Magazine article The Spectator

Capitalism without Capitalists

Magazine article The Spectator

Capitalism without Capitalists

Article excerpt

THE NATIONAL WEALTH

by Dominic Hobson

HarperCollins, L29.99, pp. 1350

Some things are best left to greybearded and thankfully ignored LSE lecturers and clever New York Jews. Radicalism, according to robust AngloSaxon common sense, is one of them. The English have never been much enamoured by exciting thinking, preferring instead the pleasures of shopkeeping -- which is why we exported Tom Paine and decided to import the reassuringly dull Dutch to organise our understated revolution. So last week, when Mr Blair spoke of a `new radicalism', nobody believed that he meant it. New Labour's chatter about the `knowledge economy' and its abusing of hereditary peers is certainly modish, but is not radical. Dominic Hobson, however, is that rare bird, a genuine radical.

In 1995 he wrote with Alan Duncan, the splendid Conservative frontbencher and enthusiastic skier, a furious libertarian, or as they preferred to call it Whiggish, assault on social democratic Britain. Saturn's Children -- titled so because, like that god who devoured his children, the state devours liberty, prosperity and virtue tilted at the errors of modern politics, argued for the legalisation of hard drugs, likened the Inland Revenue to the Gestapo, and generally excited Young Conservatives.

The National Wealth is less polemical than Saturn's Children and more analytical. Mr Hobson performs a useful service. He anatomises the social, financial and economic workings of this country - from the crown to sport to high finance - and tells us who owns it. Yes, this means there are tables, percentages and lists, but thankfully no jargon or number-crunching. Instead, he writes in a lively style with an abundance of anecdote and pithy asides.

He is free of snobbery and the mistyeyed `green and pleasant land' syndrome that mar the thinking of many rightwingers. He actually approves of people who make money. His regard for the aristocracy is not because they symbolise rusticity and the glories of a past Great Britain, but because they are inquiring, cosmopolitan and highly commercial. Furthermore, they are undergoing a renaissance, liberated from the years of socialist economics and contempt for private property:

The modern, business-minded duke or earl is not an abberation, but an authentic representative of the aristocratic tradition. Like everybody else with energy or verve, they simply came out of the closet in the 1980s.

Mr Hobson turns his interest to every aspect of modern Britain: the problem with universities was the democratising of higher education, `the unavoidable outcome of treating young people as citizens (with an equal right to university) rather than consumers'; public schools should turn themselves from pseudo-charities to PLCs; roads should be privatised; the state is castigated for being a milch-cow for producer interests and noisy pressure groups; he concludes there are too many farmers and that their energy is sapped and their imagination is blunted by subsidies; he attacks most professional bodies; he sneers at the notion of a new `cognitive elite' and the paranoia about the death of the job for life and ruthless multinationals; he teaches us to loathe building societies and believes charities to be nationalised industries in all but name. …

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