The same stale solutions are not the answer. We must re-examine the foundations of what made these islands so prosperous.
Nadhim Zahawi writes for The Telegraph.
Through difficult times, I have often been consoled by the words of Adam Smith; “there is a great deal of ruin in a nation”. They are a calming antidote to that temptation towards fatalism that can accompany thinking about the future.
I vividly remember, for example, when during the darkest days of the pandemic, with a grimly rising death toll and the steepest recession since the Great Frost of 1709, a group of extraordinary British scientists developed a vaccine. As minister for vaccine deployment, I watched how the nation rallied around when determined administrators and medical professionals rolled out that vaccine at astonishing speed, helping to liberate us from the virus. This United Kingdom, the magical country that took me in as a young boy, has borne many knocks but always bounces back.
For too long, we have struggled with chronically low productivity and sluggish growth, ever-higher taxes, overzealous and stifling regulation, and a planning system that blocks housing and new infrastructure. Yet throughout Parliament there is little consensus, fresh thinking, or data-driven analysis, when it comes to tackling these issues.
I believe that the answers to many of today's challenges can be found in the timeless wisdom of Adam Smith and his successors. So I am excited to announce that I am joining the Adam Smith Institute, the venerable think tank dedicated to applying his thinking to the challenges of the modern world.
The ASI has a rich history. It is strictly non-partisan and independent and has influenced policymakers from all parties, and the Civil Service, to deliver radical change. The ASI has a track record in shifting the Overton window, the spectrum of acceptable debate – using robust data and analysis to upend many of our assumptions. The introduction of free ports by this Government was originally inspired by ASI research from the early 1980s. It was also the ASI that first popularised “full expensing”; incentivising companies to invest, which proved a highlight of the Government's March budget.
This is an important time for political ideas in Britain. For my part, I believe that the same stale solutions of ever more government intervention are not the answer. We must re-examine the foundations of what made these islands so prosperous, so free and so secure. Here, Smith provides an ever-helpful guide. “Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.”
By liberating the imaginative genius of entrepreneurs and wealth creators from undue restrictions, we can reap the rewards of well-paid jobs, higher tax receipts and the best new goods and services. Instead, too often, we penalise those who want to build businesses and invest in the UK with state interference and growth-killing restrictions. Whether we like it or not, other countries understand this, from nimble competitors like Singapore and the UAE, to the United States. Even the French are now competing to attract capital and talent from around the world. Global Britain cannot be left behind in this race.
Nowhere is there a bigger opportunity to foster such positive conditions than in new technology, and again Smith’s dictums provide a blueprint. The Prime Minister was absolutely right to create the new Department for Science, Technology and Innovation, but it needs to be free of the problems that an overmighty bureaucracy can place on cutting-edge innovations. With amazing companies like Google Deep Mind based here, and the new ARIA research organisation that I championed in the Treasury, we have a golden opportunity to be the runaway world leader in the fields of Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, life sciences and even in outer space, that will change the world. To reap the available rewards, we must quickly create the right legal and regulatory environment, so these technologies can be deployed and exported safely, successfully and rapidly.
Far from being just the “father of economics”, Smith also wrote about moral philosophy, jurisprudence, the arts, and more. The Adam Smith Institute will continue to work across the political spectrum to inspire politicians and thinkers on the surest way to a better future. As the great man said: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it”.
Next month marks the 300th anniversary of Smith’s birth, but his insights remain as relevant and useful as ever, to every individual, to every business, and to the wealth of this, and every, nation.