Arthur Seldon, who founded the IEA with Ralph Harris, would have found Polly Toynbee's privileged background remote indeed. He was born Abraham Margolis in the East End of London to Russian-Jewish refugee parents. They both died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. He was adopted by a cobbler, Pinchas Slaberdain, and his wife Eva. He grew up with the great depression in the East End, and knew the harsh reality of poverty at first hand. He recalls when he was nine or ten his foster father died to leave him and his foster mother provided for by an insurance policy. He says he learned that even the poor, if left alone, were doing things for themselves. He said:
I was appalled by the insensitivity of governments to the efforts of the working classes to help themselves - the belief that they could not do all the necessary things. They were most anxious to ensure that they used all the opportunities of insurance to safeguard their families in times of sickness and loss of work. I began to sense a sort of anti-working class sentiment in all political parties. They wanted the State to do these things. They didn't like people to do things for themselves. They thought that ordinary people weren't capable. They forgot all the history of the working classes.Ralph Harris, too, came from a working class background. He recalled when his mother died finding four policies in a shoebox - a funeral benefit policy for each of her children. "The working class feared they wouldn't have the money to bury their dead, so you could take out for a penny or halfpenny a week an insurance policy to pay five pounds; four children, four policies, sixpence a week altogether and five pounds on it." Harris believed in something that would be quite alien to Mary Louisa Toynbee;
Liberty carries with it individual responsibilities. Responsibility for yourself, and hopefully your family and as far as possible your neighbours. But it does throw responsibility onto our own shoulders. Well, that's what living means; it doesn't mean shrugging off responsibility and taking soft options.
Now, when I want to hear what policy will best help the poor, do I listen to Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon, or to Lady Mary Louisa Toynbee? Tough call.