State vs. market: is there a way forward?

Battle of Ideas festival 2013, Saturday 19 October, Barbican, London


The free market has long been understood as a key aspect of freedom more generally. But critics also see the market as a place of exploitation, as a threat to, rather than an expression of, our freedom. And in the past 150 years there has grown up a counterbalance to the market in the form of the state: both the protector and regulator of the market. Should private businesses be compelled to obey the dictates of the public as personified by the state? Or, conversely, should they enjoy the same freedoms as private individuals – the freedom to buy what they want and sell what they want? Does that extend to discrimination in the labour market? Should employers be able to discriminate against employees they think are too old or customers they just don’t like?

Might it be that an increasingly top-heavy state is holding back the entrepreneurial dynamism of the market, or should we view it as vital life-support to a system far beyond the capabilities of private enterprise, however large? Is it right that the market should be involved in the traditional functions of the state like prisons, healthcare, even the army and the police? And must the state act as a prop to the market by subsidising industries that are failing or would never start up in the first place without a hand-out from the taxpayer? Can it, given the scale of public debt, even afford such largesse? Is it time to find a way past the opposition between state and market? Do the terms even make sense anymore, given the degree of mutual reliance and interpenetration they have now achieved?

Louise Cooper

financial analyst and blogger,

Thomas Hylland Eriksen
professor of social anthropology, University of Oslo; novelist; author, Ethnicity and Nationalism and Globalization: the key concepts

Phil Mullan
economist and business manager; author, Creative Destruction: How to start an economic renaissance

Dr Andrew Sentance
Senior Economic Adviser to PwC (since 2011); formerly, external member, Monetary Policy Committee, Bank of England

Angus Kennedy

convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination