These countries are seeing huge increases in living standards, female emancipation, literacy and per capita GDP. Let Ed explain to them how they have been getting it wrong, and that it is time for them to acquire some western labour-market rigidities. He can tell them all about the clever way we do things here, with massive unfunded pension liabilities, and a welfare system that acts as a disincentive to work, and a labyrinthine grievance culture that makes it virtually impossible to dismiss anyone without being sued for discrimination of one kind or another.
He can tell them how wonderful it is for small businesses constantly to be hit by non-wage costs such as months and months of paternity leave. They don’t have that kind of thing in the Asian dynamos – and that is why they are so much more competitive. But if Ed can show them the way, perhaps they will acquire this baggage, and give the poor old UK competition a breather.
Well, what do you think? Will it work? One day I have no doubt that non-wage costs will be higher in China than they are today, as China’s rulers respond to the growing inequality in their society. Perhaps one day there will be a kind of global social charter, of the kind that Jacques Delors used to campaign for all those years ago, with a general partnership role for government in business of all kinds. But I don’t see it happening any time soon.
China and India have a combined population of 2.4 billion, with a middle class increasingly avid for possessions and status. They get up early; they work hard. The bourgeoisie knows the vital importance of inculcating their offspring with an understanding of science and maths. If you want to see the results of this culture of mental exertion, look at the first-class honours attained in some of our best universities, or the scholarship houses of leading fee-paying schools. One day in 40 or 50 years’ time we may well have persuaded them to go down our route, and once again festoon their economies with costly regulation; but in the meantime we need to compete.
Instead of hoping that they will acquire our debilities, we need to learn from their success. In making their seismic conversion to free-market capitalism, they have adopted a culture that rewards hard work, where taxes are kept as low as possible, where it is possible to create jobs easily, where governments zealously guard their own economic independence and where there is a clear recognition of the role of ambitious infrastructure projects in creating growth and long-term competitiveness. That is a lesson that I have no doubt the Chancellor will be spelling out to the Tory conference today.
Just as the world’s most successful economies are moving in one direction, it looks as if Miliband wants to go the other way. I am still not quite clear how he wants to restrain capitalism and attack the profit-motive; but all I can say is that it will only work if we could take China, India and the rest of the emerging market economies with us. There is a growing media-political view that free-market economics have somehow failed us, and that capitalism must be transformed by a new partnership with the state.
That is not the view of billions of people around the world, whose lives have been transformed in recent decades by escaping state economic control.