Fiscal policy

By Nigel Lawson

That capitalism has been shown, in practice, to be endemically flawed should come as no surprise. That is the nature of mankind. What is more important is that history, notably the history of the world after the second world war, has demonstrated beyond dispute that every other system of economic organisation is far worse. So capitalism both deserves to survive, and will survive, just as it did after the even greater economic disaster of the 1930s.

But there is another lesson of the 1930s. It is that although capitalism survives it is capable of retreating behind a protectionist shell, at great cost to global prosperity. This is a real danger today. The “Buy American” provisions in President Barack Obama’s fiscal boost are an ominous sign. The impulse to resort to protection when economic hardship suddenly strikes is, of course, always present. But there is today a dangerous new factor which magnifies the threat. The leaders of some of America’s largest corporations have already joined up with organised labour (the AFL-CIO) to urge Congress to impose tariffs against imports from countries (such as China, for example) which are understandably unwilling to bear the heavy costs of an obligation to curb their carbon dioxide emissions. There is considerable support in Europe, notably within the European Commission and in France, for a similar approach.

It is essential, both in the US and in Europe, that this is resolutely rejected. The first and most important requirement for the future of capitalism is the preservation of globalisation, and the massive benefits it confers on mankind, in particular in the developing world. There are, inevitably, costs of globalisation; but they are hugely outweighed by the benefits. So resistance to protection, whatever arguments may be used in its favour, must be rigorously maintained. Nor is this an exclusively economic argument. It is a moral imperative, as well. Moreover, a trade war with China could well have unpredictable, and potentially highly damaging, political consequences.

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