Liberalism Q (24)Watch this thread
Q:To what extent does liberalism prioritise society over the economy?
In general, liberalism supports a capitalistic economy as it can give the people the most freedom. Allowing us to acknowledge that liberalism is generally more concerned with society rather than the economy. However, differing views emerge between classical and modern liberalism. Classical liberals have a greater capitalistic view on the economy by favouring a more laissez faire approach, believing that wealth should be privately owned to preserve fugitive freedom, allowing us to acknowledge their disagreement with the statement, as they clearly prioritise the economy. Whilst modern liberalism is supportive of state intervention to curb the excesses of the market economy to promote social justice and equality of opportunity.
One could argue that modern and classical liberals disagree on the importance of the economy in relation to society. This is because classical liberalism believed in a free market that was unchallenged by government intervention. This view was endorsed by John Locke, who agreed that government intervention in the economy is unnecessary since it should be limited and individual liberty should be safeguarded, implying that individuals should be able to make their own economic decisions. This is supported further by his statement, "Preservation of their lives, freedoms, and estates." The belief of no state intervention allows society to have more freedom, as liberals believe individuals are rational and can make rational economic choices.
However, the stronger argument asserts that modern liberals are more conscious of the failings of the free market and its impact on certain sections of society. Consequently, they argue for state intervention to promote social justice and equality of opportunity. This is supported by John Rawls, as he argued that a large enabling state was required so that individuals who were poor might realise their full potential rather than being oppressed by an unjust economy. Hence, allowing us to conclude that although classical liberalism values the economy more than society, whilst modern liberalism places a higher value on society than the economy, through utilising it for the benefit of the people.
Another argument in favour of this statement is that all liberals in society cherish the idea of equality of opportunity. Although both types of liberalism execute it differently, they both value societal needs over the economy. Because of meritocracy, all liberals believe that there will be a rich-poor division in the economy. Since all individuals have an equal chance of rising and falling, there will be economic inequalities due to variances in how hard people work. Betty Friedan would agree with this because she believes in equality of opportunity; she wants men and women to have equal access to the same opportunities (for example, jobs), and she feels that since everyone has equal access, they have an equal opportunity to rise and fall. Hence, liberals believe that the economy can bring equal opportunities to society, thus they’re using the economy for the betterment of society. Modern liberals promote equality of opportunity through supporting economic freedom using taxes to provide more equal opportunities and economic support for all. Modern liberals believe in developmental individualism and would therefore support taxes that help the poorest people live up to their full potential. This demonstrates how both modern and classical liberals prioritise society over the economy.
However, the stronger argument asserts that the economy has the potential to undermine societal goals. This is reflected through Mill and Rawls belief that society must be just and guarantee all citizens and fulfilling life. However, the laissez faire economy prevented this as it led to an unfair economic system. This is due to the system supporting capitalism thus wealth is privately owned, giving a disadvantage to the poor. Hence, the economy will regardless overpower society, concluding that liberalism prioritises the economy more.
Overall, we may conclude that, while modern liberalism prioritises society over the economy, it nonetheless employs the economy to a large extent to assist society by providing equal opportunities. As a result, liberalism appears to be more economically focused, as all liberals manage the market to conform to their societal views, negative freedom, and equality of opportunity.