The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is partnering with the U.K.-based Centre for Policy Studies on the Margaret Thatcher Conference for Liberty, taking place on Wednesday.

As part of the conference, Institute for Liberal Studies Executive Director Matt Bufton is detailing his thoughts on some of the panels taking place as part of the event.

Below is his blog post on "Has the other side won?", which looked at the current state of capitalism and freedom across the world. It featured Fraser Nelson as chair and John Howard, Jason Kenney and Toby Young as panelists.

To follow along with the livestream of the event, click here.

Matt Bufton, June 18, 2014

For advocates of free markets and limited government the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 (followed a year later by the election of Ronald Reagan in the United States) began an era of political victories that might have seemed impossible just a few years earlier. The ideas of economists such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, both recently-minted Nobel Laureates at the time of Thatcher’s first electoral victory, began to become commonly advocated by successful politicians. Almost 30 years later, at a time when acceptance of capitalism seemed almost universal, the world was hit with a financial crisis that sparked the revival of Keynesian ideas that many had thought were long dead.

These developments are the reason that a panel at today’s Thatcher Conference on Liberty, hosted by the U.K.-based Centre for Policy Studies, was asked to address the question, “Has the Other Side Won?” Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard was joined by Canadian Minister of Employment Social Development Jason Kenney and British journalist Toby Young in discussing the current state of freedom and capitalism in their home countries and around the globe.

Howard offered a mixed evaluation – praising the transformation of Indonesia from a military dictatorship to democracy during his time in office while bemoaning the recent military coup in Thailand which some of the country’s elite praise as a restoration of order.

Kenney focused on the record of Canada’s Conservative government, tracing the origins of their success to the work done by groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (of which Kenney once served as president) and the Reform Party (in which current Prime Minister Stephen Harper played an important role) in the 1990s. Interestingly he spent more time praising the way in which Canada has accommodated a large number of immigrants (an issue not associated with the CTF or the Reform Party) as the economic impact of tax cuts, free trade, and fiscal responsibility (which both groups championed).

These immigrants, whom Kenney says embody the values of hard work, entrepreneurship, and innovation championed by Margaret Thatcher, have contributed much to Canada both historically and currently, but their biggest impact may be yet to materialize. Like most developed countries Canada is faced with a birth-rate below replacement levels that requires immigration to mitigate the burden that an aging population will place on the tax-paying workforce. By welcoming immigrants Canada may be setting an example for other developed nations and securing our (fledgling) reputation as one of the world’s most stable economies.

Toby Young praised the record of capitalism in reducing poverty around the world and, by virtue of enriching the very poorest, reduced inequality. He noted that political unrest often comes not as a simple result of poverty, but of the feeling of exclusion from economic opportunity. Left unstated was the underlying connection – if countries choose centrally-planned economies that deny opportunity to the disadvantaged those countries which embrace capitalism can provide that opportunity by welcoming them as immigrants.

In the Q&A portion of the panel (questions were taken through tablets and smart phones, the kind of technology that Kenney points out is often invented by entrepreneurial immigrants) one audience member asked about the tensions conservatives sometimes feel between liberty and the free movement of people. Both Howard and Kenney argued for the right of nation-states to decide who is granted entry across their borders. Kenney pointed out that few people outside the Wall Street Journal believe in totally open borders (though there is a growing movement among academics, such as economist Bryan Caplan, who advocate for precisely that). Still, the message seemed clear: countries that value freedom and entrepreneurship should welcome immigrants – who tend to value those ideals even more than those of us lucky enough to have been born into a free and capitalist society.

Matt Bufton is the Executive Director of the Institute for Liberal Studies.

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