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Arthur Seldon: A Life For Liberty [Hardcover]

Colin Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 July 2009

Arthur Seldon was one of the most influential economists of the late twentieth century. His ideas were key to the changes in economic policies under Margaret Thatcher's government and which spread to many other countries.

Seldon was for thirty years the editorial director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, where he directed a publishing programme which included some of the world's most eminent economists, such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, advocating, among other things, less government intervention, control of inflation by monetary means, and reduced power for trades unions. Seldon was also a prolific author, and his Collected Works occupy seven volumes.

This new biography concentrates on Seldon's intellectual contribution and traces the roots of his work from his childhood in the Jewish East End of London, where self-help and voluntary aid for the disadvantaged were the norm, through his time at the London School of Economics, where he was influenced by some of the leading economists of the 1930s, to his time at the IEA, where he worked in partnership with Ralph Harris.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; First Edition edition (2 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846682495
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846682490
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 840,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

First biography of a major architect of Thatcher's economic revolution

About the Author

Colin Robinson is Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Surrey. He knew Seldon for forty years and succeeded him as IEA Editorial Director. Also with contributions from Martin Anderson, Chris Tame, Stuart Waterhouse and Professor Basil Yamey, all of whom knew Seldon personally.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Tribute not a Biography 7 Jan 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was very disappointed by this biography: Arthur Seldon was a major economist but discreet by nature so that he was less well-known than he should have been and he merited better. The major flaws in the book are the direct result of its having been written by a friend and long-standing colleague so that Seldon's ideas are never fully examined, put in question or opposed at any point. The book is far too short for the subject (the lines are widely spaced); the biography is dealt with in summary fashion, not to say drily, and the economic ideas of Seldon are presented clearly but in far too simplistic a manner so as to be almost an insult to the intelligence.

To return to the biographical pages, these consist for the major part of tributes and speeches made at his funeral by his sons and also half a dozen obituaries (which can be read online anyway) so that the portrait of the man is hardly objective or as detailed as it might have been. For instance, Arthur Seldon is known to have loved music; this is merely mentioned in passing as though it was of no importance to our understanding of the man. Another event of importance is also passed over too briefly: the role Seldon and his wife played in the successful campaign which led to Eric Lubbock's becoming the first Liberal MP (for Orpington).
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A prime mover of progress 14 July 2009
Format:Hardcover
It is my earnest belief that the greatest recognition of Arthur Seldon still lies ahead in the future when his pivotal role in the re-emergence of market ideas in Britain will finally be recognised.

This superb biography of Arthur Seldon is a lot like the man himself, modest, self-effacing, congenial yet with a steely determination to promote the principles in which he wholeheartedly believed in and which he held to throughout his life.

I met Arthur Seldon through his ideas and his writing although I did not know it for the longest time. Growing up in Britain in the postwar years it was hard not to be aware of great changes taking place in every walk of life. Following my departure from school and my immersion into the world of work I became interested in both politics and economics and found pamphlets from the Institute of Economic Affairs which, despite any formal training, I was able to read and absorb the contents. In those early years of the 1970s, each pamphlet contained an Introduction, usually signed by "Editor", usually about two pages long which were written with the utmost clarity. The publications were about every possible subject and it was sometimes difficult not to understand why the government did not get the message and change policies.

Later, "Editor" was replaced by Arthur Seldon, and eventually Economic Affairs, under his Editorial direction was essential reading during my first degree. Much later I got to meet the man himself at a Hobart lunch and it was a great shock to be confronted with someone who spoke as he wrote, who was enthusiastic about his work and his subject and life in general and who would go out of his way to explain and debate.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Minor considerations 17 July 2009
Format:Hardcover
This is superb book about a virtually unknown man whose influence was very great. Though a biography, this is also a book about the importance of ideas, the tyranny of conventional wisdom and the virtue of perseverence.

The first pleasure is a single verse from a poem by Longfellow which is memorable and I had not seen before. It seems apt for Seldon.

I think the author makes an error in repeatedly noting that Seldon's impoverished childhood mitigated by altruistic Jewish self-help and voluntary private welfare-provision naturally led to his 'hardly surprising' conclusion that these things were more effective than state provision and overbearing government solutions. If only it was so natural and unsurprising! Mr. Robinson does not discuss the unfortunate fact that the majority came - and still come - to exactly the opposite conclusion and consistently vote for parties of the left.

I also believe the effects of the work of the IEA, along with other free-market, limited-government think tanks, although considerable in political terms can be overstated. I know about the great President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher. Above all, I know about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rest. But although attitudes have changed, the period seems almost an abberation. The great public exponents of individual liberty are gone; we look for their successors. Meanwhile, the UN is only the latest body to call for big government solutions and, terrifyingly, even to say that capitalism has been tried and found wanting. Seldon might gently point out that it was not tried at all!
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and important book. 10 Sep 2009
Format:Hardcover
I have to admit I hadn't heard of Arthur Seldon until recently. However, I bought the book and strongly recommend it to others.

Seldon was an economist and for many years the leading intellectual figure at the UK's Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA). He was a proponent of the view that free markets are critical to the success of an economy - in effect the antithesis of the Keynesian views which were commonplace and consensus in Britain in the mid 20th century. For many years the IEA carried the banner for free market thinking until eventually the Thatcher government "got it" and their view prevailed.

Today, free market beliefs are seen as a form of heresy; large and interventionist government is "in". Today's protagonists of large government frequently choose to brand free market proponents as not only obviously wrong but also greedy and uncaring. Seldon's life as well as his economic views illustrate just how wrong such critics are. He was brought up as a Jew in London's East End. He learned the virtues of hard work, commitment to one's spouse and family, supporting the poor and undertrodden in the community and, of course, the need for scrupulously honest debate in economics as well as elsewhere.

I don't think Selsdon would have recognised the greedy bankers (if such there be) as true carriers of the free market approach at all. Selsdon's belief was that giving economic agents the freedom to exercise choice and to take responsibility for their choices will produce an efficient economy and one which will meet the needs of the citizens. Large government is inefficient and does not meet the needs of the people. Freedom to think or do what government permits can never be true freedom.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
5.0 out of 5 stars A prime mover of progress 14 July 2009
By Junglies - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It is my earnest belief that the greatest recognition of Arthur Seldon still lies ahead in the future when his pivotal role in the re-emergence of market ideas in Britain will finally be recognised.

This superb biography of Arthur Seldon is a lot like the man himself, modest, self-effacing, congenial yet with a steely determination to promote the principles in which he wholeheartedly believed in and which he held to throughout his life.

I met Arthur Seldon through his ideas and his writing although I did not know it for the longest time. Growing up in Britain in the postwar years it was hard not to be aware of great changes taking place in every walk of life. Following my departure from school and my immersion into the world of work I became interested in both politics and economics and found pamphlets from the Institute of Economic Affairs which, despite any formal training, I was able to read and absorb the contents. In those early years of the 1970s, each pamphlet contained an Introduction, usually signed by "Editor", usually about two pages long which were written with the utmost clarity. The publications were about every possible subject and it was sometimes difficult not to understand why the government did not get the message and change policies.

Later, "Editor" was replaced by Arthur Seldon, and eventually Economic Affairs, under his Editorial direction was essential reading during my first degree. Much later I got to meet the man himself at a Hobart lunch and it was a great shock to be confronted with someone who spoke as he wrote, who was enthusiastic about his work and his subject and life in general and who would go out of his way to explain and debate. He always had time for students and would patiently deal with their questions and comments and equally always had time for those who disagreed and wanted to spar with him. On one occasion he wrote to a national newspaper to urge the Labour Party to establish a think tank of their own and provide the Institute of Economic Affairs with some needed competition.

Colin Robinson has done an exemplary job in bringing this spirit of Arthur to his biography. He has managed to capture the essence of the man and the ideas which he propounded. The book will sit comfortably on my shelves next to highly theoretical texts as it will next to charged polemics, just as Arthur was as comfortable with Austrian economics as he was with public choice and the works of Adam Smith.

Arthur and Marjorie, his wife, were always pleasnt and polite company, at home with the great and the good, the old and the young. They were both young at heart because of their interest in new ideas and arguments. In Arthur Seldon: a life for liberty, Colin Robinson has done us all a sterling service in bringing to the wider public a view of one man who lived his life the way he believed it should be lived: in putting forward his views and arguments to be tested and challenged by others so that he could assess those contrary opinions and overcome them. Through his life and his work he was able to achieve change for the better for his beloved Britain and his fellow countrymen.
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