Well, I really enjoyed talking to and with a Civitas audience. You may be surprised that a wishywashy liberal hangs out with a think tank with such a differing view on the world. It’s a long story. Civil discussion and occasional disagreement are part of both our philosophies. And I was first drawn to them by an excellent project they run that transcends political viewpoints: their supplementary schools which clearly do thoroughly good work.
But I am glad my views on immigration were not called for. Earlier, I found myself asking David Green why borders around the UK need such vigilant policing when we are perfectly happy to let people from Yorkshire work in Kent . . .
Above all, Civitas events are usually excellent, displaying an exchange of views between participants of widely varying backgrounds. My previous attendances had heard Irwin Stelzer and Martin Wolf. Today, the punters had to put up with me. After I blithered on about A balancing act for a quarter of an hour, the discussion ranged over:
- when the fiscal tightening needs to start; Phillip Blond and I had surprising agreement on this. The long term effects of a second big Dip are horrible to contemplate regardless of your party affiliation.
- the minimum wage. The best contribution came from a self-deprecating economist called Paul Lewis who seemed to have read every Low Pay Commission report since 1885, and could tell people about which industries best resemble perfect competition and which are monopsonies: for those who are interested, social care is one that is worst affected by the minimum wage, most others not really so. Dan Lewis asked whether the black market economy distorted all this.
- Professor David Myddelton was there, (privately) discussing the recent shock announcement of their new director. I thought he nodded encouragingly during my disquisition which earned him my lifelong goodwill . . .
- Ruth Lea – who holds the “tight fiscal loose monetary” view. I longed to ask her about how much more loose monetary policy could be. I wonder what she would think of Richard Koo’s verdict that it is the greatest non-event of the Japanese recession. Yup, tens of trillions of yen of money can mean nothing if people don’t want to use the money for, you know, economic things like buying stuff . . .
- Several of us agreed that households could buy more than is popularly imagined.
What is really interesting is that if we had a ‘war by op-Eds’ you would not imagine that half the people in this room could get on with the other half. I mean, take Phillip Blond – arguably the star of the show – his views are that
The current political consensus”, he writes, is “left-liberal in culture and right-liberal in economics. And this is precisely the wrong place to be.”
Which is the opposite of my views. Ruth Lea and David Myddelton probably have views as far from mine on Keynesianism as it is possible to be and still be sane – at least in print. But behind closed doors, people dare to find common agreement where in public they would strive to show their differences. Not wishing to get sentimental, but it is the desire to get somewhere nearer the truth that comes to the fore.