Quinn Slobodian

Dominic Cummings understands Singapore. The Tories still don’t

My response to Kwasi Kwarteng's book review

(AP Photo/Jean-Jacques Levy)

I’ve read Kwasi Kwarteng’s surprisingly positive review of my book, Crack-Up Capitalism. Although it was unexpected to see someone from the libertarian corner being so enthusiastic about what is clearly a critical book, the experience was not new. After my previous book, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, was published in 2018, I was startled to find Deirdre McCloskey, a leading classical liberal historian, praising the book as a manual for ‘keeping a liberalism which has made us rich and free.’ Globalists explained how neoliberals wanted to keep decision-making from democratic electorates. I took McCloskey’s praise as a validation of my core thesis.

If it’s bracing to see a neoliberal academic concede that democracy is not, in fact, particularly important to them, to have an elected politician say something similar is even more surprising. Kwarteng’s review provides what is effectively a summary of my book, more or less without judgment. It begins jarringly with the Dutch consultant Albert Winsemius’s advice to Lee Kuan Yew to ‘eliminate’ the communists after the founding of the independent Singaporean nation, and ends with Kwarteng asking whether, as ‘crack-brained’ as they seem, we can really dismiss the book’s anthology of libertarian schemes so quickly in a time of ‘anaemic growth’. ‘The road map to reaching utopia,’ he writes, ‘is quite complicated.’

A curious omission in Kwarteng’s précis of Crack-Up Capitalism was the role of his own party in pursuing the agenda of what I calls ‘perforation’ – the creation of different ‘zones’ to help economic development. The book’s second chapter is built around how Chicago School economist Milton Friedman inspired Margaret Thatcher’s first chancellor, and Kwarteng’s predecessor, Geoffrey Howe. In 1978, in the Waterman’s Arms pub on the Isle of Dogs, Howe explained to a group of gathered Tories that the isle could become a second Hong Kong, a city Friedman had lauded as ‘capitalism in action’.

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