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Economic liberalism[a] is a political and economic ideology based on strong support for an individualist market economy and private property in the means of production. Economic liberals tend to oppose government intervention in the market when it inhibits free trade and open competition, but support government intervention to protect property rights and resolve market failures. Economic liberalism has been generally described as representing the economic expression of classical liberalism.
As an economic system, economic liberalism is organized on individual lines, meaning that the greatest possible number of economic decisions are made by individuals or households rather than by collective institutions or organizations. An economy that is managed according to these precepts may be described as liberal capitalism or a liberal economy.
Economic Liberalism is the theory of economics in Classical Liberalism, developed during the Enlightenment, particularly by Adam Smith, which advocates minimal interference by government in the economy. This was initially to promote the idea of private ownership and trade. However due to growing awarness of concerns regarding policy economic liberalism paved way for a new form of liberalism, which allowed for government intervention in order to help the poor. Economic. As a consequence, the widespread appeal of Smith’s economic theories of free trade, the division of labour and the principle of individual initiative has helped to obscure the rich body of political liberalism to be found in his work. This promoted the everyday man to hold ownership of his own property and trade which slowly allowed for individuals to take control of their places within society.
Economic liberalism is associated with markets and private ownership of capital assets. Historically, economic liberalism arose in response to mercantilism and feudalism. Today, economic liberalism is also considered opposed to non-capitalist economic orders such as socialism and planned economies. It also contrasts with protectionism because of its support for free trade and open markets.
Economic liberals commonly adhere to a political and economic philosophy which advocates a restrained fiscal policy and the balancing of budgets, through measures such as low taxes, reduced government spending, and minimized government debt. Free trade, deregulation of the economy, lower taxes, privatization, labour market flexibility, and opposition to trade unions are also common positions. Economic liberalism follows the same philosophical approach as classical liberalism and fiscal conservatism.
Arguments in favor of economic liberalism were advanced during the Enlightenment, opposing mercantilism and feudalism. It was first analyzed by Adam Smith in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) which advocated minimal interference of government in a market economy, although it did not necessarily oppose the state's provision of basic public goods. In Smith's view, if everyone is left to his own economic devices instead of being controlled by the state, the result would be a harmonious and more equal society of ever-increasing prosperity. This underpinned the move towards a capitalist economic system in the late 18th century and the subsequent demise of the mercantilist system.
Private property and individual contracts form the basis of economic liberalism. The early theory was based on the assumption that the economic actions of individuals are largely based on self-interest (invisible hand) and that allowing them to act without any restrictions will produce the best results for everyone (spontaneous order), provided that at least minimum standards of public information and justice exist. For example, no one should be allowed to coerce, steal, or commit fraud and there should be freedom of speech and press.
This ideology was well reflected in English law; Lord Ackner, denying the existence of a duty of good faith in English contract law, emphasised the 'adversarial position of the parties when involved in negotiations'.
Initially, the economic liberals had to contend with the supporters of feudal privileges for the wealthy, aristocratic traditions and the rights of kings to run national economies in their own personal interests. By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, these were largely defeated. Today, economic liberalism is associated[by whom?] with classical liberalism, neoliberalism, right-libertarianism and some schools of conservatism such as liberal conservatism.
Position on state interventionism
Economic liberalism opposes government intervention in the economy when it leads to inefficient outcomes. They are supportive of a strong state that protects the right to property and enforces contracts. They may also support government interventions to resolve market failures. Ordoliberalism and various schools of social liberalism based on classical liberalism include a broader role for the state, but they do not seek to replace private enterprise and the free market with public enterprise and economic planning. A social market economy is a largely free market economy based on a free price system and private property, but it is supportive of government activity to promote competitive markets and social welfare programs to address social inequalities that result from market outcomes.
Historian Kathleen G. Donohue argues that classical liberalism in the United States during the 19th century had distinctive characteristics as opposed to Britain:
[A]t the center of classical liberal theory [in Europe] was the idea of laissez-faire. To the vast majority of American classical liberals, however, laissez-faire did not mean no government intervention at all. On the contrary, they were more than willing to see government provide tariffs, railroad subsidies, and internal improvements, all of which benefited producers. What they condemned was intervention in behalf of consumers.
- Peter Ghosh, Lawrence Goldman, ed. (2006). Politics and Culture in Victorian Britain: Essays in Memory of Colin Matthew. OUP Oxford. p. 56. ISBN 9780191514449.
Hence the emphasis today on the study of political economy, and the identification of Gladstone with 'fiscal liberalism', defined above all as the liberalism of free trade.
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- Quotations related to Economic liberalism at Wikiquote