We know what was wrong and what was right with the welfare state. It is right to provide a floor through which people cannot fall, it is right to secure the general well-being of all through a universal account of the common good and the necessity of full participation in it. However, welfare is a far more effective ceiling than it is an adequate floor – it traps as many as it helps and condemns, therefore, a whole class to permanent poverty and dependence.
Similarly, we know what is right and what is wrong with the market state. The market is a more efficient mechanism for the distribution of many resources than the state. If one can enter the marketplace and if one has something to trade, it can create wealth, prosperity and independence.
Yet we also know what is wrong with the market state – too often it replaces a public monopoly with a private cartel. The majority of Britons have been denied entry and have lost any access to investment capital. Thus the ability to transform one's situation through the market has steadily declined, while wealth has flowed upwards to a new oligarchic class, asset rich and leverage keen, who have assumed market freedom was synonymous with their complete ascendancy. Prudent Chancellors promised no more boom and bust, the state sanctioned monopoly capitalism and sat happy on the tax receipts of unrestrained global gambling. And so the market and the welfare state both colluded in a system whose bankruptcy is now ongoing and self-evident.
The real merit of the current Conservative renaissance has in some way escaped notice: it rejects both the welfare and the market state for the civic state. This civic state aims to blend the benefits of welfare and the market mechanism, not by favouring one but by exceeding both. It could inveigh with equal vigour against the public monopolies of state and the private cartels of the market – breaking the barriers to market participation and individual capitalisation. Finally, it could undo the ruinous consequences of the lazy moral and social relativism of the liberal middle class. By injecting a new moral purpose and political culture into Britain – the Conservatives could fashion a new compact of mutual responsibility and binding social ethic.
Philip Blond was speaking at the launch of the Progressive Conservatism project by the political think-tank DemosReuse content