Thursday, May 30, 2013

The strange rebirth of liberal England

June 1, 2013

For the past 170 years The Economist has consistently advocated free trade, punctured government bloat and argued for the protection of individual liberties. It has also been consistently disappointed. Irksomely, political parties tend to plump either for economic liberalism or for social liberalism. Sometimes a small party boldly tries to combine the two—and is rewarded by becoming even smaller. In the United States our creed is so misunderstood that people associate liberalism with big government, when it advocates the opposite.

Yet now Britain, The Economist’s home, the land of Adam Smith (on lead guitar), John Stuart Mill (bass) and William Gladstone (vocals), there is reason for hope. Young Britons have turned strikingly liberal, in a classical sense (see article).

They are relaxed, almost to the point of ennui, about other people’s sexual preferences, drug habits and skin colour. Although, like older Britons, they do not think much of mass immigration, they are tired of politicians banging on about it. As for the row over gay marriage, soon to trouble the House of Lords, they can hardly see the problem.

The young want Leviathan to butt out of their pay cheques as well as their bedrooms. Compared with their elders, they are welfare cynics. Almost 70% of the pre-war generation, and 61% of baby-boomers, believe that the creation of the welfare state is one of Britain’s proudest achievements. Under 30% of those born after 1979 agree. The young are deficit-reduction hawks. They worry about global warming, but still generally lean towards Mill’s minimal “nightwatchman state” when it comes to letting business get on with it: they are relaxed about the growth of giant supermarkets, for example.