In order to look for new ideas of how to organise our economy, we have to understand the old ones. Never was this more important.
In the 1920’s and 30’s, two protagonists argued polarised opposite views in the midst of their own economic crisis. One (Friedrich Hayek) insisted that the free market would right itself, and that the job of government was to get out of the way, to reduce its spending and the proportion of the public purse that interfered with the self correcting forces of free market economics.
John Maynard Keynes fundamentally disagreed. He said it was the job of government to govern, and the primary way that they should do this was by managing the economy. He was concerned with the human consequences of boom and bust economics – mass unemployment, poverty.
These two polar opposite positions have been fought over ever since. One libertarian, one interventionist. One arguing for centralised control, the other wanting no control at all. Evidence for the failure of both positions exists.
The free market brought us vulture capitalism, Thatcherism and the current crisis. It became the mantra of the International Monetary Fund, and the basis on which it manipulated whole nations. Centalised managed economies did not do well in the former communist countries. And we in the UK remember the strikes and power cuts of the 1970’s.
However it is also possible to point to the stable, eventually prosperous and well managed period after the second world war when Keynes ruled the world, or the eventual triumph of the Free Market, until this current crisis of course.
The question remains as to how this argument will play out in our current context. It seems that the current political instinct is towards Hayek, whilst having to acknowledge that when the free market is really free, then the unbridled greed it releases is potentially destructive to us all.
There is a really good clip on the Guardian website, here.