Farewell to Britain

Inside Politics – The Policy Exchange newsletter (London), 26 September 2008

This is my last contribution to Inside Politics. After four and a half years in Britain, most of which I spent at Policy Exchange, I shall be leaving for a new job in Sydney, Australia in October. So please allow me the indulgence of a personal look back.

When I arrived on these shores in March 2004 I was only too happy to leave my native Germany behind. At that time, Germany was a frustrating country for a number of reasons. The centre-left government under Chancellor Schroeder seemed unable to tackle Germany’s economic challenges. There were many of them: a Byzantine bureaucracy, crippling tax complexity, high unemployment and big budget deficits, just to name a few. Clearly, Germany’s economic prospects were grim by all accounts.

Britain, on the other hand, promised a much better opportunity. Wasn’t this the country which had invented the ‘post-modern economy’? Which had seen far-reaching reforms under Margaret Thatcher? Which had experienced much stronger economic growth than the Continent for more than a decade? And wasn’t it a much more liberal, freedom-loving country than statist Germany?

At least these were my expectations at the time, but it did not take long until I began to revise them. I may have believed that Germany was bureaucratic until I got to know the Town and Country Planning Act. I thought that Germany was badly governed until I learnt the word ‘quango’. I feared Germany’s public finances were in disarray until I understood Gordon Brown’s redefinition of ‘prudence’.

To sum it up: I came to the conclusion that Germany and Britain were more similar than the Germans think and the Brits wish to believe.

I have no pleasure in writing this because I have always considered myself an Anglophile – and an economic liberal for that matter. German liberals usually look across the Channel where they presume the roots of liberalism. Isn’t Britain the home of Adam Smith, David Hume and John Locke, the birthplace of limited government under the rule of law?

To come to Britain and find it at least as over-taxed, over-regulated and over-governed as Germany was a sobering experience. To look behind the headlines of its recent economic miracle and find it built on the quick sands of debt and house prices came as another unpleasant surprise.

I wish Britain well for the future although times ahead do not look rosy. But most of all I hope that Britain will soon rediscover her liberal roots.

Europe does not need another Germany but a Britain promoting the ancient British values of liberty, free markets and free trade.

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich is (the departing) Chief Economist at Policy Exchange

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