The invisible hand of the free market, as Adam Smith described it, gives us choice, forces prices down, and if a genuine free market is allowed to flourish, also allows all of us trade our way to prosperity.
But free markets are under threat. Not only do we have an official opposition in Parliament ideologically opposed to capitalism, faith in free markets is gradually reducing, making it more likely that there will be a Marxist Government led by Jeremy Corbyn, or one of his acolytes, in a few years’ time - or possibly even sooner.
In poll published by YouGov on 23 February 2016 (before the EU Referendum), more people had a favourable view of socialism over capitalism.
Published in October 2017, and authored by Matthew Elliott and James Kanagasooriam, Legatum’s report, “Public opinion in the post-Brexit era: Economic attitudes in modern Britain”, highlighted that 83% of British voters would prefer public ownership of water companies over privatisation, while 77% want to re-nationalise electricity and gas companies and 76% want the railways back under state control.
Rebecca Cunliffe, comment and features editor at City AM, said that the report showed that “the far left is winning the capitalism debate”. She finished her article by saying:
“There are justifiable criticisms of capitalism, and certain markets which require some intervention to remain fair and open to competition, with standards set for the health and safety of workers and consumers alike. But the fact remains that markets have lifted millions of people out of poverty, raised living standards and life expectancy across the world, and enabled unparalleled wealth and opportunity. The comparisons are as stark as they are well-known: North vs. South Korea, East vs. West Germany, Cuba vs. Hong Kong, Venezuela vs. Singapore.
Yet despite the wealth of evidence, something has gone wrong. A void has emerged for those on the far left to fill with their rhetoric and promises. There is growing public consensus for the kind of government control Corbyn espouses, however detrimental it has proven to be.
Theresa May has finally spoken up for capitalism, wealth creation, enterprise and competition. But given the state of public opinion, it may too little – too late.”
When people think about capitalism, too often they think about large corporations. What they often overlook is the local tradesperson, the window cleaner, the person who rents a stall at a local market to sell fruit & veg, or something they have created. They forget about the small business owner who creates employment for local people. People too often overlook the publican; the family owned B&B; the chef who has a dream and opens their first restaurant. All of these make up the rich tapestry that is the vibrant economy of the United Kingdom.
According a briefing paper in the House of Commons Library, in 2016, there were 5.5 million businesses in the UK. Over 99% of businesses are Small or Medium Sized businesses – employing 0-249 people. 5.3 million (96%) of businesses were micro-businesses – employing 0-9 people. Micro-businesses accounted for 32% of employment and 19% of turnover.
Those small businesses are the ones we want to benefit the most from Brexit, and in many ways, are the ones which will suffer the most under an anti-capitalist Government - even more anti-capitalist than the one we have at the moment.
I don’t want to go back to the 1970s. It is only by aggressively promoting free market policies that we have a chance of not doing so.