PrestoPundit

Lord Harris Dead at 81

Posted by PrestoPundit on 10/20/2006

Here’s the Times news story.

And here’s the Times obit. Quotable:

FOR three decades at the epicentre of free-market thinking, Ralph Harris was decisive in converting the British political consensus back to liberal economics. He did this chiefly by informing — and often inspiring — an ideological underpinning for Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph as they remodelled the Conservative Party after 1975.

Supplying the motivating energy (as its general director, 1957-87) behind the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the most enduring and intellectually substantial of the think-tanks made famous by the Thatcher phenomenon, Harris had exhibited great character in maintaining his viewpoint while government by dirigisme dominated political fashion.

At the root of his thinking lay an abhorrence of the “vain ambition” of economic planning — 1940s controls really did entail, he recalled, that “the practical world was a kind of serfdom. You did as you were told.”

But his methods of changing matters were sophisticated. As far as the IEA was concerned, he was opposed to orthodox political involvement. Think-tanks should aim to change opinion, but remain uncontaminated by baser activity. He argued the point with inimitable style: “Keep clear of politics. Politics is bad for you. It leads to compromise and deals and confusion and vote-getting and lying and cheating and all these, in the end.”

Thus protected, the IEA retained an invaluable aura of scholarship.

When appointed a life peer in 1979, Harris joined the crossbenches. A pipe-smoking devotee who carried spares in his pockets and extolled the joys of conjuring, he was a generous, energetic and charming man, with a seemingly irreverent but well-executed turn of phrase.

Even his hero, Friedrich Hayek, was fair game for deconstruction. Given the great ideologue’s thoughtfulness, said Harris, “I can’t imagine, if I may say so, Hayek running a picnic.”

But behind the exquisite charm and premier skills as generous host and renowned after-dinner speaker lay a formidable intellectual sharpness — and an ardour that remained fiery despite the passing decades.

More obits and other links here.

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