Friday, October 20, 2006

Ralph Harris, RIP

One of England's free market heroes, who paved the way for Margaret Thatcher to begin the reclamation of the UK's economy, passes:

The Lord Harris of High Cross, who died yesterday aged 81, was, with Arthur Seldon, one of the founders of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and perhaps the most successful polemicist of the second half of the 20th century, retrieving and advancing free-market ideas which were initially deeply out of favour and providing the intellectual basis for Margaret Thatcher's reforms of the 1980s.

In fact, though Ralph Harris was the first life peer appointed under the Thatcher government, and declared his admiration for her, he hotly denied being a Thatcherite. "But I count it fortunate for Britain… that she was something of an 'IEA-ite'," he wrote. He took his place on the crossbenches, to the approval of his intellectual mentor, Friedrich von Hayek. He decided, too, against obtaining a coat of arms because heraldry could not represent Adam Smith's "invisible hand".

...."A lot of our thinking was deliberately intended to affront [the establishment] and to wake them up," Harris conceded. The IEA had been set up as an educational charity by a Sussex farming entrepreneur named Antony Fisher from the profits of the Buxted Chicken company, and had been inspired by Hayek's Road to Serfdom, which Fisher had read in condensed form in the Reader's Digest.

From the beginning, it made no attempt to put forward proposals which had been devised according to what was "politically possible", but attempted to convince intellectuals and journalists of the case for the market, reasoning that politicians would follow.

The Tories' landslide victory in 1979 brought to the fore many of the policies for which Harris and the IEA had been arguing since the 1950s. Privatisation and cuts in income tax, which had been dismissed as mad by bien-pensant opinion when Harris and Seldon began to publish, became popular and successful planks of government policy.

And no Telegraph obituary would be complete without a mention of its subject's idiosyncracies:

With his centre parting and toothbrush moustache, Harris exuded a gentle, old-fashioned charm which made him excellent company, as well as proving an effective tool for promoting his beliefs.

He was an accomplished amateur conjuror and was fond of bathing in the sea (he took regular dips off Eastbourne).

Harris's favourite dinner was lamb chops with roast potatoes, followed by apple pie, and he always travelled with a portable pepper grinder, in case black pepper could not be found on the table.

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