TCS Daily


Lord Harris of High Cross, RIP

By Eamonn Butler - October 30, 2006 12:00 AM

Supporters of the free economy and free society from around the world are mourning the death of Lord Harris of High Cross, who has died at the age of 81.

Ralph Harris was a not only a key figure in the free-market movement, but a popular and charming individualist who won many friends to his cause. As Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs, in London, from 1957-1987, he oversaw the production of streams of publications taking head on the post-war 'consensus' politics of state planning, nationalization, and intervention.

Harris built the IEA into a powerhouse of ideas that informed and emboldened Mrs Thatcher in advance of her election as UK Prime Minister in 1979. She elevated him to the House of Lords, where - true to his principles that ideas are stronger than politics - he sat as a non-aligned member. In later years he became a leading light of the euro-skeptic Bruges Group and the Freedom Organization for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (FOREST).

With his upright bearing, centre parting, clipped moustache, tweeds and exotic waistcoats, Ralph Harris cultivated the image an Edwardian gentleman, and had the charm to match. But he was proud of his working-class roots, and the fact that he did not come from a privileged background or go to a private school made it hard for critics to dismiss his free-market beliefs as mere class or vested interest. He won a scholarship to Cambridge, where he took a first-class economics degree and an MA, and went on to teach economics in the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

At this stage he flirted with politics, standing unsuccessfully for election in Kirkcaldy (the birthplace of the great economist Adam Smith) and Central Edinburgh; and journalism, becoming a leader writer on the Glasgow Herald.

This combination of academic, policy and writing skills caught the attention of businessman Antony Fisher. A former Battle of Britain pilot, Fisher sought to join the battle of ideas. He created the Institute of Economic Affairs to argue for the free society and free economy, and engaged Harris as its first Director General.

It was a formidable challenge: the post-war academic and political consensus had a deep faith in state intervention and planning. But Harris and colleagues Arthur Seldon and John Wood set about it with relish - not seriously expecting to change the world, but hoping to have a little fun. "It was a marvellous period," said Harris. "We had no allies anywhere."

Nevertheless, the IEA did help change the world. Soon it was pumping out a stream of shockingly iconoclastic papers, showing arguing that free markets, smaller government, and personal freedom would produce better results than state control. Other isolated academics joined the ranks, offering critiques of state institutions like the National Health Service, public libraries, schools, or welfare policy, or sketching breathtaking accounts how such things would be provided in a properly free society.

Harris became the public face of the IEA, and its principal fundraiser, roles that were helped in large measure by his charm - and impish humour, as evidenced by the title of his 1971 book, Down With the Poor.

A keen pipe-smoker who always carried a spare pipe in his pocket, on his retirement from the IEA he took up the cause of smokers, who then suffered as much abuse as free-marketeers had done in the 1950s and 1960s. When smoking was banned on trains, he and friends commandeered one of the carriages for a 'smoke in'. In Smoking Out the Truth and Murder a Cigarette, he scorned the medical establishment's claims that passive smoking was a major risk to health and challenged the Chief Medical Officer to provide evidence.

Harris was a leading light in the Mont Pelerin Society, an international body of free-market economists, which numbers several Nobel Laureates among its membership. He organized its 1976 meeting in St.Andrews and became its President 1982-84.

Thanks to his long involvement in the IEA and to his outgoing, humorous and highly individualistic personality, he ended his life a hugely popular and respected mentor, friend, and model to free-market activists all over the world.

Dr Eamonn Butler is Director of the Adam Smith Institute

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2 Comments

Lord Harris and the Modern UK
It is to bad that apparently the modern UK is quickly becoming Big Brother. With Global Warming Taxes and now microchips in the arms to track the every move of it's citizenry the UK has degenerated into the ultimate Orwellian state.

I am sure Lord Harris is weeping to see what is happening.

Who?
Honestly, never heard of him.

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