Free Market Conservatives: Free market capitalism will save the planet

This article was first published on Free Market Conservatives.

For as long as the debate around the environment has existed, we have been told that capitalism and the climate are diametrically opposed. You protect one at the detriment of the other. So long as we continue to live our decadent lives in our developed economies, gorging ourselves on fast food and fast fashion, the warming of the Earth will only accelerate. Or so the narrative goes.

That’s why one of Extinction Rebellion’s rallying cries is for an “end to consumerism”. It’s why eco-socialists love to argue that we should abandon economic growth in order to save the planet. They insist that if we can just escape from the clutches of our capitalistic way of living and transform the world economy, we could put the brakes on climate change once and for all.

Conveniently, we can now put that theory to the test. Thanks to coronavirus, dozens of developed economies around the world were shut down. Normal life was effectively paused for millions of people and consumer spending plummeted. In essence, Covid-19 lockdowns were a temporary “end to consumerism” – exactly what the eco-socialists have been campaigning for.

Unfortunately for them, the environmental consequences of that did not pan out exactly how they had hoped.

A new report in Nature examines the state of the climate during the lockdown period. It finds that the dramatic changes in our behaviour have had little to no effect on global temperature rises. The increase in the temperature of the planet will be just 0.01C lower than it would have been otherwise, a difference the authors of the report call “negligible”.

Lockdowns have come at a catastrophic cost. Millions of jobs have been lost around the world and we are heading into a colossal, era-defining recession. And that immense economic disruption made just 0.01 degrees’ worth of difference.

If we didn’t know it already, this latest data definitively proves that the eco-socialist approach of compromising on the economy in order to save the planet simply does not work. The incredibly simplistic economic model in socialists’ heads which says that the bigger the state is, the less damage evil private corporations can do, has been shown up as the nonsense that it is.

The economy is not some inscrutable body which we unaccountably prioritise ahead of actual human interests. It is simply the word we use to describe the transactional nature of temporary existence. Seeking to safeguard and strengthen the economy is the same thing as fighting for human interests. The better the economy does, the better people’s lives are.

The only alternative is feudalistic agro-communism. As has been the case through much of human history, that involves the vast majority of the world’s population living as peasants in abject poverty. People died young from curable diseases. They were trapped in lives of squalor. Their quality of life was a fraction of what it would be today.

That would be our eventual destination if we continued in a state of lockdown indefinitely. That’s where we would find ourselves if the “end to consumerism” was made permanent. Less economic growth means more poverty.

There is no reason why you can’t be both pro-capitalism and pro-environment. In fact, being pro-capitalism makes you a much better environmentalist. The Nature report goes on to say that a “strong green stimulus” could prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5C by 2050. In other words, evidence-based policy which harnesses the power of economic growth and funnels it into green enterprise – rather than trying in vain to oppose it altogether – is how we can stop the world from getting exponentially hotter.

Climate change is caused by emissions which come from fossil fuels. So the only way to fight it is to replace fossil fuels. And the only way to do that without undoing two centuries of economic progress and plunging the world back into poverty is through the power of the free market. The alternative is indefinite lockdown. And if the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that that is a profoundly unattractive prospect.

Free Market Conservatives: To revive the global economy, we need free trade

This article was first published on Free Market Conservatives.

In times of crisis, it is not unusual for political priorities to be drastically rearranged. For instance, ordinarily, the government would never consider taking over the payrolls of millions of furloughed workers at enormous cost, but that has become necessary thanks to unprecedented circumstances.

Even though that cost will have to be repaid at huge taxpayer expense in the future, it was the right thing to do. An immediate problem had to be solved by subsidising those people’s incomes. The long-term considerations were temporarily set aside in favour of short-term concerns.

Crucially, though, this policy is just that: short-term. Continuing the government’s furlough scheme for years, until long after lockdown has become a fading memory, would be both unnecessary and impossible. The problem will have gone away, since people will have returned to their jobs, so there is no reason why that radical short-term solution should be continued, at such unsustainable cost.

It is imperative that we apply this same logic to the issue of international trade. While it is true that the current unprecedented and unforeseeable circumstances have led to shortages of vital supplies around the world, that does not mean that it is now sensible to overhaul freedom of trade and resort to single-minded economic nationalism.

It is easy to see why this knee-jerk reaction has arisen. Procuring enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep NHS facilities fully stocked has become a mammoth task and shop shelves briefly sat empty amid scarcities of food and basic household goods. Meanwhile, the battle to produce vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 has led to an unseemly international race, wherein countries compete to get their hands on limited biochemical supplies.

The response from politicians around the world to these temporary obstacles has carried a worryingly permanent undertone. We are used to hearing shrieks of ‘America first!’ from across the Atlantic, but we are less accustomed to hearing President Macron of France, famed for his centrist globalism, pledge to move supply chains within national borders.

Those sentiments were echoed by German health minister, Jens Spahn. “We need to discuss the right degree of globalization,” he said. “For medicines and protective gear, we shouldn’t be that dependent on other regions. Security is more important than economic efficiency.”

These comments are emblematic of a wide, sweeping and profoundly troubling trend across the world. Governments appear willing to undo the immense progress of free trade and roll back globalist advances, which have done exponentially more than any other tool in history to lift millions out of poverty and stoke immense and widespread prosperity.

Freedom of international trade is the only effective fuel for the engine that is worldwide economic growth. A strong global economy benefits everyone in normal times, let alone in periods of economic recovery, when it is critical that we do not take any steps backwards.

Fortunately, here in the UK, we have a Prime Minister who is well-known for his bombastic defences of free trade and who was elected on a platform of crafting a global, outward-looking post-Brexit Britain. Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade, has voiced her condemnation of protectionism in no uncertain terms.

The problem is that free trade only works when everyone participates. Britain cannot do it alone. When lockdowns are lifted and normal life resumes, we will have an almighty task on our hands to revive the global economy and restore growth. We won’t be able to do that if we are all boxed into separate corners, refusing to interact in a mutually beneficial way.

Free Market Conservatives: For Coronavirus testing to succeed, the public and private sectors must work together like never before

This article was first published on Free Market Conservatives.

In this alternative timeline, everything has changed in the space of a month. The crisis that grips the world is sure to be era-defining. Horrifying statistics fly through the air like stray bullets. Graphs of doom plague our news feeds. The sheer volume of total unknowns is petrifying.

As we breach the rapid acceleration phase of the coronavirus pandemic, we have no idea how long the horrors will last, how far the infection will spread or how many lives it will claim.

The key to learning more about where we are and where we’re going is testing. Overall, in the eyes of the public at least, the government’s response to coronavirus has been extraordinarily strong – but testing failures threaten to capsize the whole national effort.

The front pages of newspapers that have been reliably pro-Tory for months now draw attention sharply to missed testing targets and a stark lack of answers to basic questions from the government.

Testing is indispensable in the battle against an epidemic. It is the only tool for tracking the spread of the virus and its fatality rates. Perhaps even more pertinently, it is urgently needed in order to equip and protect heroic NHS staff as we enter the most dangerous and challenging stage of the outbreak.

Just 0.4 per cent of frontline NHS staff have been tested for coronavirus. That number is shamefully small. Vast swathes of those crucial workers are currently self-isolating at home because they or a member of their family has displayed what may or may not be COVID-19 symptoms.

Any number of others who remain at work may be carrying the virus asymptomatically, placing both them and their vulnerable patients at unnecessary risk. The extremity of the need for huge numbers of tests cannot be understated.

The issue of testing is slowly but surely edging its way into the public conscience. It was never made entirely clear why tests were yanked away from us last month, against a backdrop of other countries around the world ramping up their testing as much as they possibly could. Now, the situation is more urgent than ever.

Some countries, such as South Korea, reacted with incredible speed and efficiency to the outbreak, engaging in mass testing and contact tracing in order to contain it. Those countries seem, so far, to have done a remarkable job of flattening the curve and keeping the contagion in check.

The situation in other European countries is also very different to that in the UK. Germany, for instance, has tested three times more people than Britain, relative to its population. Unhelpfully for government spokespeople, it also has much lower death rates, making the UK numbers seem alarming in comparison. The US has increased its daily testing by a factor of 21 over the last fortnight, while the UK has barely managed to double it each day.

Even the British government itself seems taken aback by our testing failures. On 11 March, it declared it would reach 10,000 tests per day within two weeks. It took more than three weeks for that target to actually be reached on 2 April.

There is no reason why this should have been the case.

In January, Public Health England unilaterally decided that it wanted to conduct all the UK’s coronavirus testing itself, out of one laboratory. Two months later, through gritted teeth, it agreed to grant the necessary permissions allowing twelve other labs to start testing, along with a handful of NHS facilities.

Meanwhile, dozens – hundreds, even – of other perfectly usable labs around the country sit idle, for reasons that are wholly inexplicable. Our universities contain some of the very best scientific institutions in the world, not to mention the many charity laboratories and, indeed, the remainder of the NHS facilities where no progress is being made on testing because authorisation from Public Health England has not been forthcoming. And that’s before we get to the private sector.

When the government issued the call for ventilators, private companies leapt onto centre stage, competing with one another over who could be the most generous towards the cause. Producers churned out ventilators which will go on to save thousands of lives.

And yet, the government for so long refused to do the same thing on testing. Many research facilities have been begging for weeks to be allowed to use their resources to contribute to the national effort, but the authorities have opted not to grant them permission to do so. Disastrous testing plans have led to an emergency situation.

It was only after the publication of Testing Times, a timely and much-needed report from Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, that the government finally began to signal a change of direction.

The report set exactly what steps need to be taken to make proper use of the vast body of resources the UK has at its disposal, to give our national testing capacity the substantive boost it so desperately needs. Matt Hancock responded by issuing a call for those with access to private facilities to inform the government of how they can be of service, in order to begin to make proper use of the vast body of resources the UK has at its disposal.

This is a significant step forward, but it denotes the beginning, not the end, of our concerted effort to improve our testing capacity. If the government is to have any chance of meeting its new target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of the month, Public Health England must dispense with its bizarre control freakery forthwith. It must loosen the reins and allow those world-class laboratories to get to work and begin producing COVID-19 tests on a mass scale. It was after doing precisely this last month that the US saw its testing numbers skyrocket.

If Public Health England refuses to burn the red tape and allow testing to take place in facilities outside of its direct control extremely soon, countless lives will be needlessly lost. There is no good reason to allow those labs to continue sitting empty as pressure piles onto the NHS and the virus tears through the population. We need thousands upon thousands more tests than we are currently producing, and we need them yesterday.

Free Market Conservatives: Remainers must stop trying to resurrect the Brexit debate

This article was first published on Free Market Conservatives.

The Brexit debate is over – or, at least, it should be. Boris Johnson winning his stonking majority in December ought to have been the final nail in the coffin of the Remain campaign. We left the EU in January, and the material exit date of 31 December 2020 has been set in stone, both politically and legally.

This should, then, be the point at which we begin to move on as a nation. The Brexit micro-era is over, so politics can return to some semblance of normality. We can refocus on domestic priorities like schools, the NHS, social care and violent crime. Meanwhile, the relevant government departments and Downing Street aides work away quietly carving out Britain’s place in the post-Brexit world, making that outward-looking global vision that we have heard so much about into reality.

Excruciatingly, though, those previously on the Remain side of the debate are simply refusing to move on. Acting Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and Labour leadership contender Lisa Nandy have both leapt on coronavirus hysteria as an excuse to call for the government to extend the transition period and, in effect, delay our exit from the EU yet again, for reasons that remain unclear.

Worse still, the all-but-certain next Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer – who was almost single-handedly responsible for the People’s Vote campaign going mainstream – waited until he was the clear frontrunner in the leadership contest to drop the bombshell that he is not opposed to the idea of campaigning to re-join the EU. Remainers of all stripes are making fools of us and themselves by refusing to concede to the catalogue of democratic mandates that has, at long last, led to Brexit getting done.

How can they fail to see that people simply do not want to talk about this any longer? How blind, how hopelessly shrouded in the thick veil of the Westminster bubble does one have to be to not notice how profoundly fed up of Brexit discourse the general public is? This fact is agonisingly obvious to the rest of us, who have waited years for the establishment to realise that the country was not going to change its mind, and is only going to send the popularity of those select few resilient Remainers tumbling.

Last year’s general election was an extraordinary expression of an unprecedented level of nationwide frustration. The Labour party was so desperate to distract from its attempts to delay Brexit indefinitely that it manufactured a crisis in which the orange grinch from across the pond was coming to steal our NHS, and ended up losing their heartlands as working-class voters flocked en masse to the mop-haired Etonian and his three-word manifesto.

‘Get Brexit done’ is the simplistic message that ushered in the landslide Conservative victory. For years, we talked about nothing but Brexit. Three and a half years on from the referendum, with no end in sight to the postponements Remainers insisted were absolutely necessary, vast swathes of the electorate did something they had never done before by voting Tory.

Even to the passive observer, this is clearly indicative of enormous levels of frustration. The children of miners were willing to vote for the party of Thatcher because they were so incredibly furious that politicians’ ceaseless dilly-dallying was stopping Britain from leaving the European Union.

For the likes of Labour and the Lib Dems to insist on continuing to talk about this and resurrect the debate over Brexit is, therefore, startlingly myopic. In vote after vote in recent years, British voters have politely declined the opportunity to overturn the result of the 2016 referendum.

The careers of those politicians who staked their flags on Remain with the most vigour have now disintegrated. The likes of Bercow, Grieve, Gauke, Stewart, Soubry, Umunna and Swinson have all been gracelessly booted out of Parliament and replaced by the likes of Dehenna Davison, the new Conservative MP for Bishop Auckland, one of dozens of enthusiastic young Leavers now gracing the government benches. Starmer and co would do well to glance across the chamber and notice that fact.