This isn't the time for arguments over left and right. To get through the crisis, we need to put pragmatism firstby Jason Reed / March 20, 2020 / Leave a comment
I am a Conservative and a neoliberal. That means I believe in keeping the state small and protecting individual freedom. Yet, I now find myself in the unusual position of whole-heartedly supporting near-unprecedented government intervention in the economy.
This week, the Chancellor announced an enormous package of no-strings grants for businesses that are struggling to cover their fixed costs. The government has banned the eviction of tenants and is reportedly considering a universal basic income to go alongside its harsh restrictions on people’s social lives.
Elsewhere in Europe, workers are having their payrolls directly subsidised by the state, with some countries offering to pay up to 75 per cent of their salaries.
I support all these decisions. That does not make me any less of a Tory than I was a month ago.
We are in a crisis. This is no time for principle or ideology. The only sensible lens through which to approach policy at any time is a consequentialist one. In the absence of an epidemic, that might mean thinking about long-term goals such as liberation, innovation and economic growth.
In times of crisis, it means doing everything within our power to offset short-term harms. In this case, that means a Conservative government doing things that might ordinarily constitute part of a radical socialist agenda. I have no problem with that.
Covid-19 is an unforeseeable disaster which will have a wide-reaching and hard-hitting economic impact. The role of the government is to do whatever is necessary to counteract that. This ought to be a key component of the state’s raison d’être.
As it happens, some of the sudden and profound changes that have come about in response to the epidemic would please liberty-lovers like me even in normal times. Take, for example, the fact that pubs and restaurants are now able to seamlessly transition into takeaway and delivery services, without having to jump through all the usual bureaucratic hoops, allowing them to stay afloat and making it easier for those who cannot leave home to get hold of vital supplies.
This is not as simple as setting capitalism aside and shunting to the left, and it is certainly not an admission that market economics has failed and it is time to move on.
This is consequential policy generation: people need food at home, so the government facilitates…