casino chips. That needs putting right. 

But what Corbyn stands for goes way beyond the adjustments which need to be made to make free markets work for everyone. He clings to the socialist dogma – which until recently seemed to have become virtually extinct – that societies work better when the state organises the economy and spends our money for us. 

His vision of a high-tax, highspend government and an economy dominated by nationalised industries and unionised workforces would take us back to the 1970s – an era when, while nothing compared with Eastern Europe, Britain was undergoing its own watereddown socialist experiment. 

Even that was bad enough, leading to the humiliation of a British chancellor going cap in hand to the IMF, and to the Winter Of Discontent of 1978/79 when rubbish piled up in the streets and the dead went unburied due to strikes orchestrated by politicised unions which objected to the Labour government’s efforts to rein in excessive pay claims. But again, you have to be at least 50 to remember any of this. 


His vision would take us back to the 1970s

Moreover, you have to be in your mid-40s to remember the miners’ strike when the National Union of Mineworkers tried for a whole year – and just failed – to hold the country to ransom. 

Its justification? It wanted the government to carry on generating electricity by means of filthy coal plants rather than move towards cleaner North Sea gas. 

The Left likes to forget the issues of the miners’ strike now, trying to turn it purely into an issue of police behaviour. 

It is no accident that the pivotal age at which people in the last election were more likely to vote Conservative than Labour was 46. 

If you are younger than that, then the main economic crisis you will remember is the one caused by reckless banks in 2008/09. How easy then, to swallow Corbyn’s assertion that it is capitalism which has the inherent faults. 

Tony BlairGETTY

The Blair and Brown governments spent too much money

Although of course there is one socialist crisis which you don’t have to be middle-aged to remember – the one being played out in Venezuela at the moment. 

It is 35 years since politics in Britain was a genuine battle of political ideas between capitalism and socialism, between a free market and a command economy. 

The Blair and Brown governments spent too much money but they believed in markets and they didn’t believe in confiscatory tax systems. 

For years, elections in Britain were fought between rival brands of free market economics. No longer. What we have now is a genuine battle of ideas. With Corbyn’s vision bound to lead to ruin the stakes could not be higher. 

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