Capitalism is in crisis. Across the globe, liberal democracies face an onslaught of attacks on free markets and enterprise. The engines that have lifted 1.5 billion people out of poverty in the last 30 years seem rusty and tarnished.
Government action and market intervention is back. The world is apparently to be transformed through taxing, spending and regulating our way to success.
No group appears more suspicious of capitalism than the young; the ones who rose up in unison in 2017 and almost put an unserious and unprepared socialist into power. Those who are so tired of the capitalist status quo that they want to smash it.
The ones who, curiously, seem to decry the iniquity of the profit motive whilst being fuelled by the very innovation and technology it created. The pitchforks of socialism are being held aloft by an Asos-draped, Starbucks-drinking, iPhone-using, Instagram-snapping generation. Capitalism is eating itself.
Those of us who believe in free markets have a challenge before us. And we have a decision to make; whether to stand up for our values or accommodate those of our opponents.
As someone who has had a ringside seat watching the continuing capture of the Labour party by a socialist cult for the last 18 months, it’s clear to me what we have to do; fight from first principles again and win new, young converts to the cause.
Yet this isn’t a party-political fight. Liberal economics is worth fighting for not because it is perfect (it isn’t) or delivers nirvana (it doesn’t), but because it is the most proven way to make our communities healthier, wealthier and happier.
Aside from the incomparable consequences of such an approach, respecting people’s ability to make their own decisions in life is also good in itself. We need more liberals across all parties; those who will stand up for personal responsibility, freedom, choice and the dynamism of free markets.
To do that requires a clearer foundation in the country upon which to build that political consensus, and we need to start with the most liberal of all generations; the young.
Today, Freer is publishing its latest paper on how to make the case for capitalism to the next generation. We don’t pretend it will be easy, nor that there won’t be hard questions for free markets to answer along the way. Yet, our research suggests that all is not lost with younger voters. They are frustrated but ready to be inspired too. That inspiration can either come from us or from socialism. It’s our choice.
Firstly, capitalists have lost the ability to argue and connect. Telling people to support a policy because a spreadsheet says it will benefit them is a dismal way to make our case. There is a moral mission at the heart of our politics. It is time we showed it.
Secondly, we need to separate austerity from capitalism. That doesn’t mean turning the spending taps on but, instead, showing that liberal politics is about more than public sector spending restraint. Those of us who remember capitalism before the crash can, just about, remember some of its benefits. Those who came of age from 2008 onwards have known nothing but arguments about austerity. We should want to re-make the status quo as much as the socialists.
Thirdly, we need to make the link again between capitalism and progress. The socialist offer to our youth rests on an entirely impractical premise — that the social and personal freedom they hold dear can be separated from its economic brethren. That’s nonsense. Social and economic liberalism go hand in hand. If you value choice in the bedroom, you need to value choice in buying the bed.
Most importantly, all of the above is only possible if we have a proposition to sell. Liberalism’s retail offer to a 21-year-old graduate just leaving university or half way through an apprenticeship needs sharpening – and fast.
Capitalism has a fight on its hands. Instead of worrying ourselves into a frenzy about it, we should celebrate that challenge. If we are ambitious for our country, and sure that we have the tools to deliver it, then we need to robustly make the case for the new world we can build. We won this argument once. We can win it again.
This article was first published by The Times.