Arthur Seldon - Firm belief in self-reliance

"An immense contribution to human enlightenment".

Published: 3rd November 2005

TRIBUTES to a Sevenoaks liberal economist and writer who helped to shape British politics have been expressed to the Chronicle and publications around the world.

Arthur Seldon died at his home of 40 years, Thatched Cottage in Godden Green, on October 11th. He was 89. Arthur was born in 1916 in humble circumstances in the east end of London. His parents were
Russian-Jewish immigrants who died within a week of each other in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. When he was two, he was adopted by a neighbouring childless cobbler and his wife, who had also immigrated from Russia.

When Arthur was 10, his adoptive father died but his widow continued to dote on him until she
passed away in 1960. His background helped cultivate his belief in self-reliance and was to shape his influential free-market attitudes, which later led him to co-found the Institute of Economic Affairs.

In 1934, he won a scholarship to the London School of Economics, where he studied classical
liberal economics and graduated with a First in 1937 before working in a government survey re-
search unit.

In 1940, he joined the Army, serving in Africa and Italy. Arthur tutored part-time students in the commerce degree bureau and was appointed a staff examiner in 1945. From 1946 to 1949 he edited a retail trade journal, Store, where he met and married the love of his life, Marjorie, whose uncle invented Daylight Saving Time. Marjorie was a war widow with a son, Michael, who Arthur adopted and they had two more sons, Anthony and Peter.

For the next decade, Arthur worked as economic adviser to the brewing industry and in 1957, he was
introduced to Ralph Harris (now Lord Harris of High Cross), who was general director of the
newly-formed independent Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), of which Arthur soon became editorial director.

In a single weekend, he drafted a paper, published a few months' later as Pensions in a Free Society. It
unfashionably declared: 'The philosophy underlying this paper is that most of us are now adult enough to be left, or to be helped, to live our lives according to our own lights... The transition from independence must be gradual; that is all the more reason for beginning soon."

There followed a remarkable 30-year partnership between Arthur and Ralph Harris and the pair wrote more than 300 scholarly books and papers which contributed to the shift away from the economics of John Maynard Keynes towards the market-centred ideas which were the basis for Thatcherism.

Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon said this week:

"He was a visionary economist; one of the unsungheroes of British economic reform. Arthur influenced a whole generation of politicians. He was a great man."

On his 80th birthday, Lady Thatcher wrote to offer her congratulations, declaring that Arthur had made an invaluable contribution to the political and economic map of Britain.

"You always refused to accept Britain's decline and through your visionary work and rigorous preparation, you inspired much of our success during the 1980s".

The Australian Government turned to Arthur when it reformed the country's state and private pensions and Singapore's first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, regularly consulted him. Many of his students went on to become very influential within their own countries.

After Arthur's retirement from directorship of the IEA, he was a consultant and in 1990 became a founder-president. In 2002 he published The Making of the lEA and in 2004 to 2005 a collection of his work and other sources has been published in seven volumes by the Liberty Fund.

Arthur's hobbies were cricket and opera along with his popular 'parties for non-conformists' at his home.
His funeral took place at Tunbridge Wells Crematorium on October 19, where he was remembered for his humour, kindness, intellect and modesty and making 'an immense contribution to human enlightenment'.

Tributes to Arthur have already been published in several national broadsheet newspapers and the
New York Times. Arthur leaves behind his wife, three sons and seven grandchildren. His son, Peter, said:

"He was a classical liberal economist and believed the Conservative Government of 1992 to 1997 continued to take too large a proportion of the nation's wealth for itself.

Coming from the east end, he saw the free market as the best way of maximising choice, and conferring
on people the dignity which goes with being customers not merely recipients of a state machine distrib-
uting services labelled 'take it or leave it'.

"Despite his worldwide renown, he was always totally modest and really did treat everybody equally. I am most proud of him for this very humanity"

A memorial service will take place in London on January 11th and details can be found on a website
established in his memory at