This is a guest post by Philip Booth, Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics, St. Mary’s University, Twickenham; Academic and Research Director, Institute of Economic Affairs. Booth will be speaking in London on Dec. 1 at Acton Institute’s The Crisis of Liberty in the West conference (register here). This post is based on remarks prepared for delivery at the United Kingdom Government Foreign and Commonwealth Office conference on Preventing Violent Extremism by Building Inclusive and Plural Societies, Oct. 19-20.
Economic freedom and economic harmony
By Phillip Booth
In a free society, persons participate in economic exchange and civil society freely, without interference as long as they do not harm others. Of course, actions such as inciting violence and so on need to be dealt with and possibly prosecuted. But, individuals and families, often working as communities and through civil society organisations are able to go about their life without undue impediment. In such a situation, the government does not have positive powers as such – or at least not many of them – it exists to promote justice, provide for the needy who cannot be provided for in other ways, ensure that there is peace and civil order, and so on. Such a society should be one in which parents can send their children to religious schools of the parents’ choice and where people can worship freely – again, assuming that such schools or religious groupings are not inciting violence and threatening peace.
When thinking about economic freedom, perhaps we focus too much on the economic efficiency benefits of a free society and do not talk enough about how such a society also promotes peace and harmony.
Business is especially important here. This cannot be stressed enough. There are relatively thick ties within families and within churches and mosques, for example. However, there are often very thin ties between churches, mosques other religious groupings. Business makes those thin ties thicker. It requires people of different faiths to co-operate. People encounter a much greater variety of persons who are different from them in the business world – as customers, employers or suppliers – than they do in any other area of their life. Indeed, in the business world, discrimination is expensive. If I don’t want to be served by a Pole, a Muslim, an Italian or a Chinese person in a restaurant in London, I would probably end up at a very bad restaurant! If I did not want to be driven by a Muslim taxi driver, in some cities I would literally never get a taxi. Business is a mutually enriching activity and so encountering others different from ourselves through business co-operation is very important.
This is a not a relativist position. It is not an attempt to suggest that all religions are equally true. However, co-operation through business is an essential part of a free and tolerant society. (more…)