Arthur Seldon, who founded the IEA with Ralph Harris, 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 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 was about human dignity;
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.In the years before the 1911 National Insurance Act, the working classes were served by a network of friendly societies, savings and loans clubs, mutuals and insurers that provided an alternative to the old Poor Law provision; their growth and popularity reflected a striving for that human dignity that is at the heart of a congruent society and nation.
By reserving to itself the duty of care of our less fortunate fellows, the State also creates a barrier to the fulfilment of our own obligations to our neighbour and community; Welfare measures intended with best intention to end the human indignity of the Poor Law and the stigma of poverty have themselves at the start of the 21st century created a Welfare slavery that condemns entire generations of families to a culture of idleness and ill health, deprived of the dignity of work and belonging, alienated from the mutual rewards of citizenship, barred from fulfilment and deprived of that human solidarity "of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples ". Surely to God it's time to end their captivity.