The role of government

Robert Manne’s new book (co-edited), “Goodbye to All That? The failure of neo-liberalism and the urgency of change”, is an attack on neo-liberalism.
There are several academic political philosophies currently in vogue: libertarianism (or its opposite): acute market intervention), classical liberalism and social liberalism.
Libertarianism objects to most forms of state intervention apart from a minimal role that protects against force, theft and fraud. Neo-liberalism is comparably defined by Manne as “the superiority of the invisible hand of the market to the economic intervention of government”. It argues that material prosperity and economic growth are best achieved through actions of individuals pursing their self –interest.
All the critical Reviews of Manne (which I have read) support his underlying thesis by re-stating the pro-intervention thesis – or they attack it on two distinct grounds: firstly, they adopt the authentic libertarian viewpoint; and secondly, they contend that “true” libertarianism does not exist.
This brings me to the main alternatives to libertarianism – classical liberalism and social liberalism. They both accept that a market system calls for a large degree of liberalism. For example, it insists on support for free international trade and market-based competitive pressures and it requires a floating currency, removal of the old controls on interest rates and international capital movements and free entry of foreign banks into the market.
Classical liberalism leans towards a higher degree of labour market freedom and ‘smaller government” – but allowing a greater role for government restraints than libertarians. On the other hand, social liberalism, while accepting the need for a liberal market economy, believes in a strong social safety net , seeks to promote substantive equality of opportunity, advocates increased financial regulation, accepts that debt is often necessary to finance privatisation and ensure overall macro-economic stability and wants safeguards to ensure that labour market regulation ensures fairness.
The reasons I am in the social liberalism camp is that It acknowledges that there are major equity/efficiency trade-offs in policy which need to be assessed.

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Sean Garman
Sean Garman
13 years ago

Considering that you have outlined the vast number of caveats that social liberals want to implement, when do you move from a liberal market economy to something resembling dirigisme?

Fred Argy
Fred Argy
13 years ago

Good question, Sean.

I draw a firm line when efficiency offers big advantages over equity. I doubt that any of my six caveats listed above entail any serious damage for efficency. The only possible “conflict” arises when one advocates extreme labour market regulation and excessive social welfare entitlements. That is a big topic to take up here.